How to Grow Coleus in Your Garden 101 (Amazing Tips)

Decorating beautiful front yards, backyards, and park centers is the gorgeous and vibrant Coleus plant. They are so versatile and flexible that you can happily grow Coleus directly into the ground, as well as in containers! With its colorful leaves that spread quickly and easily, it is no wonder that everyone is instantly charmed by this beautiful plant.

History

The history of the Coleus plant is rich and diverse. Although its exact origins are still being debated, we do know that the Coleus plant was first written about and discovered by Karl Ludwig Blume (1796-1862) on his travels to Java, which used to be a Dutch colony. While the people living in Java had extensive experience with the Coleus plant, it was a completely new thing for the explorer, and he began to research the plant.

Like many other gardeners, Karl Ludwig Blume fell in love with the colorful foliage and large wavey leaves which he introduced to Europe. He brought various varieties of Coleus back, ranging in colors and leaf sizes. In absolutely no time, the plant was being collected, propagated, and sold for extreme prices to Victorian residents! At one point, this lovable Coleus plant was sold only to noble and well-off families to show off their wealth.

During this Victorian period, gardeners established a modern method of growing and decorating with the Coleus plant called the carpeting method. The carpeting method uses different varieties of the Coleus plant to create intricate and dazzling designs. The best way to view these beautiful colors was from high areas, like a balcony, for example.

Eventually, the Coleus ‘fever’ died down, but it’s returning, and for obvious reasons! Everyone wants to get their hands on Coleus and grow it well, but how do you develop these tropical beauties?

Coleus


How to Grow Coleus in Your Garden

Coleus plants thrive in conditions similar to their origins in Asia and Africa. To best understand how to grow a thriving coleus plant in your garden, we must dive into the different varieties as they all require specific tending.

The Different Varieties of Coleus Plants

There are over hundreds of different varieties of the Coleus plant. It is so interesting how one plant can have such a variety of leaf shapes, patterns, and vibrant colors. Before moving onto the specific conditions, soil, and details on growing Coleus in your garden, it is important to know about the different varieties as they all have their own purposes and unique styles.

  1. Solenostemon (Rustic Orange)

The Solenostemon, also known as the Rustic Orange Coleus plant, stands at 18-24 inches and can spread up to two feet in width. Just as the name entails, this spectacular-looking plant is made up of warm colors like rust orange, burnt red, and a tinge of mustard yellow. The colors are perfect for fall, and this plant can happily live both inside and outside, sprucing up your garden!

Solenostemon coleus

  1. Henna

The Henna Coleus plant is an award-winning plant that is not only an eye-pleaser, but also a jaw-dropper! The leaves are distinctive as they are adorned with frills and curl up, displaying their vibrant burgundy undersides. This showstopper can grow up to 28 inches, and while it flowers, it leaves everyone speechless with just its unique leaves alone.

Henna coleus

  1. Limelight

Limelight is one of the most commonly seen Coleus plants, but it is still as stunning as ever! This particular variety has leaves that stretch across 15 inches and is a lively lime green which goes well with all other types. This is an excellent choice for your garden if you want your other plants to pop against natural greens!

Limelight coleus

  1. Big Red Judy

The Big Red Judy Coleus plant looks like something that belongs in a Jurassic Park movie, with its luscious leaf shape that almost resembles the petals of a flower and its intense red and green color. This plant grows large and reaches up to 40 inches tall. Many gardeners use trellises and support for maximum growth.

Big Red Judy coleus

  1. Giant Exhibition Magma Coleus

For plant lovers that prefer darker colors, the Giant Exhibition Magma is the perfect Coleus plant for you! It does not grow as tall as other varieties, stopping at 20 inches, but thrives in containers, meaning this plant can easily be used for inside décor! It is important to note, however, that all Coleus plants can be toxic to furry pets such as dogs and cats. The Giant Exhibition Magma plant is a deep purple that nearly reflects black.

Giant Exhibition Magma Coleus

How to Choose the Best Soil for Coleus Plants

While each variety does have its own needs, they typically grow in similar conditions. Soil is a component that is often overlooked when growing plants but is immensely important. Without proper soil, plants can stunt their growth or die. Coleus plants do well in soils that are both rich in nutrients and loose.

