February 6, 2014
4 Tips for Growing Your Best Coleus - Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Jessica Walliser

Last week, we talked about all the coleus varieties I’m looking forward to growing in my garden this year. Today, I’d like to share some of my favorite hints for growing coleus successfully.

1. Simple Pruning
The simplicity of coleus maintenance is another reason to include them in your gardening palette. Although the developing flowers should be pinched off to encourage branching and keep the plant looking fresh, there isn’t much other maintenance to speak of.

2. Deter Slugs
In my garden and containers, slugs can be a problem, especially during wet seasons. If I spot any ragged holes in the foliage, evidence of the slugs’ nighttime feeding frenzies, I simply sprinkle some iron phosphate-based slug bait beneath the plant. The slugs consume the bait and die within a few days.

3. Container Care
When growing coleus in containers, select a pot with a drainage hole and use a high-quality, soil-less potting mix that also includes an organic granular fertilizer. If I can’t find such a mix at the market, I’ll buy one without the fertilizer and toss a few shovelfuls of compost or well-aged manure into the container before planting. I feed my coleus with a liquid fertilizer added to the irrigation water every three or four weeks. My favorite is fish hydroslate, but I also like kelp emulsion and compost tea. Be sure to apply the fertilizer to both the soil and the foliage, as coleus readily absorb nutrients through their leaves.

4. Grow Year-Round
One more bit of good coleus news: You can grow them year-round. Although they’re not hardy in most of the country, they’re perennial plants. You can dig up your plants, cut them back, and overwinter them indoors as a houseplant. You can also take cuttings from each plant in the fall, root them during the winter and replant come spring.

It’s extremely simple to take your own cuttings of any coleus, as long as it isn’t patented—check the tag in the pot of the mother plant first. Simply cut off a 2- to 3-inch-long terminal portion of a stem. Remove all but the top leaf or two, dip the bottom inch into rooting hormone, and stick it in a pot of sterile potting mix. In three weeks, you’ll have roots. Coleus cuttings root readily in a simple jar of water, too, but you risk breaking off the newly developed roots when you eventually pot it up. 

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