Coleus

A Gator coleus, by Dr. Dave Clark

Gator Glory coleus, developed by Dr. Dave Clark, UF/IFAS

Coleus is a beautiful landscape plant prized for its colorful foliage, which comes in shades of green, yellow, pink, red, and maroon.

Coleus varieties can range from one to several feet in height. They can be used in hanging baskets, containers on patios, or in landscape beds.

These heat-tolerant, durable annuals have very few disease and insect problems. Most will grow best in part shade, but there are many new varieties, some of them developed by the University of Florida, that thrive in full, hot sun.

Coleus plants do best in well-drained soils amended with lots of organic matter. Pinch the growing stems of young plants frequently to encourage dense foliage. Remove flowers as doing so appears to keep the plants from going to seed and declining.

Basic Cultural Guidelines

  • Temperature - Adaptable from 50°F night to 85°F day, higher temperatures encourage stretching. With all coleus, temperature can affect coloration. In general, cooler production temperatures give the most vibrant colors. Cooler temperatures may slow the crop but as long as light level is appropriate, this will not affect quality.
  • Light Levels - Coleus grow well under moderate to high light levels because lower light levels encourage stretching and lower quality growth. Some varieties change color depending on the light level they are grown under, but newer cultivars were developed for stability under varying light levels.
  • Media - Optimal media is a standard peat-lite mixture of peat and perlite. Any basic peat-lite mix with full micro nutrient availability.
  • pH - Optimal pH range is 5.5-6.0
  • Fertilization - Any balanced bedding plant fertilizer. 
  • Watering - Optimal watering means keeping plants lightly moist at all time.
  • Pinch - Removal of the top portion of the plant stem to encourage branching. An initial pinch promotes lateral shoots and increases branching for most coleus varieties.

Propagation: Coleus Cuttings

It’s easy and affordable to turn one coleus plant into many by taking stem cuttings. Start with a healthy, disease-free plant. Use a sharp, clean knife to cut off a four- to six-inch section of stem. Trim the stem a half-inch below the bottom-most leaves and remove those leaves. Then just put the stem in a glass of water or a sterile media like vermiculite.

Then, wait—within a few weeks, small roots will appear. Once your cuttings have a healthy amount of roots, transplant them to a loose, rich potting soil. This technique is a great way to overwinter coleus in colder parts of the state.

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