For those who like bright color combinations and a quickly-grown house plant, the coleus or painted nettle is an ideal choice.
Nothing is more startling than a bright window filled with them. Grown for their brilliant leaves, they have aptly named coleus, meaning “bright sheath.”
The coleus, a shrubby annual or perennial herb of the mint family, is native to Africa and the East Indies.
The stems are always flat-sided, usually square, sometimes octagonal, but never round.
The leaves are paired on plants having square stems, while stems with six or more sides often have three leaves to the joint.
Many-Sided Plant’s Features
Plants with many-sided stems are fairly rare and can be propagated only from cuttings.
Never is the foliage on any 2 plants alike unless the plants are cuttings from the same parent.
Some have leaves with frilly, delicate teeth-like edges. On others, the margins of the leaves are perfect scallops.
The leaves of some plants are heart-shaped, others arrow- or strap-shaped.
In size, they range from 1” inch on the trailing variety, Coleus pumilus, to the 8- to 10- inch leaves produced on specimen plants of the large-leaved types trained to one or two stems.
The stems are luxuriantly colored, but the leaves are the truly spectacular feature of the Coleus.
They may be clear yellow or veined with green. Some are speckled with red, brown, yellow, pink, a deep, bright wine—or a combination of all.
Most have a velvety sheen that makes the plant seem almost iridescent, especially if caught by a ray of sunlight.
Some leaves look like crumpled pieces of satin tossed by the wind against a thorny shrub.
Propagation Of Coleus
Coleus is easily propagated from cuttings or seeds. Cuttings root any time of the year and are best made from new rather than hardened wood.
With the large-leaved types, it is best to make cuttings about 4” inches in length using the tips of the branches, but this is not entirely necessary as the stem will root at any point at which it comes in contact with a rooting medium.
Good Rooting Medium
Water or damp sand is a good medium. The lower leaves should be pinched off cuttings as they will deteriorate in the medium and spoil the tender new roots.
When the roots are an inch long, cuttings should be potted in a general mixture, kept moist, and shaded for a few days. Plants from cuttings are always identical to the parent plant.
It is fascinating to propagate coleus from seed.
While it takes more time to produce good-sized plants this way, they are well worth waiting for as each seedling will have its unique color, and the shape and size of its leaves will differ from its brothers.
Seeds germinate quickly, and the usual seeding mixture and handling methods can be used. The coleus is a very tolerant subject.
Coleus loves moisture and will grow in water alone. Plants in soil, however, make a better show.
Loose Potting Soil For Coleus
A rich, loose potting soil is good, and it should always be moist but not soggy wet. Quantities of light are needed to bring out all the beautiful colors.
A glazed pot or even a tin can is more satisfactory as a container than a clay pot that dries out rather rapidly.
The container for young plants should be quite large as the roots grow almost as rapidly as the foliage, and the plants are soon root-bound.
If this condition results in a rambling growth, shift to a larger pot or make cuttings of the top growth as outlined above and discard the unattractive parent plant.
Ideal Bedding Plant: Coleus
A sunny window sill of 6 or 8 varieties of the large-leaved type and a hanging basket of the small-leaved trailing kind makes a beautiful sight—a satisfying accomplishment for the little time and energy involved.
The coleus goes to the garden in summer, making an ideal bedding plant.
Before frost, cuttings of the best plants may be taken and the window display perpetuated for another winter.
44659 by Nona B. Mott