By: Heather Rhoades
The shade-loving coleus is a favorite among shade and container gardeners. With its bright leaves and tolerant nature, many gardeners wonder if coleus propagation can be done at home. The answer is, yes, and quite easily. Taking coleus cuttings or growing coleus from seed is quite easy. Keep reading to learn more about how to propagate coleus.
Growing coleus from seed starts with getting the seeds. Coleus seeds are fairly easy to find and should be available at nearly any store that sells flower seeds. If you are unable to find them at a store, many companies sell them online. Coleus seeds are typically sold as mixed, which will give you a nice variety in the foliage colors.
Start sowing coleus seed with a flat or container with a damp potting soil. Lightly sprinkle the coleus seeds over the soil. Mixing the seeds with fine sand before sowing can help you to spread the seeds more evenly with a bit more of a gap between the seeds.
After you have spread the coleus seeds, cover them with a fine layer of potting soil. Cover the container with plastic and place in a warm spot in bright, indirect light. You should see seedlings in about two weeks.
When you see the coleus seedlings, remove the plastic. Keep the soil moist as the seedlings grow. You will find it is less damaging to the coleus seedlings to water from below.
Once the seedlings are large enough to be handled (typically when they have two sets of true leaves), they can be transplanted to individual containers.
Equally as easy as growing coleus from seed is taking coleus cuttings to root and grow. Start this method of coleus propagation by finding a mature coleus plant. Using a sharp. Clean pair of scissors or shears, cut off as many coleus cuttings as desired. The cuttings should be between 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.). Make the cut for the cutting just below a leaf node.
Next, remove all of the leaves from the lower half of the cutting. If desired, dip the cutting in rooting hormone.
Prepare the soil you will be rooting the coleus cutting in by making sure that it is thoroughly moistened. Then stick a pencil into the soil. Place the coleus cutting into the hole made by the pencil. The soil should cover at least the bottom most leafless node. Push the soil back around the cutting.
Place the rooting container in a plastic zip top bag or cover the entire container with plastic wrap. Make sure that the plastic is not touching the cutting. If needed, use toothpicks or sticks to keep the plastic off the cutting. Place the container in bright, but indirect light.
The coleus cutting should root in two to three weeks. You will know it is rooted when you see new growth on the coleus cutting.
Alternately, another method for how to root coleus cuttings is in water. After taking your cuttings, place them in a small glass of water and place this in bright indirect light. Change the water every other day. Once you see roots grow, you can transplant the coleus cuttings into soil.
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Various species and hybrids of coleus (Coleus or Solenostemon spp.) are frost-tender perennials usually treated as annuals. Prized for their foliage, they are available in a range of colors and color patterns, sizes and other characteristics. You can overwinter or propagate a favorite coleus plant easily by rooting stem cuttings. Some coleus plants do not produce viable seed and are only propagated vegetatively.
Fill a flat or shallow pot that has plenty of drainage holes with well-drained rooting medium to about an inch below the top of the container. Rooting medium is commercially available or prepared by blending equal parts peat moss and perlite, sand or vermiculite.
Mist the rooting medium gently but thoroughly until it is evenly moist. Use a pencil or similar object to poke holes in the surface of the medium, spacing them evenly and making one hole per cutting you plan to take.
Cut a 2- to 3-inch section from the tip of a stem on a healthy, disease-free coleus plant. Make the cut just below a node, where leaves meet the stem.
Remove leaves from the lower half of the cutting.
Dip the end of each cutting in a rooting hormone powder, if desired, to encourage more uniform rooting.
Insert each cutting into a prepared hole in the medium so that the lowest remaining leaves are just above the surface of the rooting medium. Gently press the medium around the cutting to firm it and hold the cutting securely in place.
Mist the cuttings and medium to settle the medium in place around the cuttings. Mist the cuttings and medium as needed during the rooting process to maintain a moist, but not wet, medium.
Cover the cuttings and medium with a plastic lid or enclose the container in a plastic bag, if possible, to help maintain a high level of humidity around the cuttings and minimize the need for misting.
Place the container in a spot that receives bright but indirect light and has a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check for root formation after about two weeks by lifting a cutting out using a broad object inserted under the cutting and any roots. Once several roots an inch long have developed, transplant the cuttings into containers with a high-quality potting soil.
Money for nothin’ and your plants for free – propagating Coleus is as easy as can be. I bought the mother plant of this pictured Coleus, “Dipped In Wine”, 4 years ago come this May. I took cuttings of it last week (see the video below to see how I did it) and already just 7 days later little roots have started to appear. The cuttings I took were generous, about 10” or so, because I want the plant to have a jump up on the season. I cut the stems at an angle, stuck them in a beaker of water, put them in my utility room and that’s about it. Coleus stems are square by the way. That means they are in the mint family (Lamiaceae) along with salvia, basil, lavender and many more. Good company to keep.
Did you know that Coleus, even though they are sold as annuals, are actually classified as perennials? Mine would probably live on from year to year here in Santa Barbara as it happily grows in a pot that butts up against the house (protection with a nice amount of sun) but I choose to take cuttings because it gets very rangy. We had a 4 day rainy spell in early December followed by a cold spell in early January but it lives on nonetheless. The large leaves are falling off and new growth is already appearing.
Coleus went out of favor for a bit but now they are back with a bang. They are sold for their showy foliage rather than the flowers. And boy, some wildly patterned ones have appeared on the market lately. If you want to see what I mean just click on the link at the end of this post to see the many varieties a Coleus specialist has to offer. Be sure to check out the “Under The Sea Collection” – crazy! I nip the small blue flowers off anyway because I want more energy to go into the plant itself.
