Do you ever see a plant that just takes your breath away, and you try it, and seem to have no luck with it at all? For me, coleus is one of those plants, and from talking to fellow gardeners, it seems that there are a few of us in the “No Luck With Coleus” club! My Sweet Pea used to have beautiful coleus plants, that wonderful variety that has the deep burgundy-purple leaves that glisten like velvet. If she wanted another plant, she’d pinch off a few stems, put them in a little styrofoam cup of soil or a cut-down cream or milk container, and in no time there was another coleus! Yes, it seems that the lucky gardeners who grow it have no trouble with it at all, and they even have to cut back their coleus because it is growing too abundantly! Imagine!
But for other gardeners, coleus barely limps along, then finally succumbs to a quiet death from damping off. What are we doing wrong? The gardeners who grow it would say that coleus is an easy plant to accommodate, and is not that fussy about growing conditions. Yet those of us who have tried and failed know there is more to it than that. If she were here to guide me, I’m sure I could be right at Mom’s elbow following her every step exactly, and still it wouldn’t work out for me! But I know Mom would encourage me to keep trying, so I did some homework about coleus, and this is what I learned.
First, coleus like moist, well-drained soil. Not dry, that will cause wilting; not wet, that will cause root rot. So just like Goldilocks finding her perfect spot to have a nap, moisture has to be “just right”. If we feed our coleus, we will end up with a bigger, lusher plant; a balanced fertilizer will be fine.
As for light requirements, coleus likes partial shade, although I read that it can take some morning sun but should be protected from noonday and afternoon sun. This will help to bring out the best color in our plants. Here’s an interesting little factoid: a coleus that has more sun may produce more pigmentation to protect itself from the brighter light, and that may change the overall coloring of the plant. And if the plant is in a location where it gets too much sun, it could develop a condition called “sunscald”, where the leaves will look bleached and possibly curled around the edges. I also read that no coleus does well in deep shade, so it seems that what we should aim for is a spot that gives some morning sun, and nice, dappled shade for the rest of the day.
And of course, coleus is very tender plants, and is sensitive to colder nights and cannot stand even a light touch of frost.
Our coleus will also benefit from pinching and pruning to make it lusher and bushier. When the plant has flowers, we should pinch them off so that the plant’s energy will go into the leaves rather than converting the flowers to seeds. So as we are pinching off the unwanted flowers, it also helps to promote new growth!
There are so many stunning coleus varieties that would add so much to our containers, not only for their various colors, but also for the interesting textures of the leaves. There are velvety leaves; large variegated leaves; ruffled leaves. They are beautiful in so many ways.
So let’s give them a try, I know we won’t be disappointed!
The Yorkton and District Horticultural Society will have a busy summer; assisting with the Yorkton In Bloom event at the end of July, and then our annual show in August. More details will follow as the dates get closer. Till then, take every opportunity to enjoy being outside!
Have a good week!