How to Grow Coleus From Stem Cuttings

Updated on April 10, 2017
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens and learns about gardening through the MD Master Gardening and Master Naturalist programs.

Propagating Coleus in 4 Easy Steps
Propagating Coleus in 4 Easy Steps | Source
Coleus plants are available in so many gorgeous, vibrant colors!
Coleus plants are available in so many gorgeous, vibrant colors! | Source

It doesn't take much to propagate coleus. All you need is:

  • A knife, gardening shears, or your fingernails
  • A small container
  • Water

Rooting hormone helps, too, but you don't have to have it. Coleus is one of those happy plants that roots easily from cuttings.

1. Select an apical stem from a mature coleus plant.

This coleus stem has a prominent terminal bud (a bud at the end of the stem). In fact, if it isn't snipped soon, this bud will flower.
This coleus stem has a prominent terminal bud (a bud at the end of the stem). In fact, if it isn't snipped soon, this bud will flower. | Source

Apical stems have buds at the end of them. These buds are known as terminal buds.

See the little bud at the end of the stem? It's a terminal bud on an apical stem.
See the little bud at the end of the stem? It's a terminal bud on an apical stem. | Source

Apical stems have a bud at the end of them. When selecting an apical stem from which to take a coleus cutting, pick one that is fairly long. (Your cutting should be anywhere from 2 to 6 inches in length.)

I prefer taking cuttings from large, mature plants, ones with multiple stems that branch out from the main stems.

Mature plants are not only easiest to get good cuttings from (they have lots of strong apical stems from which to choose!) but they also won't appear scraggly after some of their stems are removed.

Removing apical stems will also cause the plant to develop a fuller, more bushy habit, something most gardeners like.

2. Cut off a 2 to 6-inch apical stem below a node.

Coleus stems are relatively thick and plump with lots of nodes on the stalk.
Coleus stems are relatively thick and plump with lots of nodes on the stalk. | Source

A node is a place on the stem where a bud or a leaf is growing.

Cut the apical stem below a node on the stalk.
Cut the apical stem below a node on the stalk. | Source

Once you've found an apical stem on the coleus, snip the stem from the plant below a node (a place where there's a stem or a bud).

Coleus stems are thick and juicy, with visible nodes up and down them. Some will have incipient or full-fledged petioles (leaf stems) growing from them.

Other nodes will simply appear as lines and feel like lumps on the stalk.

Be sure to make your cut below at least one node on the stem. (If propagation is successful, all of the nodes will produce roots.)

The cutting should be anywhere from 2 to 6 inches in length—long enough to stand upright when placed in water.

3. Remove the lower leaves from the stem.

No need to use shears. Pinching with your fingers works just fine to remove the lower leaves. (Oops! I missed a little stipule!)
No need to use shears. Pinching with your fingers works just fine to remove the lower leaves. (Oops! I missed a little stipule!) | Source

Coleus stems have two types of leaf structures that grow from their nodes: leaves with petioles (short leaf stems) and tiny leaf structures that grow between the leaf stems and the main stem. These little leaves are called stipules.

Once you've removed a 2 to 6-inch apical stem from the parent plant, pinch off the stems lower leaves with your fingers. Sometimes,

You may also use garden shears or a knife, but really there's no need. Coleus leaves, which are attached to the stem by petioles (a short stem of their own) are easy to pinch away.

Coleus stems also often develop little leaves where the petiole (short leaf stem) meets the main stem. These little leaves are called stipules. Pinch them off, too.

Remove as many lower leaves as you need to so that none will be submerged in water when you start the rooting process.

Optional Step

Dip the cut ends of the stems in root hormone powder.

Follow the directions on the rooting hormone package.
Follow the directions on the rooting hormone package. | Source

What propagation technique interests you most?

See results

As noted above, coleus roots easily, so rooting hormone isn't a must; however, it does tend to ensure success.

When using rooting hormone, always follow the directions on the label. You may be advised to wear gloves or even a mask. (I'm always careful to use it out of the wind.)

