Coleus, the most colorful houseplant.

Did you ever notice that most houseplants are just green? Sure some have flowers but most of them spend the vast majority of the time only green. It's kinda boring. Except for Coleus. It's pink, ruby, burgundy, yellow, white and green color variations are quite striking and can provide a pop of summer like color even in the dead of winter. Unfortunately, many gardeners don't realize that you can grow it as a houseplant!

Coleus as a houseplant

Coleus is actually a perennial. It's a tender perennial that is often used more like an annual, but in the right conditions it can grow year round. Luckily, you have those conditions inside your house! Outside it's only hardy above zone 10. 

Coleus suffers cold damage at around 30°F, so if you have one growing outside you'll want to take cuttings or bring it inside before it gets too cold! It's super simple to grow more plants from cuttings, though..all you need is water.

The most popular is known as Coleus Hybridus (painted nettle). A much more vibrant Coleus plant, simply called "Rainbow Mixed Colors" on the seed package or seedling flat is unbeatable in color variations. Plectranthus scutellarioides, commonly known as coleus, is a species of flowering plant in the family Lamiaceae, native to southeast Asia through to Australia. wiki 

Chances are you have the Rainbow mixed colors if you bought seedlings from the local nursery. At least that's what they sell at all the ones I've been to.

How to grow coleus indoors

Growing Coleus indoors

My coleus plants do well in about an 8" pot size, though you can certainly start smaller. Coleus plants grow best in moist well-drained soil amended with organic compost. When kept as  a houseplant, I water them well once a week. Give some weak compost tea about once a month in winter, twice a month in the growing season. 

Depending on the variety you have, your plant could prefer as much sun as possible, or indirect sun. I keep mine in a bright eastern facing window and they seem to do well all winter long. I have that Rainbow Mix that I mentioned earlier, and more than likely you do too. 

If your coleus is growing well in bright light keep it there, but if the color starts to fade it probably needs a little less light.  

Since we're getting into cold weather here though, you're probably going to want to take some cuttings from your coleus ASAP. Because of the ease of regeneration of the Coleus plant, you could easily propagate a single plant into several totally new plants for this winter. 

How to propagate Coleus plant

Once the coleus plant is about a foot tall, you can take a few cuttings. Begin cutting near the bottom. Trim each one to about 6" in length, then remove all the tiny bottom leaves. I always forget to do this. 

It won't hurt the process if you forget, but it could cause the water to get funky pretty quickly. If you did forget, you'll want to pull the tiny leaves off before you plant the cutting so they don't rot in the soil.

Rooting the cuttings

Place cuttings in a jar or glass, about 1/3 filled with plain tap water. Several plant cuttings can be placed in the same jar, but the water level will have to be monitored closely. If the water level gets too low the cut end of the plant can dry out and you might have to start all over again. You do not need rooting hormone for coleus to sprout roots.

Store in an indirect light area for several days, or until roots are produced at the base of the cuttings. Should take about a week. Wait until there are several new roots and the longest have reached about 1". Now they are ready to be transplanted into a more permanent growing media.

propagating coleus from cuttings

Or you can do it the simple way and just press the stem into some potting soil and keep moist for 1-2 weeks till roots form. That what I did when a piece of my burgundy colored coleus snapped off in a windstorm. (photo above) I stuck it in with the peas I had planted in a small pot. 

By the time the peas were ready to be moved to the garden, the coleus was ready for a pot of its own!  

Transplanting into pots

I use an all purpose potting soil when planting my rooted cuttings. I also like to mix in a good amount of compost to supply the nutrients the plant needs. I usually begin with a 4" wide pot for a single stem. This is usually a good size for the cuttings while allowing some room to grow.  

Each individual plant should have ample room to remain in this size pot for about 2 months. When the Coleus has outgrown its original pot, it's time to move it to the 8" pot size. This should last for the rest of its natural life.

Coleus houseplant

I do like to pinch off the flower stems as they form. This helps to keep the plant more compact. It can get a little leggy with age, especially if you don't pinch off the inflorescences. 

Although the coleus can live for years indoors it does have that tendency to get leggy and spindly looking. After a few years I take new cuttings and start again rather than fight with an unruly looking plant.

I like to move my coleus outdoors when spring temps get warm enough. Then of course I bring them back inside right before winter sets in. Don't forget to debug plants before bringing them in. Still never figured out how I got spider mites inside a few years ago, but now I debug religiously!

Propagate your indoor coleus for flower beds

If you keep coleus indoors over winter, you should have no problem propagating new plants for your flower gardens. This will save you from buying new plants for your flower beds every spring! 

Just start about a month out by taking cuttings. Root in water as mentioned above, then transfer to small pots and allow a few weeks for the root system to mature before transplanting to the garden. 

I recommend good potting soil, but a cheap pack of pots from the dollar store will do fine for the few weeks while they're getting established. Oh, and don't forget to harden them off before planting into the garden...gosh, but I forget that all the time!

Good luck, and I hope you have time to get some cuttings before the cold sets in!

Related reading: Want more information on houseplants? Check out this collection of articles on indoor gardening.


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