Coleus plants are easy to care for, low-maintenance, and grow quickly, which makes them ideal for beginners.
But the first step toward adding the colorful foliage to your garden is learning how to care for them properly.
This detailed guide is designed to help anyone successfully grow coleus, no matter your skill level. Discover the best location and soil type, plus how to water, fertilize, prune, and much more.
Quick Coleus Care Overview
|White or bluish-purple, blooms late summer
|Full sun to shade
|Keep soil evenly moist, never let it dry completely
|Average to high
|General purpose plant food spring-summer
|Rich, loose, well-draining
|Mealybugs, aphids, spider mites
Information About Coleus Plants
Coleus is a tropical tender perennial native to Asia that is popular for its colorful foliage. It’s part of the Lamiaceae, or dead nettle family, which is how it got its second common name, ‘painted nettle’.
The plants range in size from 6” to 3’ tall, with a spread between 1-3’ wide, and leaves that are between 1-6” in length.
The foliage can be oval, pointed, scalloped, or serrated, and feature a multitude of colors such as orange, burgundy, green, red, pink, orange, maroon, and white.
Different Types Of Coleus Plants
There are two main types of coleus plants – trailing and mounded – and the care requirements are the same for all.
The mounded varieties are more common, have upright compact growth, and are mainly used as border or filler plants.
Trailing types have long tendrils, and are ideal for hanging baskets or ground covers. There are many cultivars to suit your specific garden needs, here are a few of the most popular.
- Coleus ‘Wasabi’ – This full sun variety has serrated chartreuse leaves and grows 30” tall.
- Coleus ‘Lime Time’ – The arrow-shaped lime green leaves of this variety prefer partial shade, and can reach up to 3’ in height.
- Coleus ‘Alabama Sunset’ – The red-pink leaves of this cultivar prefer full sun and can reach up to 26” in height.
- Coleus ‘Lava Rose’ – This trailing option features tendrils up to 24”. The arrow-shaped leaves have deep burgundy borders and a bright, rose-colored center.
Though they are technically perennials, coleus is not a cold hardy plant. So you can only grow it outdoors year-round if you live in zones 10-11, where the winters are mild.
Temperatures below 40°F (4.4°C) will damage the foliage, while anything below 32°F (0°C) will kill the plant.
But if you live somewhere cold, you can easily move your coleus indoors for winter to keep it alive.
In the late summer coleus plants will grow flower stalks with rows of small blue or white flowers. The blossoms are insignificant, but bees and other pollinators love them.
If you don’t like how they look you can cut them off, which will help encourage the plant to redirect energy toward producing more foliage.
Coleus plants are toxic to cats and dogs, according to the ASPCA website, and can cause skin irritation as well.
If you’re concerned about this, it’s best to grow this plant out of reach of your pets and children.
How To Grow Coleus
Before we jump into how to care for coleus plants, let’s first chat about the best place to grow them. Choosing the right location affects how quickly they grow and the vibrancy of the foliage.
Where To Grow Coleus
The best place to grow coleus will depend on the specific variety you choose. Some prefer full sun, while others do best with partial shade.
Either way, choose a spot that’s protected from wind, which can break the stems, and that has well-draining, fertile soil.
They do great in containers too, just make sure you use a pot that has drainage holes so they don’t get waterlogged.
Coleus Plant Care & Growing Instructions
Now that you have the best location in mind, it’s time to learn about how to care for your coleus. The tips below are key to a maintaining a thriving, healthy plant.
The specific amount of light your coleus needs depends on the type you grow. Certain cultivars are bred to tolerate full sun, while others will wilt or scorch with too much and they need more shade.
A good rule of thumb is to provide at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Choose a spot that has lots of bright morning or evening exposure where the plant will be protected in the afternoon when the sun is hottest.
Too much shade, however, will slow down growth and cause the colors to be muted or less vibrant. So be sure to give it plenty of bright light.
Coleus plants do not tolerate very wet or very dry conditions. Too little water will cause slowed growth, wilting, and browning, while too much can lead to rot or fungal diseases.
Keep the soil moderately damp, but not soggy or wet. To maintain the perfect balance, water when the top 1-2” is dry.
A moisture gauge probe can help you get it just right; look for a reading between 5-6 before watering again.
Average to high humidity is ideal for coleus. Most regions won’t have an issue with that for outdoor plants.
If you live in an arid climate or deal with heat waves, keep your plant well watered and protect it from the harsh afternoon sun.
