Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Year of the Coleus

Did you know that Coleus, Plectranthus scutellariodes is a member of the mint family? I didn't, but when I thought about it, the foliage is somewhat similar in shape and texture, so it makes sense that they are relatives.

Did you also know that 2015 was declared as "The Year of the Coleus" by the National Garden Bureau (USA)?

When most people think of coleus, they generally picture wacky colors combined together in a single leaf.

Viewpoints that fall in the middle seem to be the exception; generally you either think those crazy colors are terrific or completely hideous.

Not surprisingly then, Coleus is a plant that seems moves in and out of fashion. Right now, Coleus seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance.

What makes me think that?

Well, of all the posts I have ever done, this one that featured a Toronto garden, where Coleus was used instead of traditional annuals, is among my most popular. An image of Coleus bunched at the base of a tree (seen above) from the same post is also a popular pin on Pinterest.

I am just guessing, but I think readers like the novelty of using Coleus instead of more traditional part-shade plants like impatiens (which have been having issues with downy mildew)

The Coleus I have come to love are the deep maroon varieties. I think they add a dash of drama to any container planting.

This is not a posed picture, Buddy just plunked himself into my shot.

This is Coleus 'Vino'. 

Its dark maroon foliage not only looks great in a container, it also looks wonderful in combination with other perennials like phlox or dwarf varieties of hydrangeas like 'Little Lime'.

In this urn, I mixed Coleus 'Vino' with a trailing pale blue Lobelia, Coleus 'Stained Glassworks' and a few purple petunias.

I also did a few container plantings using Coleus for the back part of the garden.

The container planting on the bench includes: Petunia 'Cha-ching Cherry', Petunia 'Cascadias Bicolor Cabernet' (seen on the left), CrazyTunia 'Cherry Cheesecake', Sweet Potato Vine 'Sweet Georgia Deep Purple' (seen in the centre), Coleus 'Jupiter' (seen on the right) and Coleus 'Mariposa'.

Here are a few other varieties that might spark your interest in Coleus:

Coleus 'Kiwi Fern' and Coleus 'Tri-color'

Coleus 'Hurricane Jenni'

Coleus 'Wild Lime'

Coleus 'Aurora Black Cherry'

One of my favourites, Coleus 'Black dragon' with Calibrachoa 'Hula Godiva'

A Primer on Growing and Caring for Coleus:

Growing Coleus from Seed:

You can grow Coleus from seed, I've done it, but even if you start them indoors 12 weeks before the last frost, you'll still have a relatively small plant come spring planting time. 

If you want to give growing them from seed a try, sow the fine seeds directly on the surface of the soil.

I find Coleus grow fairly slowly, so even small seedlings planted out after the last frost may take a while to reach to a decent size. Instead I prefer to buy fewer, larger plants that will have an impact right away.  

So my purchases don't blow all of my gardening budget, I often wait and look for larger plants at end of June clearance sales.

Best Light and Growing Conditions:

Coleus are annuals in my zone 6 garden (they are hardy to zone 11), although you can take cuttings that will overwinter in a bright window. 

Coleus grow well in average, well-drained garden soil. They are sometimes billed as a shade plant, but too little sunlight can lead to slow growth, weak stems and less intense colors. Morning sun and some dappled shade in the afternoon are ideal. Darker cultivars will tolerate a bit more sun if need be, but lighter cultivars may suffer leaf scorch. 

Young Coleus seedlings can get spindly and benefit from being pinched back. Pinching the plant tips encourages branching and a fuller plant. A regular application of a water soluble fertilizer will also encourage a larger, more healthy plant.

Coleus need regular watering especially in containers. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated. 


Coleus flowers, to my mind anyway, aren't particularly attractive.

And at any rate it is recommended that you pinch Coleus flowers back so the plant's energy doesn't get side tracked into seed production.

Pests and Problems:

Coleus may become stressed by heat and lack of moisture. Snails, slugs, spider mites, mealy bugs and white flies can be an issue for a less-than-healthy Coleus plant. Stem rot, root rot and downy mildew can also plague a plant with too much moisture or other poor growing conditions.

Relocate a plant with problems to see if a change in light conditions will help. You can also take healthy cuttings and start over.

Coleus from Cuttings:

Coleus take very well from cuttings. A cutting will sprout roots in water or can be planted in pots.

It's best to take cuttings in the morning when the mother plant is likely to have the most moisture. Pinch off a plant tip with 2 or 3 leaves and placed it in a glass of water or in a plastic bag while you prepare the plant pot. I use general purpose potting soil.

You can dip the end of each cutting in rooting hormone to help the cutting to root faster, but I find it works just as well to insert my cuttings directly into moist potting soil. Then I put my potted cuttings in a bright window (avoid direct sun) and keep an eye on them to insure the soil does not dry out. 

If you are likely to be too busy to keep a keen eye on your young plants, place a plastic bag over your pot to insure the cuttings stay moist.

Coleus 'Black Dragon'

So what do you think? Are you a fan of Coleus?


  1. I had no idea this was the Year of the Coleus--for once, I am ahead of the latest trend! I've always used coleus as accent plants, especially in containers, but a couple of years ago I had some leftover plants I had purchased and plopped a couple of different coleus in pots without anything else. By the end of the summer, they were huge and absolutely stunning! I've been a big fan of coleus ever since. The only problem with them, is that I can never choose from all the different varieties and wind up bringing home more than I have containers for:) Love the photo with Buddy.

