Growing Coleus in Outdoor Containers

Coleus BlumeiBeyond colorful flowers, outdoor planters need attractive foliage to add shape and variety to make them more pleasing to the eye.

Coleus is an annual grown for its beautiful foliage and shape. There is an incredible amount of variety in the coleus family making it easy to find a plant that will complement just about any color scheme. Coleus varieties include foliage that is pink, purple, red, chartreuse, green, white and multiple combinations of those colors.  They can appear in solid colors,  splattered, striped and more. The leaf shape also varies and can look ruffled, lobed, straight or serrated. has pictures of over 500 varieties of coleus. Searching there will help you get an idea of the vast variety found in coleus plants and help you find  a cultivar that fits your container arrangement.


Coleus typically prefer shaded areas. Full sun will often prevent their leaves from achieving vivid colors. However, in recent years there have been varieties of coleus cultivated for growth in full sun. Better Homes and Gardens lists varieties of sun tolerant coleus here. If your container will be placed in full sun be sure to use one of these varieties. Coleus also produce flowers, but these are not as attractive as their foliage and once the flowers have gone to seed the plant will die. Watch for flower spikes to appear and quickly remove them to maintain healthy foliage growth. also recommends pinching back the growing tips to encourage side growth. This will create a bushier plant. If you want to use coleus to add height to a container rather than using it as a border choose a variety that is known for its height. According to Union County College, some varieties can grow several feet tall. You can also find varieties that will trail over the edge of your container or will add a cascading effect from a hanging basket.


While coleus prefer shade or indirect sun, they do enjoy warmer soil and air temperatures. suggests that optimal soil temperatures for coleus are 50 degrees and the grow best in air temperatures of 70 degrees and higher. Coleus also prefer soil that drains well and is not acidic. The Louisiana State University Ag Center suggests a soil with a ph of 6.5 or lower. They also state that coleus like moisture, but cannot remain soggy or they will suffer from root rot and other diseases. Make sure the container and potting media used encourages adequate drainage.


When the season comes to an end, coleus succumb quickly to frost. They can not tolerate any temperatures below freezing. However, you can take slips from the coleus. When temperatures threaten to freeze, it’s suggested to take 6 inch cuttings from the stems, remove the leaves on the lower half, and place them in very moist potting soil in small pots. Make a tent with a plastic bag over the cutting until they begin to produce new growth then remove the plastic bag. Give them get plenty of indirect sunlight. You can also place the cuttings in jars of water until they produce roots. These cuttings can be grown indoors for the winter and then transferred to outdoor containers when the weather warms up in the spring.

Coleus are a fun and easy way to add an incredible amount of variety to your outdoor container arrangements. Do you have a favorite plant to use for foliage? Do you have a favorite variety of coleus?

Photo “Coleus blumei” courtesy of Jam343

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