The coleus is favored by many gardeners for its bold foliage and small size. The houseplant produces gorgeous leaves in an array of colors, sizes, and textures.
Of course, like with any houseplant, you will need to look after it well if you wish to prolong its lifespan and be rewarded with a healthy-looking plant. In this guide, we will be going through its key characteristics, care and environmental requirements, as well as how to grow your own plant and revive it.
The coleus’ botanical name is plectranthus scutellarioides and it is commonly known as the painted nettle. It became popular during the Victorian era and was grown as a bedding plant, however, today it is found in homes across the globe.
This houseplant is a member of the mint family which is known as the Lamiaceae family, and just like peppermint, this plant has a few medicinal uses too. It has a shrub-like, bushy appearance and sprouts magnificent foliage atop woody stems.
It thrives in a warm, humid, tropical environment as it’s native to regions in Asia and Australia. Growing a coleus has a great many benefits such as its richly-colored leaves, but there is one drawback. This houseplant requires a bit of extra attention when it comes to maintaining its appearance.
First, we’ll start by discussing the most sought-after coleus types before delving into how to care for one.
Fun fact: The coleus was previously referred to as the coleus blumei.
There are approximately 60 different types of coleus. Each variation grows its own uniquely colored, shaped, and textured foliage. There are tons of beautiful coleus variations, however, we’ll only be mentioning the most popular and common ones below.
- ‘Black dragon’ coleus: Its leaves are a deep burgundy color and it can reach heights of up to 18 inches (45.7cm).
- ‘Rainbow’ coleus: This variation is also called ‘painted leaves’, and its colorful foliage comes in a variety of different shades of red, green, yellow, and pink. Typically, it will only grow between 12 to 15 inches (30.5 – 38cm) tall.
- ‘Inferno’ coleus: This is one of the larger coleus variations as it can grow up to 3 feet (91.4cm) tall, and it sprouts bright orange and burgundy colored leaves.
- ‘Wasabi’ coleus: It is a low-maintenance houseplant and grows an upright spread with bright green leaves.
- ‘Kong’ coleus: This coleus has large leaves with jade-green edges, a deep purple center, and striking pink veins.
- ‘Canina’ coleus: It also has the nickname ‘scaredy-cat plant’, and this houseplant’s grey-green foliage is complemented with a lavender-colored flower.
- ‘Great falls’ coleus: This variation has bold, eye-catching foliage with green borders and shades of red, green, and pink centers.
- ‘Florida sun rose’ coleus: It produces striking purple and pink leaves with a medium texture. It usually sprouts an upright spread too.
- Wizard series coleus: This series of coleus are often smaller in size and typically grow around 12 to 14 inches (30.5 – 35.5cm) tall. Its foliage has light green borders and colorful centers.
- Fairway series coleus: These long-lived houseplants only grow up to 6 to 10 inches (15.2 – 25.4cm) tall and their leaves come in a variety of colors, patterns, and shapes.
The coleus’ roots and leaves have been used to treat a variety of health conditions since ancient times. It’s been said to improve heart and respiratory issues along with a few other health problems too.
The plant contains a chemical called forskolin which works on the muscles found in the heart as well as the walls of the blood vessels. When ingested, it is said to help dilate blood vessels and enhance the power of a person’s heartbeat.
It alleviates or assists one suffering from the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Skin conditions such as eczema
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Annual or Perennial
In fact, this houseplant is technically a perennial but is grown as an annual. That may sound a tad confusing but we’ll explain why this is below.
This tropical loving plant is extremely sensitive to frost, so when grown outdoors it’s often treated as an annual. It is also referred to as a “tender perennial” because of this.
As the plant is commonly grown indoors too, it can be cared for as a perennial. It’s imperative that it’s kept in warmer areas to avoid any health issues.
How Big Do They Get?
The average coleus houseplant will grow up to 6 to 36 inches (15.2 – 91.4cm) tall and wide, however, its exact size will vary across the different types.
How Fast Do They Grow?
A painted nettle has a fast growth rate and can reach its mature size within 6 to 12 months. Typically, it will grow around 12 to 18 inches (30.5 – 45.7cm) taller a year until it has hit its mature size.
How Long Do They Live for?
The plectranthus scutellarioides can survive for several years and usually lives for around 3 to 5 years. The lifespan of this houseplant is largely dependent on its environment and if it isn’t kept frost-free then it may only survive for one year.
The older the plant gets the more likely it is to produce leggy growth, so it may require frequent pruning to maintain its appearance.
Is It Toxic to Cats and Dogs?
Unfortunately, this plant is mildly toxic to both cats and dogs. The essential oil found in the plant’s roots and leaves can cause gastrointestinal irritation or skin dermatitis.
