- Coleus is a perennial and an annual that can be classified as a herb or succulent as well.
- It is native to tropical and sub-tropical environments.
- This plant could be toxic to both big and small pets.
- In many cultures, it is believed that Coleus has medicinal properties that can cure diseases.
Are you looking for foliage plants with plenty of attitude? Look no further! Coleus is a multi-hued foliage plant that’s happy growing in a garden or indoors. It’s very popular with plant parents and sometimes called Painted Nettle, but is coleus a perennial or annual? The answer isn’t as simple as you’d expect!
Coleus: Perennial or Annual?
Coleus is a tender perennial. This means they are perennial in their native habitat, which is tropical and subtropical. However, because they are not at all cold tolerant, coleus is usually grown as annuals.
They are hardy in USA zones 10-11 and on the south coast of Britain, if frosts are mild, but in cold areas, they’re unlikely to make it through the winter.
What Does Perennial Mean?
Perennial plants live longer than two years. They may be deciduous, which means they lose their foliage, but the foliage will grow back the following year. Some perennials are evergreen in warm climates and will retain their leaves. The following spring, they grow bigger and re-flower. The word perennial comes from the Latin perennis (per-annum) for “lasting the year through.”
Coleus is naturally a perennial, not an annual, but because it’s killed early by cold weather people consider it annual.
What Are Annuals?
Annual plants are different from perennials. They finish their lifecycle in one year, hence the name “annual.” They are usually more colorful than perennials and often used as bedding plants.
You may also have heard of biennials. Some folk think this means they flower twice a year, but it actually refers to their growing cycle. Bi means two, so biennial plants live for two years. In year one, they germinate and grow foliage. In year two, they flower and develop seeds before dying. Parsley is a good example of a biennial plant.
All About Coleus
There are more than 300 different coleus species and, on top of that, 1,500 cultivars range from one foot to three feet tall. Some are simple native plants, running right through to the brightest leafy cultivars. Although the different species can look very different, they usually have large fleshy roots and flowers that can’t match the colorful foliage.
One of the most popular coleuses is coleus scutellarioides with its extra flashy foliage. This coleus has brightly colored green, purple, and pink foliage, and although it’s commonly called Painted Nettle, it doesn’t sting. Its foliage sometimes has a jagged edge similar to nettles, and of course, “painted” refers to its spectacular paint job!
Since 1790, botanists have argued over the Coleus genus. Currently, coleus is part of the Ocimeae tribe and sub-tribe Plectranthinae. Hundreds of species are cataloged by the Kew Gardens Plants of the World database.
Will Coleus Come Back Every Year?
Coleus is perennial, not annual, so it will come back every year in tropical and subtropical areas. In US zones 10-11 it’s perennial, but coleus growing anywhere else isn’t likely to survive winter.
What To Do With Coleus In Winter
If you’re in a warm area, then coleus will continue to grow. Cutting back some old growth and keeping an eye on the temperature is important. If a chilly front is approaching, consider covering coleus with fleece or burying its roots in thick organic mulch.
Because it’s a tender perennial, coleus can be brought inside when the weather turns cold. Simply dig it up and replant it in a container, if you’re not already pot-growing. The warmth of a home is enough to keep coleus going in the winter. Don’t water it too much—just when the container of compost is dry a few inches down.
How To Grow Coleus
Perennial coleus needs a sunny to partially sunny spot and moist, well-drained soil. In sun, coleus will turn richer shades of intense color. In shade, it will struggle to produce its famous colorful foliage.
If you’re growing coleus annually, wait until all risk of frost has passed. There’s nothing more disappointing in the garden than discovering new tender plantlets have frozen to death overnight. May is the best time in the UK.
If you’re moving coleus, it’s always a good idea to take a few cuttings, just in case it doesn’t make it. Coleus is very easy to grow from a cutting. Just snip a stem, about 2-3 inches long, above a pair of leaves, and push it into a pot of gritty compost. Keep it damp but not soggy, and in a few weeks’ time, new growth will appear.
Here’s an interesting way to grow coleus—a coleus carpet! Coleus carpets were very popular in Victorian England. The plants were brought to England in the 1800s and were immediately loved for their bright colors. Victorian gardeners made tapestries of coleus that filled a flower border just like a carpet.
Is Coleus Poisonous?
Coleus is toxic and shouldn’t be eaten by humans, dogs, cats, or horses because coleus contains diterpene coleonol and coleon O compounds that are toxic.
Eating coleus is unlikely to be fatal, but if it’s ingested, it causes abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Its sap and leaves can cause irritation, too, so it’s best to use gloves when handling coleus.
Can Coleus Be A Houseplant?
Absolutely, yes. Coleus is an excellent houseplant and very popular with Instagrammers and interior designers. Keep a houseplant coleus looking good by pinching out the central stem. This creates side shoots and a healthier-looking bushy plant that’s perfect for selfies.
If you have house cats, just be aware that they may chew on coleus.
Coleus Is Perennial In Hot Zones
So now we know that tropical coleus is perennial, not annual, but because they die off in cold weather, people think they’re annuals!
If you love coleus but live in a cold area, try growing them as houseplants. If you don’t want them indoors, the best and lowest-cost way to grow them is by cuttings. Fleshy plants like coleus are simple to grow from cuttings; it’s really worth a try. Even if they don’t take it, you haven’t lost anything!
Why not take lots of cuttings and create a Victorian England coleus carpet?
Are There Any Other Plants That Are Both Annual and Perennial?
Yes, any perennial plant like the coleus that is temperature sensitive can be considered an annual in an incompatible climate. For example, the lantana is a tropical shrub. Similar to the coleus, in USDA hardiness zones 9-11 (southern and western coastline areas), the lantana is a perennial. However, in colder climates it cannot survive the winter, so it is treated as a summer annual.
A member of the verbena family, the lantana is a shrub that has pink, white, pink-edged red, red, or orange flowers. While very pretty and cultivated by some gardeners, the lantana is considerd an invasive weed in some parts of the world. It bears a berry-sized drupe (stony fruit) with hard spikes that is toxic to humans and animals. So, when it grows wild, it becomes a threat to livestock.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Arina Trapeznikova/Shutterstock.com
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- Royal Botanical Gardens KEW, Available here: https://powo.science.kew.org/results?q=coleus
- Gardeners' World Magazine/BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, Available here: https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-grow-solenostemon-coleus/
- USDA, Available here: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/