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Coleus Care and Growing Guide

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Coleus plants are a great way to add a touch of color to your thriving garden, patio, or even your home.

Varieties of coleus growing.

The colorful foliage from Coleus plants is just what you need to brighten up any corner of your house or garden. 

Because of their bright colors, many gardeners use this plant for borders around their garden or walkway.

They also make an excellent houseplant. I mean, who wouldn’t want Coleus indoors livening up their home office? 

But if you’re looking to add more of a star focus to your garden than a border or a surrounding plant, Coleus can do that for you as well, because they can grow up to two feet tall. This makes them the perfect shrub to add to your garden or front yard. 

But that’s not the only reason Coleus makes an excellent addition to any home or outdoor space.

This tropical plant is also incredibly easy to grow. Which means it’s perfect for beginning gardeners. We love a beginner-friendly plant. 

About Coleus

Coleus in a window box growing.

Coleus plants are grown as an annual and are part of the Lamiaceae family, but the name that is most often used is the mint family.

Other members of the mint family include oregano, lemon balm, basil, and even catnip, just to name a few. 

At this point you may be wondering if the Coleus plants are edible along with the other members of the family. The answer to that is no; the leaves of the Coleus plant are actually toxic to humans and animals. So it is wise not to eat it and to keep it away from curious pets. 

Besides Coleus being in the Lamiaceae family, these plants are incredibly fast-growing and are best planted close together in a container or pot. The reason why they’re best as potted plants is that the container will stop them from growing larger than the pot they are in. 

If you know anything about mint you know that it can be very invasive.  Although Coleus is in the mint family it is not considered an invasive plant.

There are a wide variety of different Coleus plants, over a hundred, so there are plenty to choose from, all more beautiful than the next.  Some of the more popular coleus plant varieties include:

  • Black Dragon 
  • Premium Sun 
  • Rainbow 
  • Kong 
  • Fairway
  • Wizard Sunset  
  • Superfine Rainbow Volcano 
  • Giant Expedition Magma 

Because they’re tender annuals, they can’t tolerate the cold.

Any time it gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to bring them inside. This is where planting them in a container comes in handy. 

How To Grow Coleus 


Germinating coleus.

One option many choose when growing their own vegetables and herbs is germinating your own seeds and you can do the same with coleus.

Germinating or starting your seeds indoors is the process of sprouting your seed and growing the plant up a little before planting it in your garden. 

Germinating is an excellent way to get ahead of the growing season. This is because you can create the perfect growing environment for your seedling while your outdoor environment is not ideal to host your new plant. 

When starting your seeds, you want to start germinating them eight to ten weeks before the predicted last frost date in spring. This date will be different depending on where you live.

Be sure to check the frost dates in the USDA Hardiness Zone for your area.

To plant your coleus seeds, you can sprinkle them on top of slightly dampened seed starting mix and gently press them down into the soil, but don’t cover the seeds.

Coleus seeds do need light in order to germinate as well as the temperature to be 70-75°F. You can use a sunny window or grow lights.

Make sure the soil stays damp. You should start seeing the seeds germinate after about 7-14 days.

Hardening off 

If you start your seeds inside, you’re going to need to harden them off before planting them outside.

There are a couple of ways this can be done.  You can take your plant(s) outside for increasing amounts of time each day over 7-10 days to acclimate them to the sun, shade, and wind conditions they will encounter once they are planted outside.

To harden off your plants quicker, watch for a few days of overcast weather – and you can put them out in that weather for 3-5 days and then plant them out.  When using this method you don’t have to take them in and outside, just let them sit but watch that the weather doesn’t suddenly change and begin to stress them with too much sun too quickly.

If you don’t harden them off they can get sunburned leaves, stress from the new elements and be sickly, or die.  So, this step is crucial for healthy plant growth.

Planting Coleus

Coleus and other herbs with plant markers.

If you don’t want to start Coleus by seed, you can buy Coleus plants at the store and plant them in your garden or in pots.


It’s always important to get the soil with the right balance in nutrients for what you will plant there, no matter what you’re planting. Each plant does have its own soil needs and a soil type they thrive in. 

Coleus plants, in particular, do best in moist, well-draining potting soil but not overly drenched.

If you’re planting in a container or pot, be sure to add drainage holes to prevent water build up and soggy soil, which will cause root rot. 

You want to plant coleus in loose soil so that the roots can spread and keep your plant healthy. To achieve this, soil amendments are often required, such as compost. 

You can use fertilizer, but you don’t need it if your soil already has enough of all the correct nutrients. If you do decide to use fertilizer, a slow release fertilizer that is balanced is the best choice for Coleus. For the correct ph level, you’re wanting it to be between six and seven.

Sun or Shade Requirements

Purple coleus growing.

Coleus does not require full sun to thrive. They actually do best in partial shade.

If they get too much sunlight, it can cause the leaves to burn or can cause the colors on the leaves to fade, although some varieties can tolerate more sun than others. These varieties include: 

  • Redhead 
  • Blond Bomshell 
  • Henna
  • Red Carpet
  • Electric Lime 
  • Newly Noir 
  • Wicked Witch 
  • Saturn 

To decide if you should choose a partial shade variety or a full sun variety, you need to think about where you live as well as the weather, and if you get more shade or more sunlight in your garden and in the place you plant them, the same goes for your patio. However, if your Coleus is going to be a houseplant, you have more leeway in this.

How To Water

Boy watering coleus in planter.

When watering, you want to keep the soil moist but not too wet, if you water any more than that you’ll likely overwater your plant, which can lead to waterlogging and root rot. 

To help prevent that, wait to water until the soil is dry. This usually requires you to water once a day. However, on hot days you may need to water twice a day.

Another way to prevent waterlogging is by adding drainage holes to the bottom of the pots and containers you plan to use. This tip applies to all plants you plant in containers and I highly suggest you do this. 

How to Prune

Pruning is vital if you want your foliage to keep its shape and stay nice and full. To prune all you need to do is assess your plant and ask yourself if it looks bigger in one area over another or if it’s growing out of the container it’s in.

Then you’ll know the problem areas and can take your pruning shears and even it out, so if one side is taller than the other, cut it down until it’s the same height. 

To remove any new growth, you can pinch the tips and any fresh leaves of your plant. As new flowers form, pinch those off as well. This will bring the plant’s focus back to creating new foliage. 

Pest and diseases 

To keep your plant healthy and happy, you need to know what pests and diseases are prone to attack Coleus. By knowing what to look out for, you can prevent them from destroying your Coleus and the rest of your garden. 

Because if they are left unchecked, not only can your Coleus plant be overrun with harmful insects and diseases, but the whole garden can get infected. By knowing what to look out for, you can prevent them from destroying your Coleus plant and the rest of your garden. 

Pest Coleus Attract 

  • Mealy Bugs 
  • Whiteflies 
  • Aphids 
  • Slugs 
  • Spider mites 

If you notice any of these pests on your thriving plant, don’t panic. There are many treatments out there, including BT spray, insecticidal soap, and even treatments you can make at home.

You probably already have all the ingredients.

But to prevent these pesky bugs from even getting near your plants, having row covers on your plants will fix this. 

Diseases Coleus Attract 

  • Downy mildew
  • Root Rot 
  • Stem Rot 

To prevent any of these diseases from happening to your Coleus plant, avoid overwatering, and as we mentioned before, and what I can’t stress enough, is to make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of any containers you use for planting. You can also buy water globes to regulate your watering

Good luck and happy planting!

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