Coleus Plant Care – For Color In Shade

Good Coleus plant care answers the question of:

What annuals can I grow in shady places for color during the summer months?

This question confronts many home gardeners, and colourful varieties of coleus plants are one of the best solutions to this problem, not a flowering annual.


The plant has many cultivars complete with brightly-hued, colorful foliage making the coleus leaf as colorful as the blooms of many annuals.

The fascination of coleus leaves is well known to plant lovers all over the country. Plus, coleus plants are easy to grow.

Familiar and popular as old fashioned house plants, indoor gardeners grow some exciting new hybrids in vivid shades of red, rose, pink, maroon, salmon, buff, peach, yellow, green and creamy white.

Hort Couture came out with a series of plants called – Coleus Under The Sea ™.

Each year, more of us are becoming acquainted with coleus as a garden subject, since new plants root easily from coleus cuttings or and flourish in shady places, particularly in rich potting soil, through the warm months of the year.

Best In Filtered Light

Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides, coleus blumei) has also been a standby as a bedding plant for many years. In parks, it has been used freely in color combinations with cannas, dahlias, salvias, petunias and other plants.

Although it succeeds in sun, its leaves have a fresher, crisper appearance and coleus colors are brighter if grown where there is filtered sunlight.

This aristocratic yet humble plant is, however, taking on a new use in gardens. It is being grown in home gardens as an annual, from seeds or cuttings.

No longer restricted as a bedding subject or scattered here and there, it is being planted in large, bold masses, much as petunias, annual phlox, marigolds or salvia are grown for vivid splashes of color.

Needless to say, the outstanding feature of this plant is its adaptability to shade, and there are few gardens where plants for sunless areas are not needed. Especially is this true where color is wanted, since color is the keynote of present-day gardening.

Coleus Propagation

An easy way to have a supply of young plants to set out in the garden, when the weather warms up sufficiently in the spring, is from cuttings taken in February or March.

Most home gardeners have leggy specimens of coleus. Cuttings, four to five inches long, may be rooted easily in sand, water or peatmoss and sand at this time of year. I also dip them in a hormone rooting powder for faster rooting.

They can be grown in different containers such as pots or hanging baskets.

When rooted, pot plant coleus in light soil and pinch frequently to keep growing compact. In the spring, growers offer young plants from seed in flats in the manner of annuals.

Another way to assure a supply of these brightly-colored plants is to propagate coleus from seeds.

Not only can one have a greater supply, but the variations of colors will be greater if you try the hybrid strains of seed.

Coleus seeds sprouts easily and quickly in a medium of sand and peatmoss or light soil at a temperature of 65 degrees F. or more, otherwise germination will he delayed.

Allow at least six weeks from sowing to planting-out time, and keep plants pinched frequently so they will become heavily branched. Growing coleus from seed tends to flower when plants are small, pinching is needed.

Pinching For Shape and Fullness

Coleus care lends itself takes kindly to pinching because it sprouts easily at a number of places along the stem. Even in the garden, pinching should be practiced to keep plants attractive.

Where summers are long, they will grow several feet high if desired, but again their height can be controlled by pinching.

It is a warm weather plant, native to East India and Africa. It is also a member of the mint family, and the small blue-purple coleus flowers, borne along spikes, are lipped like those of other true mints.

Some find the flower spikes showy, while others prefer to keep them removed. Stems are also square, another characteristic of many members of this family.

Need of warmth signifies that coleus grows rapidly during hot weather.

It means also that little is gained by setting out plants as long as the weather is wet and cold in the spring. Plants stand still for several days or weeks, so it is better not to be too hasty.

Early frosts nip coleus, so if you want to take plants indoors be careful with your timing. The better way is to take cuttings during August or September and root them according to your favorite method.

They will then make delightful house plants for the winter months, and these are the plants that will be used for stock in the spring, unless you prefer to start new seed.


Growing Requirements Easily Met

Any well-drained soil suits coleus well, though it responds amazingly to one enriched with old manure or other organic matter or commercial fertilizer.

The aim is luxurious leaf colors, so you need not be wary of a little overfeeding, as is the case with petunias, nasturtium, ageratum and other flowering annuals. With these and others, overfeeding results in lush, rank foliage and a few, puny flowers.

Many kinds of plants that tolerate shade can be combined with coleus effectively, but most of all concentrate on a background of green to show them off to most advantage.

This can be the green of many kinds of deciduous shrubs or needle or broad-leaved evergreens.

Arrange coleus in large groups, or better still in drifts, spacing plants one to two feet apart, depending on how quickly results are desired and the length of the growing season.

A few of the green and yellow-leaved kinds interspersed among the red coleus varieties create a pleasing and dramatic contrast and pattern.

The Lighting

The amount of sun to allow is important. Coleus will grow in full sun, but they lose the soft radiant foliage colors that are the charm of this favorite.

Instead, colors become very deep, almost brown, lacking the animation and sparkle of plants grown where light is strong or where sunlight strikes for a few hours a day, preferably in the early morning or late afternoon.

In partial shade, colors have a luminous quality and glow warmly, particularly on an overcast day when the light is hazy bright.

The biggest thrill of all is the effect of the reflected light of a sunset, when the entire sky is aglow with pink, scarlet and amber. Coleus leaves then are beyond the descriptive power of words.


Indoors, mealybug is perhaps the worst enemy, and this insect may find its way out-of-doors through indoor grown plants or cuttings.

To control use a spray of neem insecticide or malathion. Aphids may also become troublesome and the same chemicals will check them.

On the whole, coleus are not bothered by diseases or many insects.

Given rich soil, part shade, water-soluble fertilizer and plenty of water they resent drying out they will become the topic of conversation and admiration of your garden, particularly during the next few years when the trend for this fresh “discovery” as a garden plant will still be new and different.