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How To Grow Coleus 101 - Indoors and In The Garden

Updated on April 25, 2015
Seedlings growing amongst borage and petunias
Seedlings growing amongst borage and petunias | Source

Indoor Coleus Care

Bright Light
Leaves Often Drop
Don't allow to dry out for long periods of time
Tolerates Shade
Occational Bloom
Cut Back Often
*It's worth the effort if you have the time to care for it! Might be a little too much effort if you have a large indoor garden. Start with one plant and work your way up!

Can you imagine Coleus growing in your home? Check out this breath taking seedling growing in my basement greenhouse!

Hard To Grow Indoors?

Admittedly, yes.

WARNING: Coleus is the Brittney Spears of house plants.

If you want something that is spectacular looking in the house, you had better be willing to put up with a divas attitude. They loose leaves whenever they feel like being dramatic, which is often. Just like any pop star, they grow very quickly, but also fade in an instant!

Last year I lost my entire indoor Coleus collection by about November, or December. The main reason was my own neglect (in allowing them to dry out about a million times). I'm guessing my regular watering schedule was just not enough for them, not even close!

They started getting fruit flies near the end and that is something I just can't stand for. I have hundreds of other plants living in my home, so any bugs have to go immediately. Eventually I got fed up with this high maintenance beauty and they all wound up in the trash. I didn't even really feel bad, I was glad to get rid of the added chore!! If you want one really amazing plant, or have just a few plants and are looking to add one, really special plant to your collection, I highly recommend seeing how long you can keep one alive.

Luckily Coleus can be bought as an annual, or started from cuttings and seeds (one of the EASIEST plants to propagate....evah!!!!). I'm going to have many more this year, and likely every year because they are just amazing additions to the garden. So far, I am having tremendous success (and lots of fun) growing them from seed. I would recommend anyone that grows their own annuals to add it to their list!

What I learned from last years Coleus nightmare!

  • Plant your coleus in a large pot with a large drip tray. This plant needs to be soaked often but not allowed to sit in lots of water. Add a lot of vermiculite to the soil and use a suitable indoor mulch.
  • Do NOT water the leaves!! Just like begonias, this plant hates water on it's leaves. It develops water marks almost immediately. Make sure you lift the leaves when you are watering.
  • Coleus like bright light, dappled sunlight, and tolerate shade well. Do not hang/place your plant in a hot, sunny spot unless you intend to water it even more often! Yes it likes the sun but it also dries out so much quicker when placed in a hot dry area.
  • Do not plant into a ceramic or terracotta pot. These type of plants absorb the water and make too dry of an environment for the Coleus.
  • Cut back your Coleus once it gets large or if you have any issues with it! It is better kept manageable and healthier.
  • Throw out your Coleus if it develops any bugs. Just my opinion but it does come from experience....

The initiative of growing Coleus (in case you're wondering, after everything I've just said, why anyone would want to grow Coleus indoors), is that it is extremely beautiful, especially indoors.

It is adaptable, as long as there are no sudden extremely changes, meaning it can fit into spots where you want a plant, but there is not quite enough light. Cuttings can be taken in spring and used as annuals in the home garden. This involves nothing more than cutting some stems off your plant before spring and keeping them in a jar of water to develop roots. These plants would have to be correctly hardened off before ready to plant outside though as Coleus can not, I repeat NOT survive low temperatures.

Coleus As An Annual

Coleus makes a fabulous addition to your flowerbeds, hanging baskets, and mixed baskets. It is unique in that it is one of the few plants grown specifically for it's brightly painted foliage, and not for it's flower.

The best thing I did this year was to buy a packet of mixed Coleus seeds. The packet contained well over 100 seeds and was dirt cheap! They are sitting under regular fluorescent shop lights. The fun part is going through and taking out the really extravagant ones, although they are all so unique once they get bigger. Colors include whites, yellows, limes, greens, purples, reds, and vibrant pinks!

Coleus Seedlings

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Coleus is very easy to germinate.... just don't burry the seeds!
Coleus is very easy to germinate.... just don't burry the seeds!
Coleus is very easy to germinate.... just don't burry the seeds! | Source

Coleus As An Annual

Full sun
Temperature must be above 15 degrees Celcius
Add slow release fertilizer to pot
Leaves drop often
Tolerates shade well
Ammend flower beds prior to planting
Cut back to maintain bushy shape
Use mid season cuttings to start indoor plants or to fill in space areas in the garden!

How To Start Seeds Indoors

  1. Start Coleus 4-8 weeks before you average last frost. If you have indoor Coleus, take cuttings and put them in a jar of water. Cuttings can also be placed into small pots directly into the soil. You can use Root Stimulator if you want, but I don't find it necessary. Just keep the soil moist, or even better, keep the cuttings under plastic for awhile. Be sure to gradually remove them from the plastic or the shock will wilt and kill them. This has happened to me many, many, many times...
  2. Use a sunny windowsill, or set up fluorescent lighting where you have the space.
  3. Fill seed trays with potting soil or soilless mix.
  4. Plant Coleus seeds densely if you want to pick and choose which ones you want to keep. Thin as they grow keeping the colors that you like best! Keep in mind that the colors become much more elaborate and intense as the seedling grows. Some that look insignificant when first sprouted turn amazingly beautiful after they have grown 4-6 sets of leaves. If you want to keep all your seedlings, separate them and place them into larger, individual pots. Optionally, you can just seed one per pod and take whatever comes!
  5. Coleus seeds don't need to be buried. Lightly dust potting soil over them, gently push them into the soil, or use a thin layer of vermiculite (the final being my preferred method)
  6. Cover your seeds with plastic and provide bottom heat. If you don't have the means, simply placing your seed trays into clear plastic bags, blowing a bunch of air in with them, and sealing the bag will work!
  7. Once seeds have sprouted, remove from the plastic and allow them to dry out before starting a watering schedule.
  8. Pinch off the Coleus once it has several sets of leaves, this will make it much bushier.
  9. If you want bigger plants sooner, keep potting up the Coleus as transplanting doesn't seem to bother it, and the more room you give it, the more it grows.
  10. Wait until outside temperatures are above 15 Celsius before hardening off your plants
  11. Harden the Coleus off very gradually as it doesn't take well to abrupt changes
  12. Add Coleus to hanging baskets, mixed baskets, boxes, pots, and flower beds. It is such a unique and sophisticated addition!

This Guy Grows Great Coleus

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