For the rooting hormone powders I use, the directions are simple, and they are generally the same.

First, dip the plant part that you're rooting into water, and then dip it into a small amount of rooting hormone that you've placed in the upturned bottle lid.

Tap the stem or leaf against the lid to remove excess powder, and then continue to the next step in the propagation process: placing the cutting in growing medium.

4. Place the cuttings in water.

I opted to root my coleus cuttings in style in a vintage Fostoria sugar bowl, but just about any sort of container will do, so long as it doesn't leak.
I opted to root my coleus cuttings in style in a vintage Fostoria sugar bowl, but just about any sort of container will do, so long as it doesn't leak. | Source

You don't need a fancy soil mix or special liquid. In most cases, plain water is the best propagating medium you can use.

This cutting began to form roots in under a week without the aid of rooting hormone.
This cutting began to form roots in under a week without the aid of rooting hormone. | Source

Once you've removed the lower leaves (petioles and stipules), place the cutting (with or without rooting hormone) in a container of plain water and set it in indirect light.

You may place each cutting in its own container or put them all in one. Whichever you choose, be sure that the water is deep enough to cover the nodes, but not so deep that the top leaves are submerged.

Alternatively, you may make holes with a pencil or your little finger in a container of moist, light potting mix and plant your cuttings.

I, however, prefer water to potting mix, simply because water works so well and using it is much more fuss free.

When rooting coleus in water, I don't have to moisten soil daily or worry that the potting medium is too wet or not wet enough.

Every two or three days, I simply check the water level to make sure the nodes are still submerged and, if they're not, add a bit more water. It's so easy!

Within a week, the cuttings will have developed roots. When roots are thick on the stem, it's time to plant the cuttings outdoors.

Source
Source

Questions & Answers

  • I cut off three Coleus stems, with leaves, and put them in a plastic bottle of water. They all did wonderfully, and grew white roots about 4 inches long. I decided to plant them in pots, and used some Miracle Grow Garden Soil. I placed them in each pot, added water, and waited. The next day they were drooped over. I figured perhaps transplanting shock. I waited again, and the following day, all three had totally died. Do you know of any reason?

    Did you place the plants in direct sun? If you did, that's probably why they died. Harden them off; in other words, allow them time to acclimate to outdoor conditions by placing the pots outside in the shade for a few hours each day for a couple of weeks, a little longer each day.

  • Another question: I was instructed on rose growing from the stem by inserting them into potatoes. They said one could use honey and Cinnamon as a substitute for the rooting hormone. What do you think about this? I also have tried growing potatoes in a five-gallon bucket. They would sprout really well, grow long tops; then they would just die off. Do you have any ideas?

    Hi! I've read that honey, due in part to its antiseptic qualities, can be used in rooting. An experiment by Hawaiian MGs, however, showed it to be less successful than rooting powder: https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/uhmg/news/V21-honey-r...

    I've started roses from cuttings in half-soda bottles with plastic bottle "cloches" on top, a method a friend taught me. No rooting powder or honey involved. The technique is probably online somewhere if you're interested.

    As for the potatoes, I have no experience/information on growing potatoes in buckets so can't really speak to that.

  • I cut two Coleus stems from a different plant, and decided to just insert them into very moist soil. That was yesterday. Tonight, they are both drooping with very limp leaves. Could it be too much stuff in the garden soil?

    You're more likely to be successful if you dip the cuttings in rooting hormone first. Plant them in moist, not saturated, soil and place them out of direct sunlight.

  • I took cuttings from coleus plants several weeks ago and stripped off the lower leaves. They were so beautiful that I stuck them in a cup and added water to enjoy them longer. To my great surprise, those leaves have grown roots. Is there any way that a new plant could grow from the roots if I planted the leaves?

    Yes! Propagation by leaf cutting is a common practice.

© 2013 Jill Spencer

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 weeks ago from United States

      Hi, Cindy! They might have an easier time forming roots if you place the cuttings in water rather than potting soil. If you want to keep trying with the potting, make sure it's moist and don't let it dry out. Good luck!

