How to save your coleus for next year
I’ve written before about how much I love coleus and how I’ve had a hard time finding my favourite variety at any of my local nurseries.
To keep growing this plant, I’ve been growing cuttings, starting with my original plant, season after season. In this post I’ll show you how I make cuttings and root them, using the technique I was taught in my college horticultural science classes.
You may have tried to make new plants by putting a piece of a favourite plant in water until it sent out roots. This sometimes works, but mostly just because plants are so determined to survive that they’ll make do with less than ideal conditions. The problem with this method is that roots that develop in water aren’t the same as roots that grow in soil–they’re more brittle and not designed for taking in nutrients from soil. When it comes time to take that water-rooted cutting and start growing it in soil the plant has to grow a whole set of new roots. With the method I’m going to show you, plants develop real roots right from the start.
You’ll need a few supplies–a tray of sharp sand (i.e. builder’s sand, not sandbox sand), a healthy coleus plant, and sharp scissors or a knife. Although they’re not essential, your success rate will be improved if you also use rooting hormone* and have a heat mat*.
I rooted some coleus cuttings last fall, and then grew them on as houseplants over the winter. In February, I sat down to take cuttings. Because I wanted to keep the original plants as well, I was careful to take my cuttings, just above a growth node (see the dotted blue line on the image below). Even if I didn’t want to take cuttings, I would have pinched back the plant at this point on all of its stems, in order to make it bush out, keeping it from getting leggy.
Here’s what the initial cutting looked like:
And this is what it looked like a moment later:
What I did was remove all of the excess leaves. This little cutting is going to need to quickly develop enough root system to support itself. If I had left all of the original foliage on it there wouldn’t be enough water coming in to sustain the cutting during the initial growth period. Not only did I pinch off all but two small leaves, I cut the ends off the leaves, to reduce the surface area even more. The idea is to leave just enough leaf area for the plant to be able to take in light and photosynthesize.
Then I dipped the end of the cutting in rooting hormone (you can find rooting hormone at good garden centres/nurseries and online*).
And then pushed the cutting into a tray of sand (if your sand is damp you may need to make a hole with a pencil first, then put the cutting in and fill in the hole with sand):
I repeated this process with more cuttings from both coleus plants, until I had a full tray.
I then watered the tray so that the sand was damp and placed it under my grow lights (although a south facing windowsill could work) in the basement. Coleus cuttings seem to root faster if they get heat from below, so I placed a heat mat under them as well (i.e. a special mat, somewhat like a heating pad for humans, designed to withstand moisture and be placed under trays for seedlings or cuttings to promote growth. Heat mats are available at some garden centres and online. Do not try to use a heating pad from the drug store for this purpose).
I kept an eye on the tray, watering it regularly and ensuring that the sand never dried out. After a few weeks, new leaves started to emerge at the base of the cuttings:
I continued to keep the sand moist and keep the trays under the grow lights. When the plants were ready a couple months later…actually, let me be truthful, when I finally had some time a couple months later (the plants had been ready long before), I used an old spoon to dig the little cuttings out of the sand. Take a look at how much root had developed:
The cuttings had become a full-fledged plants!
At this point I put them into small pots of soil, and placed them back under the grow lights, as it was still too cold outside to put them in the garden. By the time it warmed up, they were a good size:
I used these coleus plants in several spots in the garden, and they’ve done extremely well.
As cooler weather approaches I’ll be starting the cycle again. I’ll start by taking a few cuttings from these plants, rooting them, and turn them into houseplants for a few months. I find that easier than trying to find the space to bring one of the large adult plants in for the winter. Note, I will be sure to take my cuttings in early fall, before the weather starts to really change. As winter approaches plants start, essentially, trying to brace themselves for the colder weather. The chemical changes they undergo make it more difficult to root them after they’ve entered this stage.
I would be remiss in this post if I didn’t mention that many modern plant varieties are protected by trademarks. I’m not a legal expert, but my understanding is that it’s ok for home gardeners to make cuttings of a plant like this for your own use, but you couldn’t make cuttings to sell to others.
