The coleus plant is living proof a dull name doesn’t always equal a dull plant. This tender tropical species is not just one of the easiest garden varieties to grow, it’s one of the most cheerful too. With full color all season long, regardless of where they’re raised, these vibrant plants are a great choice for high impact, low maintenance growers. Coleus plants were first made popular by the Victorians who brought the species over from Indonesia during the 19th century. Though it fell out of favor for a time, coleus would resurface in the nineties as contemporary gardeners fell in love with its vibrant foliage and easy going nature. The good news is, if you want to raise your own coleus plants, you don’t need much growing experience. This is one happy little plant wherever it springs up! This guide to growing coleus plants will give you some tips on getting it right and filling your garden with gorgeous colors.
Some Handy Facts about Coleus Plants
It’s true that coleus plants are a tropical species. They’re native to Asia and their optimum environment is hot and humid. Despite this, they’re known to thrive in a broad variety of conditions and can handle almost any type of garden setting. It’s just one of the reasons gardeners love to raise it in beds, borders and containers.
Coleus plants can be grown as annuals in full sun, shade or almost anything in between. As they’re related to the mint family, they have the square stems and paired leaves characteristic of this plant type. Unlike mint though, coleus comes in a huge variety of colors, patterns and color markings. Some coleus plants are ruffled. Others boast flamboyant color arrangements. Some have long, elegant leaves. There’s a great deal of variation.
It’s not uncommon for this hardy species to grow in seemingly unsuitable conditions. To get the best out of it, however, try to provide some shade, particularly in the afternoon. Old fashioned seed varieties prefer partial shade. Modern, vegetativelty cultivated types bloom most easily in full sunshine. If the climate is hot though, they won’t grow as fast or strong without partial protection from the afternoon heat.
Advice for Growing Healthy Coleus Plants
Traditionally, coleus plants have been grown in slightly alkaline soil. Though, again, they’re known to be extremely hardy and delightfully undemanding. Gardeners successfully raise coleus in all kinds of soil types. The important thing is the presence of lots of rich and nourishing organic matter. You can grow coleus from seed or from cuttings. As newer varieties are hybrids, they need to be raised from cuttings. If you’re keen to start from scratch, look for an older, easy going variety that’s happy to be left in the shade. Even if you mean to grow your coleus outdoors, start with an indoor container. The best time to plant seeds is within ten weeks of the last frost.
The only condition that poses a risk to young coleus plants is frost. Be patient during the early stages of growing. If you put them outside too quickly, they may struggle to withstand the outdoor temperatures, particularly overnight. Ideally, seeds should stay indoors until temperatures outside are above 60 Fahrenheit.
How to Raise a Healthy Coleus Plant
Coleus plants may be tropical in nature, but these colorful plants aren’t just sun worshippers. They’re from Indonesia – where it’s hot and wet – so they love to grow in moist ground. Be careful not to leave them waterlogged or steeped in moisture all the time. However, do keep a weather eye on the soil, especially in full sun or a hot climate. If coleus is left in parched soil for too long its leaves begin to curl and brown.
To coax the brightest, most vibrant colors from your coleus, use a light touch when applying fertilizer. In fact, well-nourished soil may not need any extra fertilizer. For the best results, spread a balanced, half strength compound around your plants and limit applications to once per month. Steer well clear of cedar mulch as it is highly toxic to this species.
Wait until your plants are around six inches in height. Then, gently pull off the newest part of the plant (the upwards growing tip above the highest pair of leaves). This is called pinching and it encourages the plant to grow sideways, as well as straight upwards. Pinching the growing tip once or twice will help your coleus plant develop broad, bushy leaves.