Whether you pronounce it “cole-yus”, or “col-e-us” you have to agree it is one of the most colorful foliage plants we have. This plant comes in so many color combinations it is mind-boggling: burgundies, reds, purples, various shades of green, white, and even yellow. Coleus is easy to grow, and will add beauty to your garden.
The photo above shows just a few of the many colors and leaf shapes available. The top left frame contains one I call my weird coleus. That is all one plant that came up as a volunteer from seed dropped last summer. I have never seen have its colors evenly divided right down the middle vein like one stem of that plant has. The original plant had the splotches of burgundy on chartreuse that is on parts of this plant. I assume it is some kind of genetic mutation. If so, I think it’s a pretty cool mutation.
Until the last few years, coleus grew only in the shade. Today, however, there are many new varieties that do well in full sun. Oh, the wonders of hybridization! Some of them do well in either sun or shade, but change depth of color based on the amount of sun they get.
The following photos show the process of going from cutting to garden-ready:
To root your own cuttings, simply break off a piece, with a long stem, if possible. Strip the cutting of its lower leaves. Any leaves left on the lower part of the stem will be under water where they will rot and contaminate the water. Place the stems into a glass or jar of water, or even an empty cottage cheese container as shown below. Within only a few days you will see pale bumps begin to emerge on the stem. The little bumps will become tiny hair-like roots.
Some of the leaves above the water level may dry and fall off. That’s OK. New leaves will soon come. If any fall into the water, be sure to remove them. They will make great compost for your garden or flower beds.
Below is a closer view of those baby roots. Roots that sprout in water are tiny and delicate. These need another two-to-three weeks to grow. They will soon appear to be ready to plant, but don’t be too hasty. They will protest by wilting if suddenly moved from water to soil because, when taken from their watery environment, these little roots quickly become brittle. They can recover, but it is traumatic for the plant, and will require daily extra effort on your part.
The best way to avoid that problem is this:
When there are sufficient roots that have grown 2-3 inches long, begin to add small amounts of clean (un-used) potting soil to the water. Used potting soil or soil from your garden will contain microbes that will likely encourage mold to grow in the water. If you are rooting a lot of cuttings, you will need to move them to separate containers before the roots grow large enough to become entangled. I save empty cottage cheese containers for this, as well as for starting seeds. On the other hand, if you want to plant them all in one spot, no need to separate them.
Gradually increase the amount of soil and decrease the amount of water. The photo below was taken after several additions of soil. You can see that the soil is still extremely wet.
You may be wondering why the container below is sitting in a bowl of water. It’s because I realized too late that I had put the cuttings and soil into a container with holes punched in the bottom. These cuttings are not yet ready to have their water drain off, so I put them into a bowl that would hold the water.
After the roots adjust to this much soil, you should begin to back off on the water, and add more soil. When the plant thrives as a normally potted plant, it is ready to move to your garden. You can also grow coleus as a potted plant, if you prefer. In that case, you do want a pot with drainage holes!
Soon you will have a beautiful coleus plant like this one, or those at the top of this page.
Leave your gardening questions or comments below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.