Coleus plants do not like the cold, and they’ll grow best when it’s between 60-100°F (15.5-37.7°C).
Once it drops below 60°F, the plant will slow down or stop growing, and anything below 40°F could damage the foliage. Many varieties can survive down to 32°F (0°C) for a short period of time, but will die if it lasts very long.
Though they’re very tolerant of hotter temps, prolonged heat waves can cause wilting and scorching for some cultivars. Provide afternoon shade and water your plant more often to help prevent that.
Coleus are not heavy feeders, especially in fertile soil, but regular feedings as part of your regular care routine can help them grow stronger and give the foliage a boost.
Avoid any that are high in phosphorus, which will encourage the plant to flower rather than put on more foliage.
Coleus plants are not too picky about soil. But they grow best in rich, loose, and well-drained mixes that are neutral to acidic, which you can check using a pH probe.
Amend your garden beds with compost in the spring to improve drainage and give the plants a boost of nutrition. This is especially important for heavy or clay-based or overly sandy soils.
Transplanting & Repotting
The best time to transplant your coleus is in the spring. Wait to plant them into the garden until all risk of frost has passed and the temperature is consistently above 60°F (15.5°C).
Mid-spring is the best time to repot containerized plants that have outgrown their current pot.
Prepare the new location or container ahead of time, then gently dig up the plant. Trim away any damaged or rotted roots, and replant it at the same depth it was before. Fill in with soil and water well.
You can prune your coleus plants regularly to encourage bushier growth and control the shape. Pinch the tips off or use sharp, clean precision pruners to snip the stems just above a leaf joint.
Trim back bloom spikes as they appear if you’d like. Pollinators love the flowers, but it takes a lot of energy from the plant. Cutting them off can help redirect that energy to more foliage growth.
Pest Control Tips
Healthy coleus plants don’t have many issues with pests, but mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, and whiteflies can be a problem on occasion, especially indoors.
Deer can sometimes enjoy snacking on the foliage as well. You can try a deterrent spray, or simply grow your plant in a hanging pot or other out-of-reach container if furry pests become a problem.
Coleus Propagation Tips
It’s very easy to propagate coleus from stem cuttings, or you could grow by starting seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before your last frost date in the spring.
Take healthy cuttings before the cold weather hits in the fall. Remove all but the top set of leaves, then dip the cut end into rooting hormone.
Plant it in a loose, well-drained medium. Keep it lightly moist, warm, and in indirect light until roots have formed, then pot it up. You can learn how to propagate coleus in my step by step guide.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Coleus are generally very easy to care for, but no plant is problem free. If you run into one of these more common issues, my tips can get you back on track.
Coleus Plant Not Growing
A coleus plant that won’t grow usually indicates lack of light, temperature issues, or heavy soil.
Make sure the plant gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day and the temperature stays above 60°F.
Yellow leaves on your coleus are a symptom of improper watering, lack of light, bugs, or cold exposure.
Make sure your plant is getting at least 6 hours of sun, and keep the soil evenly moist but never wet.
Check for signs of insects and treat any you see right away. If you live somewhere cold, then move your plant indoors before it drops below 60°F to prevent damage.
Brown leaves could mean too much sun, improper watering, or frost damage. Rot is a common issue for overwatered coleus, so make sure you don’t saturate the soil, but don’t allow it to dry out completely either.
Direct sun, especially on hot days, or exposure to frost can also cause brown, curled leaves. So always protect your plant from extreme temperatures.
Coleus can thrive in either pots or the ground, as long as they get enough light, have well-drained soil, and the temperature stays above 60°F.
Coleus can come back every year in growing zones 10-11, where temperatures don’t get too cold. In cooler regions they will not come back.
Coleus plants can last for several years as long as you protect them from freezing temperatures, or you live in zones 10-11 where they are perennials. Otherwise treat them like annuals.
You should cut the flowers off of your coleus if your goal is to have a fuller and bushier plant. Cutting off the bloom spikes allows the plant to focus its energy on foliage growth. However, pollinators do like the flowers, so deciding to remove them can be a tradeoff.
Coleus can grow either indoors or outdoors very well as long as it has well-drained, moist soil, warm temperatures, and plenty of light.
Coleus grows best in a location that’s protected from wind, receives 6+ hours of sun per day, and has good-draining fertile soil.
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Share your coleus care tips in the comments section below.