Tips for Growing Coleus Plants in Pots

Choosing the Right Pot, Feeding Schedule, and Propagation

  • 01 of 07

    Coleus Make Great Container Plants

    Coleus blumei (Painted Nettle), variegated foliage
    Harley Seaway / Getty Images

    Coleus is a good-natured plant that is pretty hard to kill and quite easy to propagate. One of the few plants grown almost entirely for its foliage, coleus are actually easier to grow inside than outside. There are about 60 species of coleus, all native to Malaysia and other parts of Asia. These beautiful plants come in green, purple, orange, red and yellow varieties, with many different patterns. 

    Container gardening is not difficult but it requires a bit of preparation. It is slightly different from outdoor gardening, mostly due to the amount of maintenance required. 

    First, choose the size and type of container you will use based on your plant's size. Get a good quality potting soil and fertilizer. Figure out where to put your containers so your plant gets enough sunlight and enough drainage. 


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  • 02 of 07

    Choose the Right Pot

    Make sure your pot is large enough to comfortably accommodate your coleus. Terra-cotta pots or pots made of other porous materials should be lined with plastic to help keep the soil moist. You can also use old buckets or bright plastic pots that contrast with the coleus' colors. 

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  • 03 of 07

    Watch the Sunlight

    If the colors of your coleus plant look washed out and dull, it may be getting too much sun. While it is no longer considered the shade plant that it once was, most coleus plants do tolerate direct, sustained sunlight.

    Check your coleus variety to make sure, but most need shade or partial shade in order to really thrive. If your plant starts to lose leaves, however, this is usually an indication that it is in a spot that is either too dark or too cold. 

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  • 04 of 07

    Maintain Moist Soil

    This plant likes moist, but not wet, soil. It is not very drought tolerant, so it is important to find that balance and keep your coleus well-hydrated. When potting, use a high-quality potting mix, and make sure that your pot has good drainage. The best combination is a well-draining soil that is watered regularly. Soil that is too dense may cause the roots to rot. 

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  • 05 of 07

    Fertilize Regularly

    To keep your coleus thriving, mix a slow-release fertilizer into the potting soil when you are starting your plant's container. Feed a diluted liquid fertilizer every other week as the season progresses.

    Because container plants need frequent watering, nutrients are quickly washed away. Any potted plant will require more feeding than the same plant in a garden bed.

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  • 06 of 07

    Pinch Back and Prune

    Without regular pruning, coleus plants can get "leggy" and unattractive. As long as you prune and cut them back faithfully, your coleus should stay bushy and handsome. Cut off any blooms that appear so the plant will put its energy into the foliage (although many gardeners do not adhere to this rule too strictly since the blooms themselves can be quite pretty, though small).

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  • 07 of 07

    Keep It Alive Over the Winter

    At the end of the growing season, well before the first frost, cut a big bunch of coleus. Gather them into small bouquets, place into clear glass vases filled with water, and allow them to root. Coleus sends out roots quickly, and can usually keep going all winter as long as it is in clean water with no leaves below the water level. Your surviving coleus cuttings can then be repotted in the spring. 

    You can also plant it in a pot and keep it indoors as soon as an extensive root network forms. A cutting placed in water will be ready for soil in four to six weeks, so in regions with long winters, planting the cuttings in soil at midwinter will leave you with robust, healthy seedling plants for the spring. During the winter months, small potted coleus will need plenty of light, either from a south-facing window or from auxiliary lighting. 

    The viability of coleus cuttings depends on the variety. More exotic, large-leaved forms tend to be harder to root in water than more common varieties. Make sure to take enough cuttings so that you will have enough in case some do not develop roots.