A Coleus plant (Solenostemon scutellarioides) is a fast- growing plant in the Lamiaceae (Mint) family. These extremely versatile plants are native to southeast Asia and all the way south to Australia. Coleus plants were very popular during the Victorian era but fell out of favor for a while because of the poor plant quality being sold. Today a Coleus plant is once again very popular both as an indoor and as an outdoor plant.
The bold colors and patterns on the leaves can be a mixture of lavender, cream, pink, maroon, yellow, red, bronze, and various shades of green. The color patterns can be marbled, stripped, or dappled. The leaves range in size from 1 to 6 inches (2.5-15 cm) and are usually oval with serrated edges; though some like the Kiwi Fern Coleus have long, narrow frilly leaves.
Quick Care Tips for A Coleus
There are a few secrets to successfully growing a coleus as an indoor plant.
Bright light is the key if you want dramatic, vibrant leaf color, but avoid afternoon sun or the bright colors in the leaves quickly fade.
Coleus plants like to be warm, so keep the temperature above 55°f (12.8°C).
This is a thin- leafed plant so it needs to be watered more often than a succulent plant that stores water in its thick leaves; but be careful not to over water and cause root rot.
Aggressively prune if you want a coleus to stay full and bushy.
A coleus plant is easily propagated from the stem cuttings left over from pruning
Coleus Plant Problems
Leggy stems – not enough light or stem tips need to be pinched more aggressively
Mushy, drooping stems when soil is damp – overwatering
Leaf Drop – Soil has gotten too dry
If you have a very bright area in your home that calls for a colorful plant, then a coleus is perfect. This inexpensive, fast growing plant can sit on a table or look beautiful in a hanging basket; and it is safe to have around small children, cats, dogs, and other pets.
A Coleus plant needs very bright, indirect light to grow well. These plants can even gradually acclimate to a few hours of direct sun. Fluorescent grow lights help make the leaf colors of a coleus plant even more spectacular.
A coleus plant is a fast- growing plant and the soil dries out more quickly than with many other indoor plants. Always allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering. Frequent wilting due to under-watering causes the leaves to develop crispy edges, dull colors, and brown spots. Over-watering is more serious and results in root rot.
The best fertilizer for a coleus plant is fish emulsion. If fish emulsion is not available, feed monthly with a balanced plant food diluted to 1/2 the recommended strength.
A coleus plant likes warm temperatures between 70°-85°F (21.1°-29.4°C) though it can survive in temperatures as low as 55°F (12°C).
High humidity is preferable, but a coleus still does well in homes and offices.
It’s recommended that you pinch off the small flowers as soon as they appear to encourage the beautiful leaves to grow.
Mealy bugs, aphids, and whitefly are plant pests attracted to a coleus. Check your plant weekly so these pests don’t get a foothold on too many leaves. Spraying a coleus plant with warm water helps keep insects away. Once infested, spray your coleus with the “Green Solution” (recipe in Glossary) and place yellow sticky insect cards on the soil to trap flying insects.
Because a coleus plant likes high humidity, powdery mildew can be a problem. Read how to identify and treat powdery mildew in the Glossary of the website.
Use a quick draining well-aerated potting soil. You can add some sand or perlite if the soil seems too heavy and dense.
A Coleus plant is a very fast growing plant. Check the roots every few months to see if the plant has out grown its container. When re-potting, always use the the next size pot and nothing larger; this prevents the soil from staying wet too long and causing root rot.
Aggressively prune the the leaf tips of a coleus plant to keep it looking bushy and prevent it from becoming leggy.
A coleus plant is easily propagated from stem cuttings. Read more about propagation techniques in the Glossary of the website.
Poisonous Plant Info
Although a coleus plant is listed as a non-poisonous plant, it is not considered totally safe. I would err on the side of caution andkeep a coleus away from pets and small children.
There are several things you can do for your coleus plant if it is thin and leggy. Aggressively prune your plant; depending how bad the plant looks, you can even go as far down as the soil line. After pruning, move your coleus to a brighter location or place it under some florescent grow lights if you don’t have enough natural light.
A coleus plant droops when the soil is wet because the plant is over-watered and all or some of the roots have died. Take your coleus out of the pot and allow it to sit out over night bare rooted. Re-pot using new dry soil. Hopefully there are still a few roots left that will allow your Coleus plant to start growing again.
The colors in the leaves of your coleus are fading because the plant is getting too much direct sun light. Move your plant to an area that gets bright indirect or filtered light but no direct sun. The colors in the new leaves should be vibrant once again.
You can certainly move a coleus outside for the summer, just be careful that it’s not sitting in direct sunlight. Be sure to bring your coleus inside before temperatures go below 55°.
I recommend cutting the flowers off of a coleus plant as soon as they appear. The flowers slow down the growth of the beautiful, colorful leaves.