Coleus, or Plectranthus scutellarioides — also called Solenostemon scutellarioides, formerly Coleus blumei — is one of the most popular bushy plants in gardens, both for its astonishingly beautiful leaves and for how easy it is to grow and maintain. It is a tender perennial often grown as an annual. This plant’s exact origins are unknown, though it likely originated from Southeast Asia. It was the delight of Victorian gardens, named after Karl Ludwig Blume (1796-1862), who was probably the first to bring it to Europe from Java.
This plant can grow upright, trailing, or mounded, measuring between 6 inches and 3 feet. Its velvety leaves grow opposite each other and are typically oval or heart-shaped, although some cultivars have serrated or pointed leaves. Coleus cultivars offer a vast range of colors, ranging from light creamy yellow to the darkest purple, almost black. The stem is quadrangular and robust.
Coleus Leaves: A Colorful Realm
The relevance of growing coleus lies mainly in the unique patterns of its leaves, exhibiting lively colors and infinite combinations that bring incredible vibrancy to any garden. The flowers are small, pale blue, and sheath-shaped, forming a flower stalk. Gardeners consider them insignificant compared to their foliage, so they prefer to cut them, as flowering may weaken the plant, inhibiting leaf growth.
Depending on the cultivar you choose, its leaves can be large and dark, as is the case with ‘Giant Exhibition Palisandra,’ or small, pointed, and variegated in various colors, like ‘Henna.’ The intensity of color will depend on several factors, mainly exposure to sunlight, although the substrate, container, and irrigation will also be key. Read more about coleus leaves here.
Coleus Cultivation 101: Quick Guide
Coleus is one of the easiest plants to cultivate, requiring little maintenance if you grow it in adequate conditions. This includes knowing which hardiness zone you are in, which will facilitate its care. This map shows you which plants have better chances of thriving depending on the temperatures. In terms of coleus in particular, here’s when to plant coleus by zone.
Knowing the temperature range of your area, you will know whether to grow it in pots or soil. Although it is very common to see coleus outdoors, its versatility makes it an excellent choice for indoor growing. Still, you must choose the right substrate and container, as well as take care of temperature, watering, and exposure to sunlight, as we tell you in this article about how to grow coleus indoors.
Moreover, coleus is one of the easiest plants to propagate, either by seed or cuttings. Seeds are usually inexpensive, and you can easily get them from any nursery or online distributor. Plus, there are plenty of cultivars available to experiment with to add a touch of color to your garden or home interior. Read more about starting coleus from seed here.
Still, the quickest and easiest way to multiply this beautiful plant is by cuttings, and you can use the remains of a good pruning session to do so (here’s a more in-depth guide for how to prune your coleus). For this purpose, you should choose a mature plant with characteristics you want to repeat in your garden. Ideally, cut the soft stems below the leaf node and discard the leaves below, leaving only a few at the top to photosynthesize. Next, place the cuttings in a glass or bottle with water, keeping the leaves from touching the water. Afterward, place the glass or bottle in a place with indirect sunlight, changing the water every day to prevent them from rotting. In a few days, you’ll see new roots forming and know when it’s time to pot up your new plants. Read more about how to propagate a coleus here.
Pruning your coleus is not only a simple and relaxing task but also stimulates the growth of new shoots, taking on a bushy shape. Remember to be careful, pruning only with clean elements to prevent fungi or other microorganisms from infecting your plant.
Coleus Light Requirements
Coleus is a plant that prefers filtered light or morning sun, although some hybrid cultivars — such as the ‘Premium Sun’ varieties — tolerate sun much better. Simply observe the leaves of your coleus regularly, and you’ll know if it needs relocation. Your plant’s leaves will typically look scorched if they get more sunlight than they can tolerate or look faded if they spend too much time in the shade. Read more about lighting requirements for coleus plants here.
Coleus and Animals
If you have pets at home and want to plant coleus, be aware that most varieties can be toxic to cats, dogs, rabbits, and other small animals. The sap of this plant contains certain essential oils that can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, skin irritation, decay, and in some rare cases, death. While not fatal to humans, handling it can cause some of these symptoms, and you should pay particular attention if you have children at home.
If you think your pets have coleus poisoning, you should go to the veterinarian immediately, taking the plant with you to help the vet quickly reverse the situation. For this same reason, wild animals usually stay away from coleus, as it has a pungent smell and taste. However, if there are no tastier plants nearby, they could end up munching on your coleus. Deer, for example, are notorious for eating plantain lilies — genus Hosta — voraciously.
If there are no wild animals eating plants in your area and your coleus still look like they are being eaten, it is most likely due to a smaller pest, such as mealy bugs, slugs, or spider mites.
The Astonishing Varieties of Coleus
Whether your goal is to plant a varied garden to form visual patterns or beautify your home’s interior, coleus will be a great choice. Not only do you have more than 300 species available, but you can find more than 1,500 different cultivars, each with unique characteristics. In addition, knowing what types of coleus exist will allow you to combine them with other plants that require similar care or simply go well together. Read about 20 specific — and beautiful — varieties of coleus here.
Combining species is a widespread practice in the gardening universe, as it provides multiple benefits when done correctly. Among the ideal companion plants for coleus are beauties such as lantana, impatiens, begonias, and many more. Dare to mix and match different species. This way, you can create a shade garden with unique details and radiant colors! Get a more in-depth look at the best companion plants for coleus here.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Astfreelancer/Shutterstock.com
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