If either of your pets eats any part of the plant then they may experience one of the following side effects:
- Excessive drooling
- Abdominal discomfort
- A loss of appetite
The essential oil may also cause your pet to develop a red, itchy rash if it comes into contact with the sap.
It is always important to contact your trusted veterinarian if either one of your pets has eaten or touched the plant’s sap.
The most important aspects to consider when it comes to growing a lush coleus will be explored in the section below. We’ll fill you in on the best ways to look after and maintain a healthy houseplant.
A plectranthus scutellarioides must be grown in moist potting soil, just like the gardenia. This is especially important during the summertime as the soil must never dry out.
Ideally, you should water it once every 2 or 3 days during the spring and summertime. As the temperature begins to drop during winter and autumn, you will only be required to water your plant once a week.
The best way to test if your plant needs to be watered is by examining the soil. You can check whether the top 2 inches (5cm) of the soil is dry or not. If it is dry then you can water your plant deeply but if the topsoil is still moist then it’s best to wait a day or two before watering it again.
Top tip: A newly planted or repotted houseplant will require more frequent watering until its roots have settled.
The coleus may require a consistently moist environment, however, it needs good drainage too. Just like the philodendron, your houseplant is prone to root rot if left in soggy conditions.
The potting mixture should never be allowed to become overly wet. The best to ensure the ideal level of moisture is to plant your coleus in a container with drainage holes.
Furthermore, you will need to opt for well-draining soil so that enough oxygen can circulate. This will keep your plant’s roots healthy too.
If you’re concerned about water sitting at the bottom of your pot then you add some perlite to the potting mix or add a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container.
How to Prune It
A painted nettle should only be pruned during its active growing seasons in spring and summer. The houseplant doesn’t require frequent or heavy pruning, but it is best to trim off any leggy or unhealthy growth.
Additionally, you should only trim your coleus once it is mature. You can either snip off the foliage or cut off the flower to maintain its appearance.
Follow the simple steps below:
- Use a clean pair of scissors to cut off the stem or even pinch off the leaves with your fingers just above the leaf node.
- Snip off the flower below the flower bud to deadhead your plant.
- Water it well and position it back in its home.
How to Make It Bushy
You can create bushier coleus by pruning off several leaves. Trimming your houseplant will encourage more branching and dense foliage.
The process is fairly similar to the steps mentioned above, however, it is important to emphasize a key factor. You must only pinch off the leaves above the leaf node so that more growth can sprout from it.
When and How to Repot It
It is best to repot the coleus once a year at the end of winter. If the plant has become rootbound then you will need to increase the size of the container by 1 or 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm). You can also transplant it in the same sized pot if you are merely wanting to refresh the soil.
Check out the steps listed below:
- You can loosen the soil by either knocking on the edges of the pot or by sliding a blunt knife around the container’s perimeter.
- Once the soil is loose, you will then gently lift the plant out of its container.
- Fill a new pot one-third of the way with fresh soil and place the plant in the center of it.
- Add some additional soil to cover the roots and make sure that it is planted at the same depth that it was previously.
- Water it thoroughly and care for it as you normally would.
Care in Winter
The plectranthus scutellarioides cannot withstand frost as it prefers warmer climates. Your houseplant may even die when exposed to cold temperatures so be sure to care for it well during the wintertime.
You can make a few changes to your care regime to ensure that your plant survives during winter. The houseplant will need to receive more sunshine to keep warm, so find a sunny windowsill for it.
You may need to change the number of times you water the plant as well. If the air becomes dry during the winter then you will need to water it more often, but if the humidity level remains consistent then you can water the plant less frequently.
Does It Like Sun or Shade?
A healthy painted nettle thrives in bright sunlight. You will need to achieve a fine balance when it comes to the amount of sunshine it receives. The houseplant flourishes in bright light in the morning, however, direct sunshine during the afternoon will scorch its leaves.
Ideally, you should place it under full morning sunshine and then move the plant to a shady location in the afternoon.
The houseplant’s foliage may begin to fade when it is placed under harsh sun rays, and the leaves will lose their vibrant foliage when it is lacking sunlight too.
The soil must be moist as well as quick-draining. The optimal potting mixture is one that is aerated, loose and lightweight. This will allow any extra water to drain out and prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged.
Just like hibiscus, this houseplant flourishes in potting mix with a neutral or slightly acidic pH. The optimal pH level is between 6.0 to 7.0.
Any generic potting soil will do just fine, but you should consider adding a handful of compost to ensure that it’s nutrient-rich.
Top tip: Add vermiculite to the potting soil as this holds onto water which encourages healthy root growth, while also allowing excess moisture to drain out.
A plectranthus scutellarioides should only be fed during the spring and summertime. You can choose to add slow-releasing pellets at the beginning of spring or you may use a liquid fertilizer.
If you decide to make use of a liquid fertilizer then it must be diluted to half its strength. The houseplant can be fed with a well-balanced fertilizer, which the monstera plant prefers too. You should feed it once every 2 weeks.
