Colourful coleus adds interest

The coleus plant has been available to gardeners for decades in a large variety of colours. In the past, they were a favourite for planters and shade gardens because they are durable and easy to grow and are best known for their bright colours and variety of foliage forms.

In recent years, many new hybridized varieties have been introduced with some that will now thrive in full sunlight. The intensity of light which the plant receives will also have a direct bearing on the intensity of the foliage colouring. Some varieties may produce their best color in light shade, while others look best in bright lighting. Make sure you check the care tag in the container before you buy in order to get the plants with the proper light requirements for your needs.

In our area, coleus is considered a tender annual as even the slightest frost will cause them to die. Coleus like an evenly moist soil, that drains well. The first sign of wilt indicates that they need to be watered immediately. Gardening Guru Tip: to encourage thicker foliage on the plants, pinch off the centre stems when the plants are 10 to 15 centimetres tall growth as well as remove any flower spikes as soon as they form. That way, the energy goes into producing the foliage.

You can also propagate coleus through root cuttings, set in moist sand or vermiculite or even in a glass of room temperature tap water. If you take cuttings in the fall, prior to a killing frost, can grow your coleus as a house plant. As older plants tend to become leggy and the foliage colour will begin to fade, in February or March take several cuttings from this plant and cultivate them to transplant into the garden for when the weather warms. Propagation by cuttings is an effective way to renew an older plant as a “cloned” baby will quickly become the better plant.

Coleus make nice houseplants as long as they receive sufficient light and food. Your Coleus should be planted in a light, quick draining commercial potting soil. Place it where it will receive several hours of bright light (south window) each day or provide artificial grow lighting for best leaf colour and fullness. Coleus plants will adapt to a wide range of temperatures above 12 degrees Celsius, but will grow best when they are kept between 20 and 29 degrees Celsius. Keep the soil evenly moist, but never soggy. Fertilize coleus with houseplant fertilizer as per the instructions on the package. Flower buds must be pinched off as soon as they develop to prevent the plant from producing seeds because once a coleus is allowed to go to seed it has completed its life objective and will usually die. Pinching may also be necessary to prevent leggy growth. Any time that the tip growth is removed, the plant’s energy will be diverted to the lateral side growth, creating a much bushier plant. Coleus are very durable, so you can cut your plant back severely if needed.

So why don’t you try some coleus this season in your garden? I usually pick a few of the new and unusual varieties to dress up my planters each year.