Today I’d like to talk about a plant near and dear to my heart (*cue dramatic music*):
You want foliage? Coleus is *all* about foliage.
Coleus leaves are an explosion of color and texture- usually in brightly contrasting purples and bright greens. The colors of the leaves can vary from pale pink and white to deep crimson to flourescent pinks and oranges to deep coppers and crimsons to kiwi greens.
And depending on how much sun they get, individual plants can alter their colors, as well.
I *adore* Coleus. I grow a lot of flowery, pretty, petal-ly stuff in my garden, but my biggest batch of plants is Coleus. When I first started my container garden, I bought two things: a coleus (which I always admire), and a pre-made-Home-Depot-$5.99-on-special container garden that had a coleus in it. I still have both those original Coleus, and those plants have been spread across MANY containers and planters simply by snapping pieces of the branches and sticking them in other pots.
Coleus are super easy to maintain. They aren’t picky about soil, they aren’t picky about light, they aren’t picky about temperature, they make good houseplants, they grow like crazy outside, they will grow without fertilizer, they are not picky about being too dry or too wet, they can grow in VERY SMALL CONTAINERS that are mostly made up of roots.
Coleus are even easier to propagate- simply break off a branch of a pre-existing Coleus, and either stick it in a jar of water or a spot of soil. For a few days the branch and leaves will look absolutely wilty and dead, but then one day you’ll come out and the plant will have sprung back to life, already sprouted roots. In a few weeks, it will grow like crazy.
The one problem with Coleus is that they can be a little weak. They break off easily- if you shoot them with the “jet” setting of your hose, you can literally blast all the leaves off the stems. (I have made this mistake).
But my Coleus have survived a lot- probably the worst thing I put them threw was when I tripped over my own feet and sat straight down into my planter of Coleus and crushed every single one of them. They broke off at the stem and I was left with a pot full of foliage-less stems. I was devastated. But I left it alone, thinking they might come back. And within two weeks, the planter looked like nothing had happened to it. They are very forgiving plants, to say the least.
Right now I’m obsessed with getting an orange/copper Coleus. I purchased a pack of 100 “mixed Coleus seeds” last summer that were supposed to be a complete blend of crimson/copper Coleus, planted every single seed only to find there was not a copper or crimson in the bunch. I’m too much of a softie to dispose of a perfectly healthy plant, so let’s just say I have A LOT of Coleus in my garden and around our house. They make great fillers for larger plants- I have them in all our eggplant and tomato containers as “soil cover”. They spread like crazy and do a nice job of insulating the soil, and they don’t mind being completely cut down every few months.
Coleus *do* create flowers, but they are nothing to write home about. In fact, if you don’t keep on top of those flowers, your Coleus will believe that is has to scale back, and start making smaller leaves. So if you see a little wheat-looking stalk shoot up, pinch it off immediately. It’s a little sad the first time you do it, but when you see what your Coleus does in flower, you’ll realize it’s much nicer WITHOUT the blossoms on it.
Let the leaves be the star of the show.
So anyway, if you want to give gardening a go, I would recommend Coleus to start with. Seriously. You can either go to your local home improvement store or nursery and pick one up for less than $2, or you can buy a pack of mixed Coleus seeds and a pot and grow them yourself. Simply fill the pot with soil (make sure the holes for drainge on the bottom are punched out because it’s very hard to punch them out AFTER you have soil in them and plants growing- another rookie mistake I made early on…), mist with water until the soil is damp, and then sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil, lightly patting down with a dry hand. Don’t bury the seeds- they need sunshine and will root on their own. The seeds are also tiny- smaller than poppy seeds- so it’s better to plant a whole bunch than just a few.
Some Coleus sprout immediately, and some take weeks. Just keep them damp (not soggy) and in sunshine. When they do begin to sprout- be patient. They can’t be transplanted until they are about 4 inches high since their roots take time to develop. After they sprout, you can decide which colors and plants look most appealing to you and either transplant them or leave them in their original pot. As they grow, keep them trimmed and pinch flowers off as soon as they appear.
I like to repot my Coleus several times a year, since I keep them in very small garden bowls and they grow like crazy. It’s just a chance to give them more room to spread out and fresh soil to use for nutrition. I water mine daily- the more crammed in they are (like mine), the more water they need. I also over-fertilize, and they seem to like that as well.