Is Coleus an Annual or Perennial?

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Bring the tropics to your summer landscape with coleus and enjoy some of the prettiest leaves in the plant world.

Whenever I visit a conservatory filled with tropical plants, I’m always surprised to see coleus growing alongside them. But I shouldn’t be that surprised because coleus is actually a tropical plant we all grow as an annual.

Coleus originally came from tropical places like Indonesia and Sri Lanka. If you visited those countries today and looked for coleus in the wild, you’d discover the coleus varieties we grow today don’t look much like those wild plants. Breeders have produced hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different varieties through the years.

What Is Coleus?

Coleus is a tropical plant most of us grow outdoors as an annual. Its foliage is its best feature. Foliage colors range from deep purple to lime green with shades of maroon, red and pink thrown in. The leaves can be variegated, splotched or solid.

Is Coleus a Perennial?

Coleus is not a perennial plant for most gardens. As a tropical plant, it has no tolerance for cold temperatures. Often it will suffer when temperatures regularly fall below 50 degrees, and frost will kill it outright. But it’s easy to grow and enjoy as a summer annual plant, and does well in shady locations.

Will My Coleus Bloom?

Coleus plants will bloom, but because they’re grown for foliage, most gardeners will pinch off any flowers that form. This encourages the plant to grow bushier with more leaves. Today, plant breeders try to produce new varieties that bloom late in the season if at all.

Can You Divide Coleus?

Yes, though coleus plants are not divided the way you divide a perennial. They don’t produce suckers, i.e. new stems coming up from the roots. Instead, to produce more plants from your coleus, you can root cuttings.

How Do You Root Coleus Cuttings?

Coleus easily roots from cuttings if you follow these steps:

  • Cut a four- to six-inch section of a stem just above a pair of leaves. Where the leaves attach to the stem is called a leaf node. At the cut the plant will grow two new stems, making it bushier.
  • Strip off the lower leaves on the cutting so you have about four leaves left. To make sure the end of the stem doesn’t rot, trim the cutting to just below the lowest node where you removed leaves. Always use sharp, clean pruners when taking cuttings.
  • Fill a container with potting soil. Then, with a stick or pencil, punch a hole to insert the cutting. You could also dip the end of the cutting in a rooting powder, but coleus cuttings will often root without doing this. You can root several cuttings in one container, spacing them at least an inch apart. Be sure the container drains well so the soil doesn’t become waterlogged.
  • Water the cuttings and place the container in a clear plastic bag to keep the soil from drying out. Put it where it can get bright but not direct sunlight. Periodically check to ensure that soil stays moist. Water as needed.

In a few weeks, the coleus cuttings should form roots. Then you can replant the cuttings into individual pots. Once they’re growing, pinch off the tip of the stem to encourage branching.

Can Coleus Be Rooted in Water?

Yes, coleus cuttings can be rooted in a glass of water in a sunny location.

Make cuttings the same way you would if you were rooting them in a container of potting soil, but instead place them in a glass of water. Be sure no leaves are below the water. As water evaporates, add more.

Once roots are about an inch long, you can carefully pot up the rooted cutting in a container with clean potting soil. Keep the new plant well-watered until roots grow again in the soil.

Can You Grow Coleus as an Indoor Plant?

Yes, you can grow coleus indoors. It will likely last for several years as a houseplant.

The best way to turn outdoor-grown annual coleus into a houseplant is to take cuttings and start with a new, fresh plant. In the spring, you can take cuttings from your indoor coleus to grow outdoors.

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Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.