The pH levels for this plant should be 6.0 to 7.0. While this might sound scary and intimidating, it really isn’t. Most soil comes with added nutrients, and it is often difficult to add too many acidic components to your soil. If the soil does not have enough nutrients and fertilizer, it is unlikely that the Coleus plant will continue growing.

Looking for loose potting soil is crucial though! You can always add more fertilizer and nutrients over time, but not new soil. If the soil is too compact, then the roots of your Coleus plant will have a hard time growing into the soil properly.

Also, like many other plants, Coleus plants can suffer from root rot. This occurs when the roots are given too much water, and the overabundance of moisture causes the roots to rot away, slowly killing the plant and causing a foul odor that is hard to miss.

Well-drained soil is loose. Typically it is created with wood chips and other materials, as opposed to fine sand.


Where Can You Plant Coleus?

The great thing about Coleus plants is that they are versatile! These plants grow well in various climates and different locations. For example, gardeners can grow Coleus plants inside containers, beds, and in the ground with other crops.

Containers

Coleus plants are great because they can be grown in containers. The containers allow for the easy movement of the plant, something important for the winter months. However, it is important to choose the correct container. While every variety of Coleus has a different growth rate and height, they typically grow to a minimum of 20 inches tall.

Some varieties even reach 3 ft. This means that the roots underneath the plant have grown long and need room to continue growing. If the container does not have enough space, the roots will become rootbound and grow into themselves, harming the plant over time. The best container size to choose is a container that is at least twelve inches in width and 12 inches in height.

The size of the container for the coleus plant is not the only important aspect to consider though. The material of the container should be high quality. Plastic containers, especially if they are outside, can wear and break down over time. Plastic containers may also not be able to hold the weight of the Coleus plant, as they can spread both wide and tall.

While this is the case, the Coleus plant is also able to grow in containers that are not necessarily designed for planting. For decorative purposes, we have seen Coleus plants grown in abandoned bathtubs, metal baskets, and even old car parts. All of this is only possible, however, as long as there are drainage holes on the bottom of these makeshift containers. If there aren’t drainage holes, it is likely that your plant will die from root rot because of the lack of drainage and the excess moisture that results.

Growing Coleus on Raised Beds

Another common way to grow Coleus in your garden all year round is to grow them in raised beds with other crops. Raised beds are not only beneficial to gardeners because they are comfortable and easier to use with the added height, but also because they allow for versatility and room.

These raised beds can be made out of metal, wood, or other household items. Thankfully Coleus plants do well while surrounded by other varieties, as well as crops and flowers. They also bring plenty of nutrients to the soil, which in turn feeds other crops.

Where Can You Plant Coleus

In the Ground

A third way to grow Coleus in your garden is to plant the Coleus plant directly in the ground. This is a bit trickier than the other two options because it is possible that the soil in your ground is not viable. Not all soils are created the same, and over time, and soils are depleted of nutrients and microorganisms needed to fertilize and grow your plants.

Before planting your Coleus plant in the ground, it is important to test your soil. There are online kits that allow you to do this from the comfort of your own home instead of calling a professional. The soil in your ground can be amended with fertilizer, new soil, and mulch. This does take some time and is not a preferred method amongst gardeners growing Coleus.

How Much Sunlight Do Coleus Plants Need?

Moving on, now that you have chosen what exactly you want your Coleus to grow in, it is important to discuss sunlight and positioning. These tropical plants do well in temperatures above 70° and under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature increases and the plant is exposed to direct sunlight, it is very likely that the leaves can suffer and become burnt from excess sun.

The best place to grow Coleus, regardless of the variety that you choose, is a well-shadowed area. For example, if you are choosing to grow in a container outside or in the beds outside, the best place to grow Coleus is under a tree or an area with plenty of shading, like a patio with a ceiling.

For plants that are inside, Coleus needs adequate sunlight. They grow best in well-lit rooms where the temperature does not exceed over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do not have adequate windows or light, it is possible to grow this tropical humidity-loving plant with the help of grow lights. This is actually a method that is especially popular during winter months and in a climate where the temperatures decrease to negative numbers.

