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Coleus Care and Propagation

My grandmother loved Coleus. I never had the pleasure of meeting her as she went to heaven when my mom was in college, but her legacy has endured through the stories of her ten children. They tell stories about a quiet, gentle spirit who loved to garden, loved her family, and above all, loved the Lord. Rest in Peace, Grandma Faye. This article is in your honor.

Grandma Faye worked in the hospital kitchen in Red Wing, MN. Part of her job was to go around from patient to patient handing out menus and collecting orders. As a way to brighten their day, my garden loving Grandma would take coleus leaves, wrap them in damp paper towel and plastic, and give them to the patients along with their menu. It was a simple act of kindness. I imagine she did it because it was simple and pretty and just a part of her nature without any thought beyond that.

A few years after my Grandma Faye passed, a woman approached my mom and asked if she was Faye Kehren's daughter. Mom was surprised by this. She was often asked if Ben Kehren was her dad because my Grandpa Ben was larger than life and it seemed that pretty much everybody in Goodhue County knew him. But Grandma Faye was not an attention seeker. This was unique.

The woman went on to tell my mom that she was a patient at Red Wing Hospital when Faye was working there. One day she received a coleus leaf with her menu. After she recovered, this lady said she took that leaf home and rooted it, and it grew into a beautiful houseplant. She remembered Faye's kindness every time she looked at her thriving, beautiful coleus. My garden is full of plants that remind me of the people I love. Coleus is my reminder of my Grandma Faye.

Before I go into how to propagate this plant easily, let's take a moment to learn a bit about it. Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) is a member of the Nettle family as well as the Mint family. Coleus is commonly known as "Painted nettle" for its distinct visual appeal. This family of plants comes in many varieties ranging in color from light green to dark purple. The leaf patterns are as varied as the color options making coleus a gardener's best friend.

Coleus leaf

It looks great in many different gardening schemes. Looking for a vibrant filler plant to add to your container? Coleus! Tired of a sea of green foliage in your shade garden? Coleus! It's one of my absolute favorites.

Coleus is a tender perennial and can only survive a frost free garden zone. We're talking zone 9-11. So unless you live somewhere warm and tropical, your coleus plants will die after the first frost. The other reason coleus will fade into the background is if it flowers and sets seeds. Like annuals, once this plant has set seeds, it has completed its life cycle and will die.

So, if you have a favorite coleus in your garden and want to have it again next year, you'll have to pot it up and find a home for it indoors for the winter. It's a simple process but here are a few tips to help you succeed. Inspect your plant. Make sure it is healthy and free of pests. If you do find some bugs, there are many simple sprays out there that will clean it right up. Trim off any flower buds and lanky stems to keep it producing new growth. Place it in a sunny window and water, so the soil stays moist, but not soggy. If you have a greenhouse that maintains a base temp of at least 55 degrees F, it should be fine out there for winter. But say you want to propagate your coleus and make more plants. Let me show you how. There are a few ways to propagate coleus successfully. I'm going to show you how using just water.

Step 1. The key to a successful propagation is to start with a healthy plant.

 Coleus Plant

Step 2. Clip off a 2-4" stem just above a leaf node. Not only does this give you a good amount of stem to submerge in water, but it will also stimulate growth in the mother plant and give it a fuller shape.

Picking a Coleus Step 1 Picking a Coleus Step 2

Step 3. Trim off lower leaves to expose one inch of the stem.

Trim Coleus clipping

Step 4. Place cutting in a container with water making sure the stems are submerged but the leaves are not. Any leaves that come in contact with the water will likely rot. I wrapped a rubber band around the glass to help keep the stems upright.

Prep a container for the Coleus to root Coleus in container for propogation

Step 5. Place your cuttings in bright indirect sunlight and check for water daily because coleus gets thirsty. Add more water as needed.

Step 6. Wait for roots. This will likely take 2-3 weeks.

Step 7. Plant your cuttings in containers.

Coleus babies

Step 8. Water often until new growth appears which is your sign that you have a new viable plant.