  2. Funny thing - we went on a garden visit yesterday and saw this huge plant with green and white leaves - couldn't for the life of me think of its name - it was the size and look of a loose leaf cabbage. It looked stunning - now from seeing your top picture I realise it was a coleus. Sadly the slugs seemed to like it too.

  3. Jennifer, lovely post and pictures. I liked Aurora and Black Dragon, their foliage well combines with many other flowers. I have some dark red and beet color leafed bushes so I know this composition as well. My old fashion yellow rose grows next to Physocarpus 'Diabolo'.
    I think I should try to grow some coleus from seed next spring and then propagate them from cuttings.

  4. Nice pictures of all the different colours of Coleus. I do not particularly like them in the garden but more to brighten my greenhouse in summer, when most plants have gone outside. I always sow them myself, this time I bought mixed seed, not so spectacular as last time when I had more packets of different varieties but they are growing well and give already a nice display.

    1. Thanks Janneke for sharing your experiences growing Coleus from seed.

  5. I've never been a big fan of coleus - too "look at me, look at me" for my taste. However, that being said, I love that "vino" coleus in the planter. That's a perfect use for this bright plant.

  6. In my garden, every year is the year of the Coleus :). They are the backbone of my container gardens.

  7. Oh yes, I am a fan of Coleus because there are so many different varieties, but I think it works better in a big garden, not in a small yard. Your photos are all truly lovely, Jennifer!

  8. I like them in containers but not planted in the garden, I prefer my garden planting to be more natural.

  9. I planted more coleus this year. I had planned to do an entire bed around a tree with coleus but couldn't find enough at the local garden centers! I guess it sold very well here. I ended up doing a row of begonia mixed with impatiens for the outer border. I added one spot of caladiums for a focal point. It's looking so beautiful right now.

    I pinched mine just a little but I'm always anxious for the blooms to come because the hummingbirds love them. Mine are just starting to bloom now so the hummingbirds are buzzing around them.

    I also take cuttings but I dip them in rooting hormone & plant directly into my flower bed or container. I have better results if I root in water first but I have a hard time waiting. If I take cuttings in the spring, it's usually cool & wet enough that I lose very few.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences growing Coleus Jenny! I didn't know hummingbirds liked the flowers. That is perhaps reason enough to consider leaving them.Your planting scheme with the Coleus, caladiums, begonia and impatiens sounds wonderful.

  10. I plant them every year. Sometimes they do awesome, sometimes they don't. One of my faves the last couple years is Wasabi.

  11. I love coleus. I love all the weird and unusual colour combos. I think they had a nice element to a garden. My mistake , I think, has been to think of them as shade only guys. They will take some sun and do grow better. It's hard here as anything can get quite burnt and crispy when it gets so hot. Thanks for the great post! Good shot of Buddy!

  12. There are so many wonderful varieties of this. My dear mother-in-law had this in every spot she could find during the summers, and then she would take cuttings in the fall to replant in the spring.
    Thank you for the wonderful memory, Jennifer!

  13. I was once one who turned her nose up at coleus. Too gaudy, I thought. But my mind has changed, and I am a fan now. There are so many wonderful cultivars. There is bound to be a coleus for everyone.

  14. Hi friend!!! So good to see your post here today! I have coleus all over my garden as it is one of the only annuals that will carry its weight when the fall sets in here. Your photos are gorgeous Jennifer! Hope you are well! Nicole xo

  15. I've just recently started using coleus in pots. Mine were small when I purchased them and they just aren't growing very fast. I will try moving the pots to get more morning sun. Thanks for the tips on starting cuttings. Give Buddy a hug from me and tell him he has a fan in Illinois.

  16. I had no idea it was in the mint family, but you say, it makes sense when you think about it. Wow, some beautiful specimens here!xxx

  17. Coleus has become a big problem solver for me since it does well in dry shade. It can be tricky to find just the right one if I'm combining it with other variegated plants but it is fun to play with. It's much tougher than it looks. :o)

  18. Can you believe I've never used coleus in my garden. Not sure why really because they really are fabulous when combined with the right plants in a container or with other coleus. Maybe I'll brighten up my fall containers with some of these beauties.

  19. I have been a fan of coleus since the first time I saw one. But I do usually use them in containers only for some reason... perhaps because I have to start anew each year as they don't overwinter in my zone 7 either. I've never seen anything quite like that "kiwi fern" before... cool!

  20. I wish these were perennials here but sadly not, so I will be bringing mine in and also taking lots of cuttings to grow them under lights all winter....I have finally added these to containers around the garden and what a perfect time as it is their year!

  21. I couldn't have a garden in summer without coleus. If you can keep them watered and pinched every now and then, they require little else. In return you get so much color, and they can be carefully matched with other annuals, or stand on their on. We tried a new variety at work this year called 'Henna', great color, texture, and vigor.

  22. I love coleus and usually have them lining my stairs up to our door. My hubby wanted to surprise me this year with them, but accidentally bought polka dot plants thinking they were coleus. I didn't want him to feel bad so I planted those instead. LOL. But he's learned! I also use them to add color in my beds for in between blooms. Love them too much!

  23. I love coleus too but I have trouble with the new hybrid ones. I have re-aquired an old fashioned one and I love it.


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