How to Properly Water Coleus Plants

When it comes to watering a Coleus plant, it is important to make sure that the plant is not either overwatered or underwatered. However, it is a lot easier to save a dry Coleus plant them to save one that is suffering from root rot or fungus diseases because of overwatering. This happy tropical plant loves moisture and water. Depending on the air quality, the temperature outside, and the container, though, the amount of watering varies.

For example, during hot and summer months where the temperature is increased to 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, frequent watering is necessary. This is to protect the roots of the plant from continuing growing. A good rule of thumb for watering Coleus plants is to water them when you notice that the soil is beginning to dry out. This can be done by sight or with touch.

Soil that is moist without being too overwatered is a darker, richer color without pools of water on display. If you see that your Coleus plant’s soil has puddles of water that are not draining, stop watering and wait until the soil has dried enough to water again.

Over the winter months in places that don’t develop frost, watering is no longer necessary every day. Instead, you should only be watering your plants during the winter when the soil is dry on top. The colder temperatures and the overabundance of water can easily shock your plant and kill them.

Buying From a Nursery

Buying Coleus From a Nursery

If you are buying a plant from a nursery, be careful where you find them. Large box stores with garden centers do not always take the best care of their plants, and they may come with diseases or bugs. This is not always the case but, in my experience, I have noticed it and would like to give out a warning. I highly recommend looking for local, small, and organic nurseries in your area that offer Coleus seedlings, as that is their specialty.

Buying a plant from a nursery is both quicker and easier when looking for results. When you buy a plant from a nursery, it has already grown its true set of leaves, and you don’t have to wait for a seed to grow.

However, it is essential for you to immediately change your coleus plant to a new container. Nursery plants sometimes sit in stores for months at a time without being bought.

This means that over months or weeks, the plant has grown and typically is ready to outgrow its container. If kept in the same small container for too long, it will continue to try and grow, becoming root-bound. As the roots tangle into each other, the plant becomes stressed out and can slowly die.


Planting from a Seed

Another method of growing Coleus in your garden is to plant and grow them as seeds. It is important to note that this method does take longer than if you were to simply take a cutting and propagate it or buy a plant from a nursery that has already been established. While this is the case, when you are growing from seed, you have the ability to choose the exact variety you would like and the soil and atmosphere it is growing in.

When growing from a seed, you have a multitude of options. You can grow them outside, you can grow them in a windowsill, and you can grow them with a grow light kit. When Growing Seeds, it is important to find a container that will allow for the seedling to grow quickly. A 4-inch container is recommended for seedlings. When growing from seed, the seed should be pressed into the soil without being covered. If you cover the seed, it may not properly grow because of the lack of oxygen.

Coleus Planting from a Seed

Growing Seeds Outside

Growing Seeds outside is not always recommended because of bugs and diseases that are airborne. Seedlings that are grown inside have higher germination rate, and can grow quickly without being disturbed. However, if you do choose to grow a coleus plant from seed outside, then just know that the ceiling needs a well-shaded area with light that is not direct.

Growing Seeds Inside

If growing inside, it is recommended to grow your seedlings in a windowsill because the plant is still exposed to light without directly being hit with it. Seedlings are notorious for being fragile as they are still developing. They should be watered lightly with a water bottle with punctured holes on the cap, as opposed to with a watering can

Propagating from Another Coleus Plant

Propagating plants is not only quick, easy, and efficient but also really interesting. Not all plants can be grown through propagation. Coleus plants have small furry little fibers on the stems of the plant. These small little fibers are the beginnings of a route. There are two common ways to propagate a Coleus plant.

Propagating Directly into Soil

The first way is to cut a clipping right below the leaf nodule and clip off all of the leaves except two. The clippings should be between 6-8 inches but can still grow if shorter. Once you have cut your cutting, you can place it in the soil and water it gently. It should be kept under direct sunlight and watered. Within one to two weeks, the cuttings should root.

