With more than 600 varieties of coleus, you can choose from cultivars in a wide array of colors and sizes to best fit your growing space. Named after the Dutch writer Karl Ludwig Blume and the Greek “koleos,” meaning “sheath,” coleus plants appeared in American gardens in the 1800s and were popular during the Victorian era. Their brilliant colors, easy care and versatility ensure their continued presence in gardens today.
Coleus plants belong the Lamiaceae family, which also counts basil, oregano, peppermint, salvia, Swedish ivy, and thyme among its members. Their foliage can vary dramatically among cultivars, with combinations of green, maroon, pink, red and yellow available. Smaller varieties will reach heights of 8 to 12 inches, while sprawling coleus plants, best used in hanging planters or baskets, can spread 3 feet or more. Coleus can be a good outdoor plant, just be careful that it does not get too much sunlight and be sure to bring it inside before temperatures go below 55 degrees.
Coleus plants are commonly divided into groups that grow best in the sun versus those that thrive in partly shaded environments. Cultivars that belong to the sun-tolerant coleus group include “Alabama Sunset,” a red and yellow variety that needs little maintenance; “Burgandy Sun,” a larger coleus plant identified by its deep red heart-shaped leaves; and “Plum Parfait,” a Texan variety able to withstand high temperatures and recognized by its pink and plum-colored ruffled leaves. Coleus plants that prefer partly shaded growing conditions include the “Black Magic” variety, which sports dark purple and avocado green leaves; “Brilliancy” an old upright cultivar known for its red foliage and scalloped edging; and “Duckfoot,” a miniature coleus plant with deep purple leaves often used for garden bed borders and edging.
How To Care for Coleus
Very bright light is a must for a coleus. It can even gradually get used to a few hours of direct sunlight. Fluorescent grow lights help make the foliage leaf color even more spectacular.
This fast-growing plant dries out more quickly than many other plants. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out before watering but remember that frequent wilting due to under-watering causes the leaves to develop crispy edges, dull colors, and brown spots. Over-watering results in root rot.
Feed a coleus monthly with a basic balanced plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength.
Temperature and Humidity
A coleus likes warm temperatures between 70-85 degrees F though it can survive in temperatures as low as 55 degrees. High humidity is a plus, but a coleus can still thrive in basic household humidity.
Use a quick draining, well- aerated potting soil.
Pruning is extremely important if you want your coleus to be full and bushy and especially if you don’t want it to think that it’s time to die. A coleus produces small inconsequential flowers. These need to be immediately removed as soon as they appear. If they are allowed to remain on the plant & go to seed, your coleus will die. Keep pinching back the tip growth, this will force lateral growth on the stems and your plant will always be full and never leggy.
Mealy bugs, aphids, and whitefly are attracted to coleus plants. Cheek your plant weekly so these pests don’t get a foothold on too many of the vibrant colored leaves; washing the plant frequently with warm water helps keep insects away. If they become infested, spray with the green solution & also place a yellow sticky card insect trap on the soil to trap flying insects.
Powdery mildew can be a problem especially in humid conditions.
A coleus is easily propagated from stem cuttings.