Coleus Plant and Varieties

Learn about the wonderful world of coleus, including the famous scaredy-cat plant and Coleus forskohlii.
Solenostemon x ~Kaleidoscope~ (01) Habit

Solenostemon x ~Kaleidoscope~ (01) Habit

Solenostemon x ~Kaleidoscope~ (01)

Experience the renaissance of coleus by adding these gorgeous plants to your garden. Coleus plants unfurl stunning leaves, which grace any landscape or container with steady color all season long. Unlike annuals that flower and occasionally may not have any blooms open, coleus plants stage a non-stop show of vibrant hues. 

Look for coleus varieties with leaves in shades of hot pink, electric lime, dark burgundy-black and sizzling gold. Some coleus leaves offer solid hues, but many feature striking vein patterns against a contrasting colored background. The effect is breathtaking and fun, creating a festive ambience in the garden or outdoor living areas. 

Coleus adapt readily to containers, which provide a great place to showcase their exquisite colorations. Mix and match coleus with annuals that open flowers in contrasting or matching hues, or plant them solo to let them steal the spotlight. Create an all-foliage planting by blending coleus with trailing sweet potato vines and delicate ferns. 

Coleus breeders have developed a host of leaf forms and plant sizes. You can find leaves with solid, scalloped or lobed edges. One coleus, called Under the Sea 'Bone Fish', has leaves with such deep lobes they form an outline resembling a fish skeleton. Coleus plant size varies from dwarf types to the towering 'Religious Radish', which grows over three feet tall. 

How to Grow Coleus

Plant coleus in full sun or shade. Providing the right light level is the secret to coaxing maximum color from leaves, so read pot tags carefully to make sure you’re buying the right plant for your site. Coleus plants grow in a variety of soil types, from fertile and rich, to sandy and poor. Just make sure it drains well. In pots, use a commercial soilless mix developed for containers. 

Pinch growing tips out of young coleus plants to encourage branching. Coleus flowers are tiny and not particularly attractive. Plants stop producing full-size leaves once blossoms appear. Many gardeners pinch out flower spikes as soon as they spot them. Some newer coleus plants don’t produce flowers. 

Coleus cannot take any level of frost. As soon as temperatures hit 32 degrees F, the plants melt away. They’re potentially winter hardy in Zone 11. The best way to overwinter coleus is to root stems in water. Coleus stems root easily and transplant successfully to small pots. Cut at least four stems per plant you want to overwinter, root them in water and transfer to pots. Place plants in a south- or east-facing window for winter. Pinch often to encourage branching. 

A few famous-for-the-moment coleus include Coleus canina and Coleus forskohlii. These plants are called coleus but also have botanical names in the genus Plectranthus. They’re probably closer to plectranthus in their appearance than to the beautifully shaded ornamental coleus. Coleus canina leaves have a stinky side that’s effective at repelling cats, dogs and other four-footed critters. Coleus forskohlii has tuberous roots used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.