How to Care for the Coleus Plant

Updated on July 10, 2018
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful things in the garden. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Display two different varieties of coleus together to really amp up the drama!
Display two different varieties of coleus together to really amp up the drama!

Coleus thrives in containers as well as planted in the ground, and can survive tough conditions. If properly fed and watered, coleus can reach over 2 feet tall! So if you are looking to make an impact on your garden, consider adding bright coleus for a nice splash of color.

Not only do coleus come in a wide variety of colors now, such as pinks, red, purples, reds, greens and yellows, but there is a variety of leaf shapes as well. Some coleus leaves are small with ruffles, whereas others are large with bold ripples. No matter your preference, and no matter where you plan to plant coleus, in the sun or shade, there is likely a variety that will work splendidly in your garden!

How to Plant Coleus in a Pot

Should you choose to grow coleus in pots it will require a bit more preparation and maintenance than coleus grown outdoors, but the results will be stunning.

  1. Select a container adequately large enough for your coleus. Consider planting more than plant (or even several colors together) for a more dramatic impact. Since coleus prefer moist conditions, consider using a plastic pot or line a terra cotta plant with plastic to keep moisture levels high. Ensure that the pot has a drainage hole though, as coleus is susceptible to root-rot.
  2. Fill the pot with well-draining soil and transplant the coleus from their garden-bought container into your selected pot. No need to rough up the roots, coleus is rather hardy.
  3. Monitor sunlight levels of your coleus. Plants receiving too much direct sunlight may appear dull or washed-out. Move your pot to a shadier location for more vivid colors.
  4. Feed coleus regularly with a slow-release fertilizer; follow package instructions for quantities and frequencies. Keep in mind that container-bound plants tend to need more nutrients than those planted outside in the soil.
  5. Move coleus indoors during cooler winter months. Ensure that the plant gets plenty of light, placing it near a south-facing window or providing it with auxiliary lighting.

Outdoor Planting Considerations

Consider also the placement when it comes to colors you’ll place together. Do you wish to go from light to dark colors? Or do you want a more intense impact by placing dark and light colors together? Always consult the planting instructions to see whether the variety you intend to plant in a certain spot does better in sunnier or shadier locations.

Coleus planted in the garden should be treated as an annual; it won't withstand cold winters. If you are wanting to use coleus in the garden next year, consider taking several cuttings to grow indoors during the winter, then replanting them in the garden during the spring. (See propagation tips below)

How to Propagate

  1. Cut off a 6 to 8 inch section from a healthy coleus plant.
  2. Remove lower leaves from the stem.
  3. Pinch off the tip from the cutting. (Removing the tip allows the plant to produce two branches later as it develops.)
  4. Set the cutting in a cut of water. Ensure that no lower leaves are below the water line.
  5. Expect root growth within just a few weeks.
  6. Transplant the rooted cutting into a well-draining pot with soil.
  7. Water the plant generously at planting, and again every few days, or as needed.

Coleus can grow up to 2 to 3 feet tall if not pinched or pruned back!
Coleus can grow up to 2 to 3 feet tall if not pinched or pruned back!

Pruning & Pruning Tips

Maintain the overall shape and health of your coleus with regular pruning. Coleus left unattended may tend to look “leggy” instead of compact and bushy.

Remove blooms or leaves that look unattractive with sterilized clippers. Not only does this improve the overall look of your plant, it allows the plant to focus energy into producing other foliage.

Pinching coleus in the spring promotes lateral branching instead of all upward growth. Wherever you pinch, two or more stems will start growing outward, the place where you pinched won’t grow upward anymore.

Remove inner branches to produce larger leaves on a plant. Or make a tree-shaped plant by removing the lower branches on the plant.

Stunning multi-colored coleus plant.
Stunning multi-colored coleus plant.

General Care Tips

Don’t worry if your coleus has been neglected for a long period of time. You can actually revive the plant by cutting away clearly dead portion of the plant, and the plopping the plant into a new pot. Water-in the new plant thoroughly. No need to apply a fertilizer, coleus is very hardy.

Winterize coleus by using the propagating techniques. Coleus left outside during the cold winter months will die back, but propagating the plant and growing it indoors will allow you to have a large plant ready as soon as spring weather allows. Make sure to take plenty of cuttings, just in case one or more doesn’t take root.

Close-up view of the coleus plant.
Close-up view of the coleus plant.

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