Saving your favorite Coleus for next year

Preserving coleus plants

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension

Q. I have grown several lovely coleus plants this year and can't bear the thought of losing them to frost. Can I take cuttings from them and grow them indoors for the winter?

A. The newer varieties of coleus -- renamed Solenostemon by taxonomists -- have a fabulous variety of color combinations, and many do very well in full sun. They are easily propagated by cuttings. Choose 4- to 6-inch containers to root cuttings. You can re-use pots from the garden center as long as they have been scrubbed thoroughly. Empty yogurt containers work well, too, as long as you remember to punch drainage holes in the bottom. More vigorous cultivars will have to be moved to larger containers before next spring.


Soil mix for coleus

You can use plain perlite or a soilless seed starting mix for your rooting medium.
Never use soil out of your garden. No matter how good your soil is, it may contain disease-causing organisms that will damage or kill the cuttings.
Cuttings started in pure perlite will have to be transplanted into a regular potting mix once they root well.
Those started in a soilless mix can continue to grow in it as long as you fertilize regularly.

rainbow colored coleus

Some seed starting mixes contain a slow-release fertilizer, which reduces the need for additional fertilization.


Taking coleus cuttings

Use a sharp knife to take cuttings. It will make a clean cut that will heal rapidly.
When taking cuttings from coleus and other tender perennials, take 4- to 6-inch cuttings that have several sets of nodes -- the point on the stem where the leaves attach. Nodes contain undifferentiated tissue that can develop into roots or leaves, depending on their environment. Make your cut just below the lowest node you wish to keep.

coleus leaves

If possible, choose a stem that is not in bud or blooming. If not, remove any flowers and/or flower buds to divert that energy into root production.
At least two nodes should be inserted into the rooting medium to ensure good root development. One or two pairs of leaves above the rooting medium supply the leaf surface that will provide the nutrient reserves required to produce the new root system.
Remove any leaves that will be beneath the rooting medium and any that will droop into it.
Moisten the rooting medium and fill the containers. Water the containers thoroughly to settle the rooting medium and remove any air pockets. Add more if necessary so that the rooting medium is about a half-inch below the rim of the container.


Use a pencil or a dibble to create a hole in the center of each pot. If you simply jab the cutting into the rooting medium you may damage the cutting and it will not develop properly, if at all.
Although many plants root more readily if you use a rooting hormone such as Rootone, it is not necessary with coleus. They root quite readily without it. Insert the cuttings into the rooting medium and water each pot again to settle it around the cutting.
Place the cuttings in an area with good air circulation and bright but indirect sunlight.
Once cuttings show signs of new growth, they have rooted.
Then you can start using a water-soluble fertilizer according to label directions. You can also mix the fertilizer at one-quarter strength, and fertilize every time you water.

lime green coleus


Moving coleus outdoors

Next spring, when we are past danger of severe frost, plants will have to be hardened off before placing them out in the garden. The process takes about 10 days. Start putting the rooted cuttings outside in a sheltered, shaded location for a several hours. Allow them to stay out longer and to receive more sun every day until they are out in full sun all day.
When the danger of frost passes completely (coleus is extremely frost-sensitive), plant them out in the garden.
It is usually safe to set tender plants out from Memorial Day on.


Stink Bugs


Blister beetles


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