Propagation with Water

The other method requires water. Some people say that this method is quicker, but it is unknown. Taking a cutting in the same way as described previously, and then submerging it into the water with indirect sunlight can route a coleus cutting. The only thing with this method is that you place it into dirt one to two weeks after the roots have started growing. Sometimes, even though the root has grown, it has to still become accustomed to the new soil, resulting in limited to no growth.

How fast do Coleus Plants grow?

The reason why Coleus plants are so loved and adored by gardeners is because of the beautiful colors and unique leaves and because Coleus plants grow really quickly. From seed to the final stages of growth, a Coleus plant takes an average of six months to grow.

When growing from a seed, it is expected that coleus seeds that germinate take up to two weeks to emerge. Another two weeks, and the true leaves also grow. Coleus plants grow so quickly that it truly still blows my mind. This plant is perfect for beginners because it requires little care and easy instructions. You can see the fruits of your labor each day as the plant grows both wide and tall.

What Fertilizer can be used?

Fertilizing Coleus plants can’t get any easier! Coleus plants grow rapidly without fertilizer but adding extra nutrients doesn’t hurt either. I prefer to fertilize my Coleus plants at least once a month with an all-purpose balanced fertilizer using a 10-10-10 formula. This formula allows for a balanced ammonium and nitrogen level. You can apply it through soil nutrients in the form of physical food as well as a spray.

The great thing about the Coleus plant is that gardeners can apply fertilizer to the roots and the leaves. Interestingly enough, Coleus plants take in nutrients through their leaves which is why they are all so easily harmed by the sun.

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What to do for Your Coleus Plants During the Winter Months

Protect Coleus During the Winter

Since Coleus plants are tropical plants that enjoy being in warm and hot climates, it should not be a shock that they do not do well during winter. Of course, this completely depends on your location. If you live in zones where Winter temperatures do not drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, then lucky you, your Coleus plants will most likely survive through the winter months.

Not all of us are that lucky, however, and for those of us that live in colder climates, if we do not protect our Coleus plants, they are likely to die from shock or frost. There are two main ways to overwinter your coleus plants, and that is through keeping them inside or overwintering cuttings.

Overwintering Inside

If you choose to place them inside, be aware that there is prepping involved. Not all plants have bugs, but some do. It is recommended to spray the plants down with a combination of soapy water and neem oil to get rid of any bugs before bringing the plant in. If your plant is already in a container, then the process is a lot easier. You can simply move your plant indoors and place it near a window with adequate lighting.

Grow lights are artificial lights powered through electricity that provide your plants with mock sunlight. If your plants, however, are outside and in a bed or the ground, then you need to carefully take your plant with its roots and place it in a large enough container to bring it indoors. If you do not have adequate lighting, then grow lights are your friends. During winter we have personally used this method as I live in zone 6 and get freezing temperatures by November and December.

Overwintering with Cuttings

Another way to over winterize your coleus plants is by taking cuttings and growing them inside until spring. Coleus plant over winter easily indoors because they still have access to light. Take cuttings about 6-8 inches and root them either in water or in soil.

During the next few winter months, the plant will continue to grow slowly. Before the last frost, it is important to begin reintroducing your plant to the sun and the air outside. If you don’t slowly reintroduce your new Coleus cuttings or your old container plant, they can immediately go into shock and die. You can start this process by bringing your containers outside for 1-2 hours during the day and continue increasing the amount of time they are outside every week until after the last frost.


Five Tips for Growing Healthy and Beautiful Coleus Plants in your Garden

  1. Coleus plants love nitrogen. Adding nitrogen organically in the soil can easily be done through household products such as coffee grounds!
  2. Coffee grounds not only can be used as a fertilizer for your Coleus plants, but they are also excellent at deterring bugs like aphids that suck the nutrients out of your plants.
  3. If growing Coleus indoors, be sure to place this plant in a separate room or a high enough location so that animals cannot get to it, as it can be toxic when consumed.
  4. Don’t be scared to mix varieties in one container or bed! Thankfully, these beautiful plants do well when paired with other crops.
  5. When taking a cutting from a Coleus plant, snip it at a 45-degree angle for better rooting.

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