A fertilizer with one of the following ratios is perfect for this plant:
Top tip: If you want to encourage vigorous growth then we recommend using a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.
Pot Size and Type
The painted nettle should be grown in a container that is neither too deep nor too wide. The optimal size is one that is 2 inches (5cm) wider than the rootball.
You can use a plastic or terracotta container, however, a clay pot has a great many benefits. The terracotta container is heavier which will prevent the plant from toppling over, and it prevents the plant’s roots from rotting.
Always ensure that the container has a few holes beneath it. These will allow any extra water to drip out instead of sitting at the bottom of the container.
A coleus prospers in a warm climate and will sprout healthy growth in temperatures ranging from 60 to 75°F (15.5 – 23.8°C).
During the winter, you will need to make an effort to keep the temperature above 50°F (10°C).
The plectranthus scutellarioides loves an environment with high humidity levels. The average household humidity level may be too low for this plant, so you should spritz its leaves a few times a week.
It is best to keep the relative humidity level surrounding your houseplant above 60 percent. This will promote healthy and bright foliage.
Outdoors vs. Indoors
The coleus is a hardy houseplant and can be grown outdoors year-round in USDA zones 10 and 11. When planted outside, it must be cared for as an annual plant. This means that it must be brought indoors during the winter.
If temperatures drop significantly then you will need to repot the plant in a container and place it in a warm room. You will need to water it well until its roots have established themselves.
Furthermore, during the summertime, the houseplant must be grown in a shady area. You will also need to mist it several times a week and water it more often in order to maintain a moist environment.
The plectranthus scutellarioides will bloom small spikes during the summertime. These flowers are not particularly showy and many gardeners actually remove them before the flower buds have opened.
These flower spikes are usually white, purple, or blue in color and signify the end of your plant’s life cycle. They attract bees and butterflies and will typically last for a few weeks.
The major reason that you may want to snip off the flower buds is to direct energy to new leaf growth. Often the plant’s growth may become leggy after it is bloomed so it’s best to prune the houseplant to maintain healthy foliage.
If you decide to allow these flowers to blossom then you will eventually see their petals drop and new fruits emerge. You can then use the seeds found in the fruit to grow a new coleus.
It is vital that the houseplant is grown in a warm environment and is kept away from the cold if you wish to encourage it to bloom.
How to Grow It
There are multiple methods that you can follow to grow your collection of houseplants. The best part is that they’re all fairly easy and simple to carry out.
We’ll touch on how to successfully propagate your coleus and plant its seeds.
The best time of year to propagate your houseplant is during the warm spring and summer months as the houseplant is actively growing. You can propagate a plectranthus scutellarioides in soil and water using a variety of methods.
When propagating your plant, the number one rule is to sterilize your tools before cutting any part of the houseplant.
Propagation in Soil
An entirely new painted nettle can be grown by planting a leaflet, stem cutting, or division. Each of these processes is easy to follow and carry out.
We’ll list the necessary steps for each method below.
Can You Root Its Leaves?
You can multiply your collection of coleus’ by planting a single leaf. How amazing is that?
This method will require you to pluck a healthy leaf and plant it in some fresh soil. We’ll explain the steps below.
- Pick off a green leaf with a small stem still attached to it.
- Prepare a shallow container with moist soil and plant the tip of the leaf.
- Mist the leaflet and position it under bright sunshine.
- After a month the leaf-cutting will root and you can then repot the plant once it outgrows its current pot.
Propagating from Stem Cuttings
Planting a stem cutting is super simple as all you’ll need to do is cut off a healthy stem and then plant it in some potting soil.
Follow this step-by-step guide:
- Snip off a stem just below the leaf node. Ideally, the cutting must be between 4 to 6 inches (10 – 15.2cm) long.
- Pluck off the leaves on the lower half of the stem and dip the cut area in rooting hormone.
- Fill a small container with potting mix and stick a pencil inside it. This will create the perfect hole where you can place your stem.
- You will need to make sure that the soil is moist and place the cutting under bright, indirect sunlight.
- New root growth should emerge after 2 weeks and you can then care for the cutting as you would a mature houseplant.
Propagation by Division
You can divide the coleus’ rootball and then plant these separations in their own pot. Always remember to water your houseplant a day before you plan on dividing it. This will lessen the stress experienced by the plant as you dig up its rootball.
Follow the steps listed below:
- Lift the plant out of its current pot and dust off the soil covering the rootball.
- Check that the roots are still healthy and snip off any discolored ones.
- Look for sections to slice through and then use a sharp knife to cut the rootball.
- While pulling apart the divisions, you must gently untangle the roots.
- Take out some new pots and fill them with a well-draining potting mix, and then plant the divisions.
- Water the new plants well and find a sunny area for them.
