Name: coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).
Height: up to 1m tall with a spread of about 60cm.
Foliage: oval, bright coloured, velvety and soft.
Climate: tropical to sub-tropical.
Soil: loamy, well-drained soil or premium potting mix.
Position: sunny to medium shade—colours look best in full sun; will tolerate full shade.
Flowering: spikes of small blue flowers typical of plectranthus; not a major feature.
Feeding: controlled-release fertiliser at planting, topped up with liquid feeds.
Watering: keep soil or potting mix moist but not wet; good drainage preferred.
Coleus is a perennial plant but is more often grown as an annual. It requires regular pinching out of the growth tips to keep it compact, as it is inclined to become “leggy”. Plants are generally around 80cm to 1m tall, and multi-branched.
There are many different varieties of coleus, each with its own pattern of colours and variegation. Some are symmetrical, while others are more random. The velvety texture of the leaves gives them a depth and glow that is quite stunning. Planted en masse, coleus create a magic carpet of colour.
Different varieties have patterns in shades of lime green, fluoro pink, crimson, burnt orange, brown, purple and yellow. The original coleus occurs naturally in South-East Asia, but it's now grown and admired worldwide. The colours in the leaves are caused by various pigments occurring naturally in the plant. They develop their brightest hues when grown in full sun, although they may tend to “bleach” out in hot climates where the sun is very intense.
Coleus flowers are not the main attraction, and often the stems are removed before flowers open so they don’t detract from the foliage display. The flower spikes grow above the leaves and carry large numbers of small, usually blue flowers.
Coleus grown in pots can be “groomed” by regular pinching back of shoots to grow into compact, full plants where the leaves completely cover the branches.
Coleus enjoys warm conditions—it will not do well in cold climates, or during winter in cool temperate to temperate regions where night temperatures can be very low. They are grown as outdoor plants in warm temperate to tropical areas, and glasshouse plants elsewhere.
Coleus prefers a rich, loam soil improved by adding weathered animal manures and compost.
Coleus does not tolerate dryness, so when the weather is hot and rainfall is scarce, water your plant regularly to keep the soil moist. Make sure excess water drains freely, otherwise plants may develop root rot.
For a coleus in a pot, keep the potting mix moist, but not wet, and allow excess water to drain away freely—don’t leave the pot standing in a saucer of water for more than 30 minutes.
Use a water-soluble or liquid plant food every three to four weeks to keep plants healthy and growing strongly.
Coleus is susceptible to downy mildew, which can cause leaves to develop a brown tinge and also to curl and twist. A general-purpose garden fungicide applied according to the directions on the label may help eradicate this. Good air circulation around plants is also important in controlling mildew. If plants are close together, you may need to remove a few to improve air movement.
In some areas, a virus disease spread by thrips may also attack plants. Known as necrotic spot virus, it makes its presence known by brown or yellow spots on leaves, stem discoloration and the veins of leaves turning brown. There is no cure—infected plants should be removed and binned to prevent spread by thrips to healthy plants.
Coleus can be propagated by taking stem cuttings from established plants or by sowing seeds of selected varieties (packet seeds are available).
Impatiens: flowering annuals/perennials with brightly coloured flowers; thrives in warm climates in sun or shade
Croton: tropical to sub-tropical foliage plant with brightly coloured and patterned leaves; good for tall borders.
Hibiscus: brightly coloured flowering shrub perfect for tropical and sub-tropical gardens.
Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!
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