I became acquainted with coleus at an early age; it grew year-round in pots in my grandmother’s kitchen. My favourite is an old standby, ‘Wizard Jade’, with creamy white centres and bright green banding on curly leaves with serrated edges. The Wizard Series of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) grows about 18 inches (45 cm) tall, and its bright, beautiful leaves fill in spaces as perennials pass in and out of bloom. It grows from seed and I often see the mix with other seed-started coleus in cell packs in the spring.
The increasing diversity of coleus patterns and colours is wonderful. They’re good in large containers (several sizes and colours combined in one pot) or planted in beds and borders where they perform well in sun or shade. My best coleus one year, growing in bright shade, was ‘Wine Dipt’, a 24-inch (60-cm) beauty with a golden base suffused with deep crimson as the leaf flared to meet a brilliant lime-green edge—wow! (‘Wine Dipt’ is a variety propagated from cuttings and can’t be grown from seed.) They were eye-catching all summer, and I wanted to have them in my kitchen this winter, so I made a plan.
My grandmother always started her indoor coleus from late-summer tip cuttings, and this is the perfect time to snip a few. They’re simple to root. Take a tip cutting three to four inches (8 to 10 cm) long from a healthy, vigorous side shoot. Make the cut just below a leaf node, and remove the leaves at the node. Have ready a clean plastic pot with a drainage hole filled with moistened soilless mix from a newly opened bag, and make a one-inch (2.5-cm)-deep hole in the mix with a pencil. Dip the cut end of the stem into powdered rooting hormone powder. Insert the cutting into the planting mix, being careful not to knock off the powder. Gently firm the stem into the hole, and set the container in a plastic bag with the top left open (to make a humid environment but still allow air flow). The cutting should root within three weeks and can eventually be potted up into a larger container. Coleus likes heat, so keep the cutting in a warm, bright location.
Traditional coleus (like the Wizard Series) grown from seed thrive in part shade or dappled light. New sun-tolerant coleus hybrids propagated from cuttings (and can’t be grown from seed) are comfortable in full sun. I have also grown ‘Pineapple’ (golden yellow with a brown banded edge) and ‘Rustic Orange’ (deep pumpkin orange with a yellow edge), both in bright sun and they loved it. Other sun-tolerant coleus to look for in the spring are ‘Burgundy Sun’ (rich red-burgundy with points of bright edging), ‘Solar Flare’ (mottled green and purple with a yellow edge) and Texas-bred ‘Plum Parfait’, a heat-tolerant cultivar with ruffled purple leaves and a pink margin. All coleus need consistently moist soil (they can’t stand drought), and the sun coleus are especially moisture-reliant.
One way to divide the gardening world is between those who allow coleus plants to bloom and those who persistently snap off the flower spikes. (Although allowing annuals to flower signals the end of their life cycle, coleus is a warm-region perennial and continues to live after flowering.) I allow mine to bloom; the purple flowers are pretty and add an extra dimension of interest. Small bees love to work the flowers in early autumn. Snapping off the central flower spike frustrates the plant and causes even more flower spikes to grow on side shoots.
Jayne Seboe says
I have a wine dipt that’s been growing in a pot all summer on my porch. I’d like to plant in the ground but don’t know when. By the way, I have a black thumb do don’t get to technical in your answer, lol.
Thanks, Jayne S
Judith Adam says
Hi Jeannette (Sept. 13),
Weren’t we fortunate to have plant lessons so early? Grandparents are terrific teachers, and pass on information we can draw on much later in our lives. (Mine also was interested in the stars and constellations, and got me started in amateur astronomy.) I hope to always have coleus in my winter kitchen! — Judith
Thank-you Judith for reminding me of childhood memories! I too learned from my grandmother to grow coleus and I have forgotten until now!
Judith Adam says
Hi Sue (August 25)
I’ve purchased ‘Wine Dipt’ two years in a row, from different garden centres, so I’m sure it will be around again next spring. The way to ensure you can find it is to ask a local nursery to supply it next year. They make up their purchase lists far in advance, so you might inquire now about getting it on their spring order. If you like chartreuse, there are quite a few coleus with variegated chartreuse foliage like ‘Wizard Pineapple’, or even solid chartreuse leaves like ‘Wizard Golden’, that can be grown from seed over winter. Have a look at swallowtailgardenseeds.com for lots of choices. If you start seed in January, you should have nice stocky plants to put out in May. Your step display must be gorgeous!– Judith
Judith Adam says
Hi Nancy (August 25)
I think we both see the writing on the garden centre wall — no new coleus plants until spring 2012. Coleus are sold in spring along with the summer blooming annuals. I doubt we can find any young plants for sale at this end of the growing season. But what about coleus grown by friends and neighbours? They might have attractive plants and you could ask the owners for cuttings. Garden centres sometimes have display containers with coleus, another possible source for cuttings. But here’s a thought, why not grow some from seed for indoor winter enjoyment? You can see a large assortment of coleus seeds at swallowtailgardenseeds.com. Something there might catch your eye, and they’re fairly fast-growing plants. I might do that, too!
sue turner says
i have been growing coleus for a number of years. i love foliage plants (i’m a hostaholic). i grow mine in one gallon pots that i have lining my stairs on the east side of the house. this year i have 25 pots and they are absolutely stunning. mason house garden’s has a fabulous variety, but i’m always on the lookout wherever i go. i’ve tried bringing in the gallon pots and overwintering them in my plant room as well as doing cuttings now and in the late winter. the cuttings done now were much stronger.id love to know where to purchase ‘wine dipt’ as chartreuse green is my favourite colour.
Nancy Lawrence says
I have in the last couple of years discovered the beauty of some of the newer cultivars of coleus. I was out searching for some new ones at the nurseries around here yesterday in fact. I found some but where to find the ones you mentioned especially at this time of year. The garden centers only have certain ones and what they have left are usually not the most attractive ones. Can you give me a source or do I have to wait until next year to purchase them. Thanks