    • profile image

      cindybarber 

      4 weeks ago

      I had propagated my coleus and pinch back the taller stems and replanted the coleus in organic potting soil. Now the leaves are drooping will the the leaves perk up and grow roots?

    • profile image

      Barbara 

      3 months ago

      This is my first year planting coleus which I did so in an urn with a couple of other plants. I’ve had to be aggressive in keeping them cut back so I’ve decided the trying propagating them in water. It’s mid July here in SC and so far I’ve been able to add a few in my planter boxes and they’re doing fine. I’ve started a lot more in water and plan to do the same but my question is what do I do with them in the fall? I’d love to winter them and have these great plants to put out in the spring. Should I put each plant in peat pots? Also I’m going to have a hard time finding a place warm enough. Can’t put them inside because I’d pets. Any ideas?

    • Redfox007 profile image

      Redfox007 

      5 months ago

      and results.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 months ago from United States

      Hi redfox007. Maybe the soil just needs to be loamy. , I stick it in the flowerbed with the others and it does just fine. It's awesome that yours is doing well now. It's too bad we can't attach pictures here. Would love to see them.

    • Redfox007 profile image

      Redfox007 

      5 months ago

      My Coleus I planted in the Potting Mix is still alive and kicking, so I figure we must have found the answer. Don't plant new Coleus in the Garden Soil.

    • Redfox007 profile image

      Redfox007 

      5 months ago

      Well, Jill, I tried the potting mix and planted a Coleus from a water bottle to it, (the Coleus had gotten some roots on it,) and since yesterday it has not drooped over. So, perhaps we got it figured out. The Garden Soil being too rich for the Coleus. Thanks a lot.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 months ago from United States

      Good luck, Redfox007!

    • Redfox007 profile image

      Redfox007 

      5 months ago

      Hi Jill. As for my posts, I have my Coleus indoors, with very little sunshine. I set them on a table back from the window, as I have raised Coleus previously. Some of my Coleus have grown great, but others just immediately die overnight. I went to Ace Hardware today and spoke to a gal who seems to understand plants, and she said the "Garden Soil" was too rich. The Coleus needs to be started slowly with more of a Peatmoss style. I did purchase some Miracle Gro Potting mix, as she said it was a lot of peat moss. So, I shall attempt using it.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 months ago from United States

      Hi Redfox007. Please see my responses above. Good luck to you! Jill

    • Redfox007 profile image

      Redfox007 

      5 months ago

      I posted two questions above. I have Coleus which I rescued from getting thrown away and would like to get more in pots. I placed some in water, tor roots galore, then planted them in Miracle Grow Garden Soil. They wilted and died in two to three days. I watered them quite well.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      8 months ago from United States

      Hi Meerab! Sorry to hear about the leaf loss. The worrisome part is that the leaf looked burnt, which probably means disease. I would remove the infected plant and dispose of it (but don't compost it). Be sure you're not overwatering the others and be sure they are not too close together. They need lots of air flow. Coleus is susceptible to fungus. Best to you!

    • profile image

      Meerab 

      8 months ago

      Hi there! I loved the way u explained. I tried propagating coleus in soil. It was good initially but the 7th day one of tye 4 leaves that was a healthy one dropped out being burnt from the leaf stalk. I am worried if this wud happen with others as well. Is there anything I can do to save the rest of the stem left.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      13 months ago from United States

      The stems only have one leaf? I would snip down to a node as described above. What's left won't be very attractive, but your plant should bush out from the trimming unless the frost gets it first. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Sue 

      13 months ago

      I have a single stem coleus, only one leave per stem. What's the best way to grow cuttings?

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      20 months ago from United States

      Hi Catherine. When you set it out depends upon where you live. Coleus can't take frost, so wait until all chance of frost has passed. Pinching it back will make it bush out.

    • profile image

      catherine 

      20 months ago

      hello thank you for this article. i managed to get a cutting to grow roots in about a week, without any powder and from quite a young coleus plant. I am just wondering how long roughly to wait until planting it in the garden? the roots are about 2cm long but very spindly. Should I wait another week or two or plant within a few days?

