Jill is a former Master Gardener and Naturalist who enjoys cooking, abstract painting and stewardship.
It doesn't take much to propagate coleus. All you need is:
- A knife, gardening shears, or your fingernails
- A small container
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. Find an Apical Stem on a Mature Coleus Plant
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 (since 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
Once you've found an apical stem on the coleus, snip that 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
Coleus stems have two types of structures growing on them: short leaf stems (petioles) and tiny leaf structures that grow between the leaf stems and the main stem (stipules). All of these should be removed, leaving only the topmost leaves.
Once you've removed a 2 to 6-inch apical stem from its parent plant, pinch off the stem's lower leaves with your fingers. You could 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 (shortleaf stem) meets the main stem. These little leaves are called stipules. Pinch those off, too.
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Remove as many lower leaves as you need to so that none will be submerged in water when you start the rooting process.
Dip the Cut Ends of the Stems in Root Hormone Powder
As noted above, coleus roots easily, so rooting hormone isn't a must; however, it does tend to promote 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:
- Dip the plant part that you're rooting into water.
- 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.
- Place the cutting into a growing medium or soil.
4. Place the Cuttings in Water
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 can make holes with a pencil or your little finger in a container of moist, light potting mix and plant your cuttings directly, without waiting for roots.
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 the 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.
To learn more about the next steps, planting and caring for coleus, read How to Care for the Coleus Plant.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: I bought a coleus plant from a nursery. They had kept the plant in the full sunlight. It was bright and beautiful but since I have got it at home it became dull and faded. First it had leaves fall as well but then it stopped and it started growing but still, the color is faded and plant looks dull. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: Your plant might need fertilizer. A once-a-month application of 10-10-10 should do it.
Question: 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?
Answer: Yes! Propagation by leaf cutting is a common practice.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: Any tips on preventing white mold from growing around the roots and stems of coleus?
Answer: One thing that will reduce/prevent it is to thin the plants. This will increase airflow and reduce moisture.
Question: I live in Mississippi and I have rooted several coleus plants, and they have rooted well. How can I keep them over the winter to plant in the spring? Can they grow in the house over the winter?
Answer: Yes, you can pot coleus and grow them indoors. They make great houseplants. Place them somewhere they'll get indirect light.
Question: I don't want to put my coelus plant in soil as it looks lovely in the bottle, can it survive in water for long?
Answer: Yes, you can grow coleus in water. You might want to add a little charcoal to keep the water clear. Also, mix up some water-soluble fertilizer like Knox gelatin for your coleus.
Question: My French Quarter coleus has bloomed wonderfully and now I already propagated it. So what should I do about the rest of the plant? Do I just let my coleus die with the cold weather?
Answer: Yes, you could allow frost to kill the plant or pot it and grow it indoors as a houseplant.
© 2013 Jill Spencer
Haulfryn on June 12, 2020:
I took cuttings two weeks ago and put them in water. Roots appeared 3 days ago and increased in size daily. I transplanted the cutting into fresh potting compost with added bone meal and left them in the shade. After an hour or so they began to wilt and did not look very good. I used a liquid fertiliser and they are showing a bit of an improvement. Should I have dried off the cuttings before transplanting?
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on November 18, 2019:
marcelino on November 18, 2019:
im doing my seince fair project on this
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on November 03, 2019:
I think you are the kind one, Irene. Thanks for stopping by. All the best, Jill
Irene on October 31, 2019:
Thanks Jill for sharing your ideas and practices on propagating coleus. I find your article so helpful. I also enjoyed reading your answers to queries. Thank you for your kindness.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 17, 2019:
Yes, you can grow it indoors and outdoors. Thanks for posting!
Ellen on August 16, 2019:
Isn't coleus a good indoor plant?
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on October 23, 2018:
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!
cindybarber on October 23, 2018:
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?
Barbara on July 24, 2018:
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 on June 22, 2018:
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 21, 2018:
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 on June 21, 2018:
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 on June 17, 2018:
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.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 16, 2018:
Good luck, Redfox007!
Redfox007 on June 15, 2018:
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.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 14, 2018:
Hi Redfox007. Please see my responses above. Good luck to you! Jill
Redfox007 on June 14, 2018:
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.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 22, 2018:
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!
Meerab on March 17, 2018:
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.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on October 26, 2017:
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!
Sue on October 26, 2017:
I have a single stem coleus, only one leave per stem. What's the best way to grow cuttings?
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 07, 2017:
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.
catherine on March 07, 2017:
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?
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 19, 2014:
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
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 19, 2014:
I am doing some now! I just got some cuttings from a friend's . I have 4 variations, and I am excited. Very helpful!
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on August 19, 2014:
I just love Coleus and have found your hub so very useful. Thank you!
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on August 19, 2014:
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!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 18, 2013:
Thanks for the share, faythef!
Faythe Payne from USA on June 18, 2013:
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
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 01, 2013:
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 from Germany on May 31, 2013:
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.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 19, 2013:
Hi Deb! How are you doing? I'm glad the hub stirred up some good memories for you.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on May 19, 2013:
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 from United Kingdom on May 18, 2013:
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.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 18, 2013:
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 from United Kingdom on May 18, 2013:
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!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 18, 2013:
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
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on May 17, 2013:
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!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 17, 2013:
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
Thelma Raker Coffone from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on May 16, 2013:
So very easy... I just love coleus. Thanks for the good info.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 16, 2013:
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 Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 15, 2013:
Very interesting, Jill. Coleus are one of the easiest to propagate.
Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on May 15, 2013:
Great hub. This method works great for quite a few plants.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on May 15, 2013:
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 on May 15, 2013:
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!