Coleus care and cuttings

Published on May 27th 2021
A group of purple flowers
Propagation in winter rejuvenates any gardener itching to delve their hands into the soil. It can also be a stressful time for the first-time gardener trying to keep rot at bay. Put your mind at ease and create some Coleus cuttings this winter.

Overwintering annuals

Coleus are classified as annuals or herbaceous perennials by many growers, yet it is very possible to keep a lush full plant indoors over winter. In fact, it has become commonplace for many to bring their coleus indoors as they abhor the frost of winter.
Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle in one year.
Herbaceous perennial: A plant that dies back to the roots during winter and will then resprout during the following spring.
In gardens along the coasts (with milder winters), Coleus can happily remain inground without any intervention. It is advised to trim or pinch flowers to avoid the plant expending energy to generate seed. Taking cuttings allows you to propagate your Coleus over winter and have a tray of platelets ready to fill up a pot as soon as spring rears its head. The process is extremely easy and should be a staple for beginners (as an insurance policy in case the mother plant suffers rot during winter).
Coleus cutting
A standard Coleus cutting with leaves removed from two nodes.

Stepwise Guide

The process is quick and hassle-free. Just follow the steps below:
  • Sterilise a pair of scissors with surgical spirits.
  • Ready a small container for propagation, a glass of water, seedling soil mix or perlite, and water.
Coleus propagation
  1. Identify growing tips without flowers, seeds or damage.
  2. Count at least 3-4 sets of leaves (nodes) or roughly 15 cm from the tip and snip it off. This is called a tip cutting.
  3. Remove the bottom two sets of leaves from the stem.
  4. Place the cutting in the small container making sure the node (the area where the lower leaves attach to the stem) is submerged.
  5. If you are using a seedling mix, keep the medium moist but not sitting in water.
  6. Alternatively, if you choose to propagate your cutting in water only, replace the water every 3rd day and pot up once it has generated sufficient roots.
Coleus requires a fine growing medium due to the fine, fibrous root system. Sandy potting soil should be sufficient or you could try coir if it is on hand. The key is not to let the soil dry out completely as the roots will die off. No need for fertilizer either until spring rolls around.
Coleus roots
Coleus roots are fine and will dry out quickly. Make sure to use a fine soil mix when potting cuttings.

Already in flower?

Your Coleus may have already put its energy towards flowering, but that is not necessarily the end of the road. Ever tried making your own hybrids? It may surprise some of you to know most of the colourful cultivars on the market originate from a single species. The triploid nature of Coleus scutellarioides makes the leaves appear in many forms and colours.
Breeding programs: The University of Florida started a breeding program in 2003, that has yielded many of the common cultivars we see today including Coleus 'Wicked Witch' and Coleus 'Campfire'.
Some other cultivars:
Breeders use the large spectrum of leaf shapes and colours to create new varieties each year (a cool 1500 to date). Cross-pollination is an interesting hobby for those who would like to try it at home. You can use pollen from one plant to pollinate another and collect the seed.

Share your favourite coleus with us using the hashtag #coleuscraze!

Coleus pests
*Do not forget to watch out for those pesky aphids.
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