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi Dolores, Rebecca & Susan. Thanks so much for stopping by. It's a great time of year to start coleus. It's so pretty for fall. Celosia (cock's comb) is a similar plant that starts easily from cuttings in water. Thanks for the shares! --All the best, Jill

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I am doing some now! I just got some cuttings from a friend's . I have 4 variations, and I am excited. Very helpful!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I just love Coleus and have found your hub so very useful. Thank you!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I must try this! I love to get freebie plants from friends and neighbors (and share with them as well). Coleus is so pretty! Your pictures are, as always, awesome!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the share, faythef!

    • faythef profile image

      Faythe Payne 

      5 years ago from USA

      I love coleus, have never tried a cutting..but will use your method..need to visit friends so I can snip a leaf from theirs..thank you , voting up and sharing

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi Thelma! If it's as humid and warm there as I think it is, I bet your coleus will do beautifully. I wonder if, like livingsta's mom, you'll have huge growth AND trouble with pests. Nice to hear from you, Thelma. All the best, Jill

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      5 years ago from Germany

      I have done this propagating for my Coleus in which I have known the name of this plant just yesterday here in HP. I have not tried propagating this plant in a glass of water yet. It´s a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi Deb! How are you doing? I'm glad the hub stirred up some good memories for you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      As a young'un, I recall my father doing some of these things with certain plants. I don't recall must of them, but I do remember that white powder. He had a friend that was a retired officer from the Burpee Seed Company, and Ken taught him a great deal about gardening. Thanks for the reminders and the memories. You are so good at what you do!

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 

      5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Jill, it's the mealybugs I guess. They are in clusters all over the stems and mostly under the leaves. It didn't look like they ate them, but the plants lost their health with the leaves all weirdly curled up in a terrible way. It also hinders the healthy growth of the plant. Yes, this was in India. Would it be because it was easier for them to thrive in warm climates? Not sure.

      Mum used to use pesticides to get rid of them.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi livingsta! You have me very curious about what eats coleus in India! Here in the eastern US, I've never had a pest problem w/them except for occasional snail damage. Were those the culprits in India? --Jill

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 

      5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Nice hub, I used to have these plant when I was in India. The colours are lovely but they were prone to pests. I did not know that such a short stem was sufficient. We were planting long stems of 10 to 12 inches length.

      Thank you for this useful information.

      Voted up, useful and interesting, Sharing!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi Sharkye11! What a great garden story. Isn't it great to get volunteers? Love when that happens (and they're not weed). Take care, Jill

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting hub! I had a coleus appear mysteriously in my yard last year. I quickly fell in love with it and moved it to my flower bed.Even though it died over the winter, it left a legacy behind...hundreds of babies! I carefully moved all of them to different beds. I can't wait for them to mature so that I can try propagating them. I love rooting plants in water! Will bookmark this for future reference!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi Thelma. It really is easy. Why buy a tray of the same color coleus, when you can get a few in different colors and "make" a bunch more so easily! Thanks for stopping by. --Jill

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      5 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      So very easy... I just love coleus. Thanks for the good info.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi rajan jolly--Yes, it's a good plant for beginning propagators as they're almost certain to be successful. Thanks for commenting!

      Hey Zsuzsy--Yep, it's a standard method that's easy to use w/lots of plants, especially houseplants easy-care houseplants like African violets and jade. Nice to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by! --Jill

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting, Jill. Coleus are one of the easiest to propagate.

      voted up.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      5 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Great hub. This method works great for quite a few plants.

      regards Zsuzsy

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      Awesome, RTalloni! We think alike! I love coleus, but they can be expensive if you want to fill a bed with nursery pots of them. Thanks for stopping by! --Jill

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      5 years ago from the short journey

      I'll be doing this tomorrow, if not later tonight. Thanks for an easy and inexpensive way to get more coleus for the summer/fall season!

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