Coleus Plant Care: How To Grow Great Coleus

rose kong coleus on a deck

Today, we’re diving into where coleus comes from, where to plant coleus, as well as sharing some expert tips on how to best care for coleus plants.

No longer that boring leafy plant, Coleus has really made a colour splash on the gardening scene in the last few years.

As a fresh interest in foliage has brought Coleus to the forefront in the garden, we have seen new colours and combinations of colours over the last few years.

Coleus is easy to care for and is a very versatile plant.

Fun Facts About Coleus Plants

Coleus has been recently assigned its own personal genus, called Solenostemon. Its complete scientific name is Scolenostemon Scutellaroides. Coleus is a part of the Lamium family, so it’s distantly related to the perennial lamiums that grow in the shade here in Edmonton.

Coleus is thought to have tropical roots, originating from the southern regions of Asia like Malaysia and Indonesia, and also Africa. Crossbreeding began in Europe in the mid-1800s with samples believed to be brought back by Dutch traders.

Breeding programs for strains with new colours, patterns, shapes, and sun and heat tolerance continue today.

Types of Coleus

Coleus was originally a shade plant, growing under the canopy of the tropics but now we have more options.  New varieties that grow in the sun and new cultivars that grow in the shade have been developed.  Breeders have gone even further to develop varieties that grow in both sun and shade.

two yellow and pink coleus plants on a deck

New colours and leaf shapes have been developed.  Spear shaped leaves with serrated edges, rounded leaves with smooth edges and colours ranging from deep red, orange to brilliant patterns of pink and lime green just scratch the surface of the choices available now in coleus.

Always check labels when purchasing coleus to see which varieties grow where.  We like to grow varieties that are dual purpose.  Here is a list of coleuses that grow in both sun and shade exposure.

Coleus Varieties

These coleus varieties grow in both the sun and the shade:

  • Redhead
  • Campfire
  • Peter’s Wonder
  • Premium Sun Mighty Mosiac
  • French Quarter
  • Premium Sun Crimson Gold
  • Premium Sun Lime Delight
  • Solar Eclipse
  • Chocolate Covered Cherries
  • Lava Rose
  • Flame Thrower Spiced Curry
  • Coleosaurus

Coleus varieties that grow only in the shade:

  • Wizard Coral Sunrise
  • Kong Junior Halo

Coleus Plant Sizes

Coleus plants are also available in different heights: 

  • Dwarf cultivars grow 8-12” (20-30 cm) in height and width
  • Midrange types of 12-18” (30-45 cm) in height & width
  • Tall varieties grow as high as 24-30” (60-75 cm)

Keep in mind, maximum heights and widths also depend on climate; the warmer the climate, the better they grow.  Again, be sure to check tags for the specifics on each variety.

Coleus Plant Colours

Did you know? Sun exposure can actually  influence coleus leaf color!

Sometimes, growing in the sun makes the leaf colour deeper and more intense. Sun exposure can change the foliage colour slightly by making a burgundy redder, and other times it can completely wash the colour out.

Generally, darker coleus leaf shades do better in the sun than lighter leaf colours.

Coleus Plant Care

Coleus is simple to care for.  Coleus has few needs and enemies.  Follow these simple tips and you will see success with your coleus.

leaves of a coleus plant

The universal sign of distress for Coleus is leaf flagging that looks like wet laundry on a clothesline – the leaves look wilted and limp.

Coleus looks wilted when they are too cold, they look wilted when they are dry, and they look wilted when they are over watered.  This makes it important to assess the conditions causing this stress to determine your course of action -whether it’s to get them in a warmer space, water them, or let them dry down a bit.

Soil for Coleus

Use a good quality soil that is high in organic matter. The organic matter makes a difference in the soil’s ability to hold moisture and yet drain well.

For more info on soil – see our short video called Why Soil Matters.

Watering Coleus

If there is anything to be remembered about Coleus, it is that Coleus does not like to have its feet wet. Continually wet roots lead to root rot.  Let the soil dry between watering, but not to a point where the plant gets completely wilted.

Fertilizing Coleus

To keep this annual colourful and happy, fertilize it weekly with a balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 through the summer. If you are growing it indoors, fertilize less often, like every 6–8 weeks.

Related: Unwinding Fertilizer Numbers

Reshaping Coleus

Coleus – Sometimes coleus will grow straggly and leggy as the summer wanes on. Feel free to pinch them back at the leaf nodes – this is where the leaves emerge from the stem. Visualize the shape you’d like and pinch it back accordingly.

Pinching the stems encourages branching and thicker growth. And they will look bushier.

Related: For more information on caring for containers, hanging baskets or indoor plants, see our Caring for Your Hanging Basket or Container video and Caring for Indoor Plants blog.

In Conclusion

Coleus is a plant definitely worth trying in your gardening space.  It does well in the ground, in a mixed container, or all on its own.  Its foliage will add texture and colour to any planting.

And if you have any questions about caring for Coleus or would like to pick up a Coleus in the spring, please send us a email Contact form link, please or call us telephone link, please & thank you – we are happy to help in any way we can.

Thank you for taking the time to talk about Coleus with us!

-by Sharon Wallish Murphy


About The Author

Sharon Wallish Murphy
Sharon grew up in the Wallish Greenhouse at the heels of her father, Charlie, who mentored her. Sharon’s passion is to share the love for growing and to empower others to find joy in their gardening journey, just like her dad.

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