How to Grow Coleus from Stem Cuttings
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. Select an apical stem from a mature coleus plant.
Apical stems have buds at the end of them. These buds are known as terminal buds.
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.
A node is a place on the stem where a bud or a leaf is growing.
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.
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.
Dip the cut ends of the stems in root hormone powder.
What propagation technique interests you most?
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.
You don't need a fancy soil mix or special liquid. In most cases, plain water is the best propagating medium you can use.
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.
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
© 2013 Jill Spencer