- You can then treat these divisions as you would an adult houseplant.
Propagating Cuttings in Water
A painted nettle’s leaf and stem cutting can also be rooted in water. These methods are quick, painless and they allow you to monitor the root growth as it occurs.
The only major consideration to keep in mind is that you will need to replace the water every two days.
Leaf Cuttings in Water
When rooting a leaf cutting in water, it is best to use a shot glass. This will provide the necessary support for your leaflet and you won’t have to fuss about using toothpicks to prop it up.
We’ve put together a guide below:
- Pull off a healthy-looking leaf and fill a shot glass with tepid water.
- Place the leaf tip in the water and position it under indirect sunshine.
- Monitor the leaf for any new growth.
- After 3 to 4 weeks, you should notice tiny roots emerging.
- When the leaflet has grown new roots, you should repot it in soil.
Stem Cuttings in Water
Propagating a stem cutting in water is fairly similar to planting it in soil. The only difference here is that you will watch its roots grow in water before transplanting it into some potting mixture.
Take a look at the steps listed here:
- Use a pair of scissors and snip off a 4 to 6 inch (10 – 15.2cm) long stem. Make sure that you have cut the stem below the leaf node.
- Remove the leaves on the lower half of the cutting and dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
- Fill a glass jar with room temperature water and place the cutting inside it.
- Find a sunny location for the cutting and change the water every two days.
- Typically, the cutting will sprout new growth in 2 to 3 weeks.
- Once new root growth has begun you can then repot the stem in a container filled with potting soil.
Growing It from Seed
The plectranthus scutellarioides can be grown from a tiny seed and you won’t have to wait too long for germination to take place.
Below is a guide to planting coleus seeds:
- Fill a tray with damp potting soil and evenly sprinkle the seeds across the surface.
- Take a handful of soil and lightly scatter a thin layer over the seeds.
- Mist the seeds and cover the tray with clear plastic wrap.
- Position the tray in a warm, sunny area and keep your eye out for new growth.
- In about 2 or 3 weeks you should see a few seedlings emerge. Once this happens, you can remove the plastic wrap.
- Make sure to keep the soil moist at all times and transplant the seedlings when necessary.
How to Revive It
The coleus has several care requirements and needs to be grown in the optimal environment. Once it receives inadequate care then you may begin to notice a few changes in its appearance.
In this section, we’ll be going over the top health issues that your houseplant may face, and most importantly how you can revive it.
Leaves Falling Off
A plectranthus scutellarioides leaves may drop when it isn’t watered properly or it is placed in a cool environment.
You are either watering your houseplant too often or underwatering it. The easiest way to determine the problem is by checking if the soil is too wet or dry.
If the soil is overly moist then you should water the houseplant once the topsoil has dried out slightly. When the soil is too dry then quickly water it thoroughly.
We previously mentioned that this houseplant is highly sensitive to the cold, and during winter this may become an issue. You must immediately find a warmer area or room for the houseplant.
A painted nettle’s roots will rot when the houseplant is overwatered for an extended period of time. This will cause its stem to become soft and limp, and the roots will turn into a dark brown color. The foliage may yellow or become mushy too.
The most effective way to remedy this problem is by repotting the plant. You should cut off any diseased roots and pluck off any brown or yellow leaves.
Once it is transplanted in dry soil, you should water it after a couple of days. This will allow the houseplant plenty of time to recover.
When this houseplant’s foliage becomes limp or droopy then it is either being over- or underwatered, or it may be receiving too little sunlight.
You must immediately tweak your watering schedule and either water the plant more frequently or less often. The best course of action will depend on the issue at hand.
If the soil has dried out then deeply water the houseplant, however, if the potting mixture is overly wet then allow the soil to dry before watering it again.
The coleus thrives in bright sunlight, so make sure to find a sunny windowsill where it can bask under the warm sun.
The leaves will begin to curl and even wilt if the plant is underwatered, placed under direct sunshine, or if it isn’t grown in a humid area.
The soil must never be left to dry out completely as this plant prospers in a moist environment. The fastest way to resolve this problem is by deeply watering the plant as soon as possible.
This houseplant’s foliage is sensitive to direct sunlight, especially in summer. So, you should move it to a new position where it will receive filtered sunshine during the daytime.
As the coleus is native to humid regions, you will need to pay close attention to the humidity levels surrounding it. If you’re concerned that your home’s air is too dry then simply mist its leaves twice a week or purchase an electric humidifier.
The coleus is the ideal houseplant as it has a few basic care requirements and sprouts vibrant foliage. Its bold, bright and stunning leaves make it the perfect centerpiece, however, it does require some time and effort to maintain.
The most important care factor to consider is the temperature, we’ve emphasized that this plant is sensitive to frost. So, always maintain a warm and humid environment then you’re all good to go.