Do you have a favourite coleus or two that you’d like to have again next year? I’d encourage you to give this method of making new plants a try.
*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.Save
That’s a really good straightforward explanation. Thank you. I don’t have coleus, but I do have some strawflowers that are different from the “norm” that I will try it on. These particular plants grow HUGE, but also cost me nearly ten dollars each in the spring at my favourite garden centre.
Could they come back if I just cover the flower beds
Thanks for your question Judith. It depends on where you live. They’re only reliably hardy to USDA zone 11, so if you live in a colder zone than that, likely not. (If you’re a zone 10 it would be worth trying to cover them and see what happens.) If you don’t know your USDA zone, please have a look at this article and it will help you https://thefabulousgarden.com/blog/2017/12/07/how-to-figure-out-your-zone/
I’m a plant tag researcher, and happen to know that trademarks do not prohibit propagation. You can propagate a trademarked plant, and you can even sell it; you just can’t sell it under the trademarked name or a name close enough to infringe on the trademark, or use a trademarked image to sell it.
Patents are what protect against unlicensed asexual propagation, and many modern plants are patented, too. If there’s a patent number on the tag, or an indication that a patent has been applied for (usually PPAF) then as I understand it, propagation even for one’s own use is technically illegal.
Now, as to your favorite Coleus: I need to put together a description of it for a wholesale client, Plantsmith nursery of Hubbard, Oregon. The mention on this post is the only one I’ve been able to find, other than a Pinterest photo. I can describe the plant based on photos, although I’d appreciate anything you could say by way of description, but I don’t know its dimensions. Can you help with that? Thanks.
If you contact the abovementioned nursery, you might be able to find a retailer near you.
Thanks for your insights on plant trademarks and propagation Gerry–that’s very helpful!
I’m surprised that there isn’t any more info online about Ruffles Copper Coleus–a shame, as it’s a great plant. I appreciate the lead on Plantsmith nursery. I believe the specimen that I have was offered through Proven Winners (I’m in Canada) but I don’t see any mention of it on their website. In case you aren’t aware, it has a cousin, Ruffles Bordeaux, with similar growth habit but slightly different colouring (I grew it one year but didn’t find it different enough to keep alongside Ruffles Copper).
In terms of a description–it grows to be about 10″ x 10″ (possibly 12″ x 12″) unless starved of light (at which point it gets leggy). I find it does need sun in order to have the richest colour–I grow mine in part sun to full sun. If grown in shade it washes out. The deeply lobed leaves are edged in lime green, followed by burgundy encasing centres that are a mix of deep pink and orange. Ruffles Copper’s blooms are pale coloured/nondescript and best pinched off. It has an upright habit and is a stellar plant for containers/pots. I haven’t had much luck growing it in the ground, because of slugs (but that’s the case with every coleus in my garden).
You can find more photos of Ruffles Copper in my post “Coleus, the most useful plant” (sorry I can’t post a direct link in comments, but you can find it through the search function on the site. Hope this is helpful.
[…] Coleus and Creeping Jenny are just a few that have done well indoors by my windows. Geraniums have been waiting patiently in the basement until the snow started melting. I recently brought them out to cut off the dead bits. I put them into soil, watered them and have them sitting near a grow light now. They are turning more green every day and some even have developed tiny leaves. […]
Amazing! Thank you so much! Off I go to take cuttings now ☺️
I take clippings of my coleus every fall, so many colors and sizes! The newer ones are quite pricy. I root in water, sometimes takes less than ten days and then pot them up. It’s late March and I have taken clipping of my clippings more than a few times now and they are potted up in every window sill! Once it’s Maybill move them outside, I continue to propane thru July and fill in my pots- I love them!
If I cut coleus down and leave a little stem. Will they grow back next year if covered.
Not if you live in an area that gets cold. These are tender tropicals (essentially, they’re houseplants)