Coleus is a genus that contains about 290 species of herbs and shrubs in the Lamiaceae family. These plants are native to regions of the Old World tropics and subtropics, such as tropical and subtropical Asia and Malaysia.
Coleus plants are mostly grown as ornamental houseplants, but some species have gained their popularity since ancient times thanks to their multiple health benefits. For example, Coleus Forskohlii (Plectranthus Barbatus) contains a chemical in its roots called forskolin.
In traditional medicine, forskolin served as an excellent treatment for heart disorders, respiratory problems, allergies, insomnia, and skin conditions. Nowadays, some healthcare providers still recommend forskolin to patients with asthma, glaucoma, and use it intravenously for heart failure.
About Coleus Plants
- Although Coleus plants are herbaceous perennials in their natural habitat, they are usually grown as an annual by every gardener around the world.
- Herbal product manufacturers use Coleus Forskohlii to produce plant extracts that are high in forskolin. They are promoted for the same health problems for which forskolin has been used in the past.
- Due to their various colors, Coleus plants can make for a great companion to Begonias, Lobelia, or any flowering annual plants. They also work just fine planted at the bottom of taller potted plants, such as Amaranth, Yucca, Fountain Grass, or Dracaena.
- Coleus plants are tropical plants that thrive in warm temperatures and humid conditions. Keep them away from cold drafts and frost.
- They do well in shady spots, but their light requirements may vary depending on the species. For better blooming, some cultivars will need bright and direct light.
- Coleus plants prefer a rich, loose, and slightly acidic to neutral soil that is consistently damp. The watering frequency changes from one season to another.
- During the spring and summer, they will benefit from regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer. Outside these seasons, you should go easy on the fertilizer to promote the best foliage color.
- These plants are not poisonous to humans, but they produce a sap that can cause skin irritation. They also contain essential oils that are pretty toxic to cats, dogs, and other animals.
Coleus Plants Features: An Overview
- Coleus genus provides us with gorgeous species that come in distinct colors, patterns, and leaf textures. The most common cultivars include the Wizard series, Kong series, Fairway series, Premium Sun series, and Black Dragon.
- Depending on the species, Coleus plants can grow between 6 to 36 inches (15-91 cm) in height and 1 to 3 feet (30-91 cm) in width.
- Some species of Coleus plants are succulents, while others have fleshy or tuberous rootstock.
- When it comes to their foliage, Coleus plants exhibit an incredible palette of natural color variation including dark green, yellow, orange, purple, and red.
- Enthusiastic breeders have developed specimens with numerous combinations of green, pink, bright chartreuse, black-ish velvet, and many others.
- There are species with solid-colored leaves, but other ones may appear with highly contrasted veining, splotches, or stripes.
- Their leaves are about 1 to 6 inches (2.5-15 cm) long and grow on square-shaped and semi-succulent stems. Some cultivars can also come in many different sizes and shapes.
- They are seasonal bloomers that produce small white or bluish blooms at any time of the year. Their flowers are said to draw energy from the colorful leaves.
Growing Coleus Plants
Coleus plants are literally for everyone! They are pretty easy to grow and care for as houseplants as long as you pay attention to their general needs. If you already live in a tropical region, there is not much effort to put on your part. Still, when growing these plants in temperate climates, things will change a little bit. But nothing you could not manage!
Depending on the variety or the area you live in, light requirements may be different. Before placing a Coleus plant in a sunny location, it is better to find out if yours is either an old-fashioned specimen grown from seeds or a modern vegetatively cultivated one. Generally, the seed-grown plants do well when they are exposed to part shade to full shade. For the other Coleus type, you will notice the best foliage color when placing your plant in a spot where it can receive more sunlight.
If you grow Coleus plants in a region with hot and dry climates, keep in mind that they mostly prefer shade, especially in the afternoon. In cooler climates with short seasons, these plants need plenty of direct light, as this will help them warm up a little.
Like all tropical plants, Coleus species thrive in warm to slightly hot temperatures. When growing them indoors, they have a great time at temperatures between 60 and 75 °F (16-24 °C). During the winter, make sure you protect these plants from temperatures that drop below 50 °F (10 °C). They do not get along with frost, so you should wait for temperatures to constantly remain above 60 °F (16 °C) before moving your Coleus outdoors.
How to Plant Coleus
Coleus plants grow at their best when planted in loose, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. When first planting these beauties, you can improve the overall soil’s quality by adding a layer of compost or another organic substitute. If you want to grow them in a container, look for a good-quality potting mix that is mostly peat-based.
When you manage to plant your Coleus in rich soil, it will not require fertilizing at all. Otherwise, your plant will benefit from a balanced fertilizer diluted at ½ strength once a month.
Usually, these plants do not need regular pruning, but many growers do it for aesthetic purposes. To maintain a certain size and shape, you can remove the growing stem tips once your Coleus is about 6 inches (15 cm) tall. During its flowering season, you can also pinch off the spent flower shoots to induce new blooming and keep the plant bushy.
They are sometimes infested by mealy bugs, aphids, slugs, whiteflies, and spider mites. If you notice some white fuzz on the stems, you can treat them with a cotton pad dipped in rubbing alcohol. For plants with spots and holes in their foliage, it is suggested to maintain a humid environment around them and spray the leaves with insecticide.
Watering Coleus Plants
Coleus plants need more attention when it comes to watering. They have a rather fast tendency to show their owner when something is wrong with their watering routine. So, to understand their demands, all you have to do is be all-eyes and patient.
These plants grow healthy in constantly damp soil, but they do not appreciate soggy conditions. Too much moisture around the roots may flatten your Coleus plant, resulting in root rot and irreversible damage. On the other hand, short periods of drought will slow down the growth and its leaves will turn brown around the edges.
For both indoor and outdoor growing, Coleus plants will respond well if you add some mulch to their planting soil. Make sure you do not use cedar mulch, as it can be very toxic to these plants. It is also worth mentioning that you shouldn’t allow the mulch to get in contact with their stems. It will promote root rot and hide pests like slugs.
They enjoy humid environments, so you can maintain the ideal levels by keeping them around other humidity-lover plants. If the air around your plant is dry, mist them regularly using a water spray. When growing in a container, you should water your Coleus once or twice a day during hot temperatures.
Propagating Coleus Plants
Your adorable Coleus are among the easiest plants to propagate, as they usually grow at a pretty fast pace with proper environmental conditions. All you have to do is take one or more stem cuttings and wait a few weeks for them to develop a tiny root system. Once this process is complete, Coleus babies can be integrated into your collection or gifted to your plant-lover friends.
When taking cuttings, look for stems that have healthy leaves on top and cut about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) from them. Remove the bottom-half leaves, dip the stems in a rooting hormone, and plant them in a container filled with fresh and moist potting mix. Make sure the soil covers all the leaf nodes and cover the pot with a plastic bag to increase humidity.
Place the container in a bright and warm spot until new roots appear. After two or three weeks, take out the plastic bag and keep your tiny Coleus plants in the same location as before.
Coleus plants are something to remember! Once their hypnotic foliage gets in your way, you can’t stop but thinking about them until buying one. Or more? Well, why not? They are pretty easy to grow and care for as long as you simulate their natural habitat both indoors and outdoors. If you already are the happy owner of one alluring species and want more, your Coleus can be easily propagated to fill your surroundings with more colored patterns.