One of the joys of gardening is incorporating bright, beautiful colors into your yard, patio, or porch plantings—but the fun doesn't begin and end with flowers. Coleus, with its vivid, often multicolored leaves, is the perfect plant to add color to your outdoor space or houseplant collection.
Here's what you need to know to plant and care for coleus in your garden.
- Botanical Name: Coleus scutellarioides
- Common Name: Coleus, painted nettle
- Plant Type: Upright annual or herbaceous perennial
- Mature Size: Three feet tall and wide
- Sun Exposure: Part shade
- Soil Type: Moist, rich, well-drained soil
- Soil pH: 6.0 - 7.0
- Toxicity: Mildly toxic to humans
Plant coleus plants 12 inches to three feet apart in moist, well-drained soil. Amend the soil with organic compost if the soil is poor before planting. Keep the soil evenly moist, especially in extended periods of hot, dry weather.
We mostly enjoy coleus plants for their vivid, contrasting foliage, which looks great bordering a walkway, filling in a container, or adding color to a landscape. Coleus grows tiny white, purple, or blue flowers on tall stalks, but it's best to pinch these off to encourage bushy leaf growth.
Note that coleus sap can be mildly irritating to skin and cause contact dermatitis, so it's best to wear gardening gloves when handling the plant.
Best Growing Conditions for Coleus
Coleus grows best in part shade (two to six hours of sunlight per day). If possible, choose a spot that receives full sun in the morning and dappled light or part shade in the afternoon when the light is harsher.
Older varieties of coleus will get sunburned leaves or lose their color with too much light. However, some newer types, like 'Red Hot Rio', 'Yellow Ruffles', and sun-tolerant Wizard coleus varieties, are bred to thrive in full sun.
Warm, humid weather is ideal for these tropical plants, but even a slight frost will kill them. In growing zones 10 and 11, they can survive outdoors all year round. In zone 9 and colder, plan to replant coleus as an annual each year or keep plants in containers to bring indoors in fall. Bring plants indoors when the weather forecast calls for nights in the 50s.
Types of Coleus
There are hundreds of different types of coleus available, but the main characteristics you'll want to look out for are light tolerance and color.
If you're looking to add a pop of color to an area with full sun, choose a variety that can tolerate those conditions. Luckily, plenty of different colors and combinations of the newer sun-tolerant varieties are available.
Likewise, look for shade-loving coleus types if you're seeking to plant in an area with part or even full shade. Either way, choose coleus seeds or seedlings in shades that will complement the other foliage and flowers in the space or container where you plan to plant.
How to Propagate Coleus
Coleus is easy to propagate by rooting stem cuttings in water. It's easiest to do this in the spring and summer when the plant is actively growing.
What You'll Need
- Healthy, mature coleus
- Gardening gloves
- Sharp, sanitized pruners or scissors
- Small, clear glass or jar
- Tap water
- Small plant pots
- Fresh potting soil
- Wearing gardening gloves, choose a healthy stem from the mother plant and make a diagonal cut just below a leaf node, about six inches from the stem tip. Trim away the bottom sets of leaves, making sure to leave at least two sets of leaves on the cutting.
- Place the cutting in the jar with room-temperature water so that the bottom sets of leaf nodes are submerged. Keep the cutting in a warm place with bright, indirect light. Change the water if it begins to look cloudy.
- After a few weeks, you should see tiny roots growing from the leaf nodes. Once the roots are at least an inch long, the cuttings are ready to be transplanted.
- Fill a small pot with potting soil and moisten it well. Use your finger or a pencil to make a hole a few inches deep in the soil.
- Plant the cutting in the soil and pat gently on the soil surface to anchor it in place. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. When new leaves grow on your new coleus plant, it's ready to be cared for as usual.
Common Problems With Coleus
Coleus is generally an easy-growing plant, but be on the lookout for pests, especially on specimens kept as houseplants. Watch for signs of aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites. Treat affected plants, pruning any particularly infected areas, and isolate them from the rest of your houseplants until signs of pests have disappeared.
Is coleus easy to care for?
Yes, coleus is quite low-maintenance as a houseplant or outdoor garden plant.
How long can coleus live?
In cold climates, coleus planted outdoors will only live for one season. You can plant coleus in containers, then bring it indoors in fall to overwinter. In warmer climates where coleus doesn't die off with winter cold, it can live for about three or four years.
Can coleus grow indoors?
Yes, coleus can grow indoors with adequate light. Keep it in a spot that gets lots of bright, indirect light from a nearby window.