Growing coleus is the perfect way to add big, colorful foliage and interest to your flowering containers, baskets and flowerbeds.
Coleus continues to grow in popularity year after year among home gardeners. What was once a staple of Victorian gardens long ago, this unique plant now finds itself fitting being used in all types of garden settings.
Unlike many annual plants that gain color from their blooms, it’s the foliage of coleus that provides all of the pizazz. And with stunning foliage in near endless splatters of vibrant colors, the plant is simply a showstopper.
From variegated shades of red, yellow, green, purple and nearly every color under the sun, the leathery leaves of coleus pop with energy. From pots, containers and hanging baskets, to hanging baskets and more, coleus adapts well to any growing style.
Add in that most newer varieties can handle sun, shade, and everything in between with ease, it’s easy to see why it has become so popular. Here is a look at how to plant, grow and maintain coleus.
Coleus is a tropical plant belonging to the mint family. Although the plant has been around for centuries, breeders have recently started to create all types of new varieties with even more interesting leaf patterns.
Although it is technically a perennial (in tropical settings), coleus grows as an annual in most climates. The plant does not handle cool weather well, and is one of the first to fall to frost in the fall.
Coleus can be grown from seed or transplants, and can also be propagated in season quite easily from cuttings. In fact, propagating is one of the easiest ways of all to have extra plants in season for more pots and containers.
Simply cut a mature stem with leaves and place into a cup of water. You can use a root toner if you like, but coleus roots so easily it is not necessary. Within a week or two, roots should appear on the base of the stem.
How To Plant & Grow Coleus
Because of it’s low tolerance to cold weather, allow the soil to warm before planting. Especially if planting directly into flowerbeds. Allow soil temps to reach at least 65 degrees (F) for best results.
Coleus prefers rich, fertile and moist soil. Add in plenty of compost prior to planting to help increase the soil fertility and structure. Compost helps soil retain moisture to the roots, and coleus thrives on moisture.
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Although it can be planted from seed, coleus is most often and most easily grown from transplants. If starting from seed, you will need to start 6 to 8 weeks before your expected outdoor planting day to have sizable transplants.
Although growing via transplant is easier, one thing growing from seed will give you is a wide open pallet when selecting unique varieties that might not be available in local nurseries or greenhouses. (See end of the article for some great varieties to try!)
The most important thing for coleus is to maintain proper moisture around the roots in the soil. The soil needs to be damp but not saturated. When growing in containers, plants will most likely need to be watered daily. For bed planting, monitor the soil moisture closely to keep it from completely drying out and water as necessary.
Coleus is a fast grower, especially in warm climates. To encourage stronger, more dense growth of foliage, pinch the plant back during the first few months of growth.
Coleus will send up tiny bloom stems as they begin to mature. These can be allowed to remain, but most gardeners prefer to remove them. Not only are they not all that impressive, by removing the bloom stems, it sends more energy to the foliage for better color and vibrancy.
Although coleus is not a heave feeder, it does benefit from a bit of fertilizing. Especially when planting in containers or hanging baskets where nutrients run out at a faster pace.
For bedding plants, fertilize monthly with an all purpose, slow-release fertilizer. When growing in pots, containers and hanging baskets, a small dose of fertilizer every 14 to 21 days will keep them growing strong. For container plants, liquid fertilizers such as compost tea are a great alternative to dry fertilizers.
End of Year Maintenance
In non-tropical climates, coleus will succumb to a light freeze at the end of the season. You can compost plants in the fall, but they can remain as a houseplant for the winter if you take inside before the frost.
When growing coleus, many choose to pot up a few cuttings in late fall and allow them to grow through winter. This then provides a few nice plants to begin with again outdoors for the following season.
Here are a few great varieties of coleus that can really bring a unique look to your landscape:
Chocolate Covered Cherry
Chocolate Covered Cherry coleus has gorgeous magenta and chocolate leaves that really make a statement in pots and containers. The grow to around 12″ in height with a dense spread.
Rainbow Coleus is not so much a specific variety as it is a collection of great coleus plants. With a wide range of foliage colors in the seed mix, it can give great color wherever grown. Most rainbow mixes will have a variety of height ranging from 10 to 18 inches in height.
Talk about an impact plant! Black Dragon coleus will grow to about 12 inches in height with deep, dark foliage. It is an excellent choice for planting along colorful annuals to provide a big contrast.
Here is to adding coleus to your growing this year!
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