Once there was a genus in the Lamiaceae family, called Coleus. It included many species of perennials plants. One day some botanists came along and decided that it would be better if they split the Coleus genus into two, one called Solenostemon and one called Plechtranthus. The plant shown above is now officially called Solenostemon scutellarioides. But, as usual, people resist change, so they continue to call this plant Coleus, as will I. The genus name has now become the common name. Make sense?

I don’t claim to follow the reasoning behind the classification changes, but I do know that Coleus are wonderful plants to have in your garden. Originally from southeast Asia and Malaysia, Coleus is now grown over most of the world. Desired for their colorful foliage, Solenostemon scutellarioides has more than 300 cultivars in a huge variety of colors. Leaves are green, pink, yellow, maroon, red, purple, almost every color except for blue. Most leaves have 2 or more sharply contrasting colors. This explains some of the other common names: painted leaf, painted nettle and flame nettle.

A member of the mint family, Coleus have a 4 sided stem, and can grow anywhere from 6 to 36 inches tall. They also produce flowers, usually small purple blooms, which appear on stems above the leaves. From what I can tell, most people, including myself, pinch off the flowers so they do not take energy away from the plant. The leaves are definitely the main attraction here, not the flowers.

Coleus are very easy to grow from cuttings. Simply, cut off a stem, remove the lower leaves and put it a glass of clear water. Within a couple weeks, there will be plenty of roots and it can be potted, or planted outside. They can also be grown from seeds, but if you collect your own seeds, they may not be true to the parent. If you want a specific kind, it’s better to purchase commercially available seeds. Seeds can apparently be planted just about any time during the year.

Plant outside only when the temperature stays above 50 degrees. Coleus is very intolerant of cold. The first frost will kill them. Most types prefer at least partial shade, though new types have been developed which are supposed to do well in full sun. Plant in moist, well drained soil. In zones 10-11, Coleus can grow as a perennial, but in most other areas, it is treated as an annual, or a houseplant. As the plant grows, pinching back the stems will help encourage it to become bushier, and not as tall.

Coleus tend to get kind of straggly and unattractive as they age. The solution to this is to take cuttings in the fall, before the frost. Root those, and keep them in the house over the winter. In late winter, take new cuttings of your winter plants, and grow some new plants to put outside in the spring. In this way, you keep getting fresh, new plants and they always look good. Coleus is a low maintenance houseplant. They prefer a south window, and a temperature of around 70 to 85 degrees. Keep them moist, but not soggy, fertilize monthly and pinch off the flower spikes.

I have 2 Coleus out in my yard, and one in a pot on my screen porch. All of them came from cuttings. Did I mention how easy it was to root the cuttings? I’ve even done it several times. Anyways, when I was planting the two out in the yard, a branch broke off of one. So, I rooted that and potted it, and put it on the porch. I was not aware that the amount of sun affects the color. The two plants were originally one, but the darker intense colors, on the left below, are the plant growing in the shade. The lighter colors belong to the plant in mostly sun. Kind of interesting, I thought.


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2 Responses to “Coleus”

  1. Kem Says:

    Interesting! I like the pictures, because I did not realize there were so many variations. I should try them in the side yard sometime. That area gets little sun, but I might have to water them. That’s the side my rain barrels are on (it’s amazing how much water comes off a roof), so that area does not get as much water as before.

    • margaretsgarden Says:

      I’d definitely recommend them. I want to try and keep the 2 types I have, plus find some more that are different colors.

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