Coleus are great in containers and combine beautifully with other plants. They run the exposure gamut from shade to sun. This Coleus “Dipped In Wine” is more sun and heat tolerant than others. It gets quite a bit of sun which seems to bring out more of the burgundy color and lees of the lime green. They can be cut back, brought indoors and over wintered in the house but beware, they are subject to spider mites and all their leaves may drop off. I am going to take a few more cuttings of mine and then cut the mother plant down by a foot and see how she carries over into the coming season.
This is a stem cutting I took one week ago and little roots have already started to emerge. I will plant the cuttings back out in the garden by the end of February. That way, the plants should be very good size by June.
These are cuttings I took last year – I potted them up first. They were smaller so it took them longer to get going. This year, the cuttings will go directly into the garden by March 1 or earlier.
How do I keep my Coleus healthy and going strong? Glad you asked. I use a good organic potting soil or planting mix with a sprinkling of worm compost thrown in the planting hole. I covered the top with an 1″ of organic compost and water once or twice a week depending on how warm we get. Every other month I water them with a generous douse of Moo Poo Tea. That’s it – easy as can be.
Here’s a video for your viewing pleasure showing the above mentioned plant and how simple it is to propagate. I did call it Coleus “Kong Red” in the intro but it is actually Coleus “Dipped in Wine”. Oops, I have that one too. All Coleus are propagated the same way.
I can’t wait to get more – they have already appeared in our garden centers. I have an itching to pick up a few Caladiums too – I feel a riot of color coming on sans the deadheading!
To see all the wide variety of Coleus out there: Rosy Dawn Gardens
I use this on my container plants: Moo Poo Tea
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Coleus starts easily from seed, but starting cuttings in water speeds up the process and guarantees the young plant will be true to the parent plant. Side branches from 3 to 5 inches long, stripped of all but the top few leaves, sprout fine roots at the nodes of the missing leaves along the branch within a week or two when kept in water on a sunny windowsill. Although seeds germinate in the same time, rooted cuttings are weeks ahead of seedlings in maturity. Young coleus plants can be planted in pots until planting time or planted directly in areas where the threat of frost has passed.
Coleus cuttings can also grow in water for several months as well as start in it. Kept in a sunny window at 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the cuttings will develop a tangle of roots and even bloom. Because bloom will initiate the plant’s decline, pinching will keep them growing more leaves. Change water frequently to prevent algae and use bottled water if your water supply contains chlorine or fluoride. Coleus cuttings do not grow as fast in water as they might in pots, but keeping cuttings in water over the winter is a space-saving way to start a group of plants for spring planting.
An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.
Coleus are low-maintenance, fast-growing plants that require little effort from you to thrive.
The main consideration is to ensure they have plenty of water and are never allowed to dry out. However, that doesn’t mean they want to be sitting in waterlogged soil.
Maintain even moisture, and if you’re growing them in containers, be extra vigilant, especially in hot weather, as pots dry out much more quickly than garden soil.
As a rule of thumb, if the soil is dry to an inch down, it’s time to water. They typically require about an inch of water per week, including rainfall. Not sure how to measure that? Take the guesswork out by using a rain gauge.
Try to avoid overhead irrigation, as this can contribute to the spread of fungal pathogens that thrive in damp, humid environments.
Pinch off growing tips to encourage bushy growth, as these plants can have a tendency to become a bit “leggy.” With regular pinching, the plant will produce more stems which gives it a more “full” appearance.
As far as pruning is concerned, you can snip off stems (and root them for more plants!) to shape the plant and encourage it to become more dense.
If you notice flower stalks emerging, snip or pinch these off immediately, to force the plant to put energy into the colorful foliage, instead of diverting it into the reproductive process.
You can fertilize during the growing season with a liquid houseplant fertilizer such as Alaska fish fertilizer, according to package instructions.
This is a 5-1-1 (NPK) fertilizer which will not cause the brown spots on the foliage typical of a coleus that has been overfed.
If you are growing your plants in containers, this fertilizer can be applied every two to three weeks. In the garden, two or three times during the growing season is usually sufficient.
Even though they are tropical plants that thrive in temperatures between 70-100°F, coleus may suffer from sunscald if it’s planted in direct sunlight. If you notice burnt leaf edges, bleached, or translucent patches in the foliage, it may be as a result of sunscald.
Consider using some shade cloth to protect plants from the sun or move containers to a more suitable location, and ensure plants are well watered, as sunscald is made worse by inadequate irrigation.
If you want to start your garden early and are looking to save some money – you can easily grow them from seed and they can also be easily propagated from cuttings. I planted seeds this year in my garage under a grow light.
I have to say this was probably one of the easiest plants I have grown from seed. I had a lot of success with the seeds. So much so, that I now have lots of Coleus growing – enough to share. Starting seeds was definitely a lot cheaper than buying plants and I was able to get the seedlings in the garden earlier than if I had waited for the arrival of the plants in local stores.
And in the winter, you can take some clippings to bring some indoors to root and keep for next summer. They make a colorful addition to your kitchen window, and you can even grow it as a houseplant year round, if you wish.
Red and lime green coleus leaves create abundant color in the shade Red coleus Red-green coleus
Here are a few beautiful examples to remind us the wide range of colors and textures Coleus can bring to a garden or container. ( Images below from here and here )
Such a magical variety of colors here from hot pink, to deep burgundy, to golden rust! And don’t forget size variations: Kong coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides “Kong Series”) has huge leaves 4 to 6 inches cross, ‘Ruby Ruffles’ has tiny, frilly, fine textured foliage about 1″ wide.
The above planters are featured in our recent post here- Best shade plants & 30+ colorful shade planters with complete plant list for each! Lot’s of inspirations to check out!