I am a lucky person in some aspects. I still get to have weekly conversations with my mother, every Saturday she calls me. We talk for hours on all kinds of things, politics, family stuff, work, weather, but mostly we talk gardening and what is going on in our respective yards. This past weekend the topic of houseplants came up. I remember growing up, my mother and grandmother had, what seemed like to a young boy, thousands of houseplants. I even dabbled with a few back then.
We mentioned a couple that you just don't see very much anymore, Pocketbook plant (Calceolaria herbeohybrida) and Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus pulcher). I am sure that I will get letters from people saying that they see them all the time. My mother and I each live in one of the Carolinas and peruse the garden and nursery areas on a regular basis, we just don't see them anywhere.
Anyway, after having this conversation, I got thinking about other plants that we grew as houseplants up in New Jersey. Yup, I am an original Yankee.....Don't hold that against me!! LOL
One of the plants that came to mind was Coleus (Solenostemon spp.)
These plants are natives of Tropical Africa, Asia, Australia, the East Indies, the Malay Archipelago, and the Philippines. As members of the Mint family of plants (Lamiaceae), Coleuses are close relatives of peppermint, spearmint, salvia, basil, thyme, oregano, and Swedish ivy.
Coleuses are grown for their colorful variegated leaves, typically with sharp contrast between the colors; the leaves may be green, pink, yellow, black (a very dark purple), maroon, and red.
There are many known species and many, many cultivars. There are new ones being introduced constantly with an array of color combinations.
Coleuses are considered one of those plants that practically anybody can grow. It was first introduced to the horticultural world in 1825, it has always been popular, and was especially prized as a garden plant in the Victorian era.
Most coleus will grow best in part shade or dappled light. There are several sun tolerant cultivars available that will thrive in full, hot sun. The colors of the plant are typically more intense in shaded areas however.
Treated as annuals, they will grow in Zones 1-11. In mild areas (no snow in Winter), plants can usually be kept as perennials if well taken care of. They are notoriously susceptible to cold weather and just a prediction of frost will kill them. Because I am sure there are people out there that will believe it, that last sentence was a joke.
Coleus prefer a rich, moist, well-drained soil. As long as there are no extremes in pH or soil moisture (too wet or dry) they should adapt to pretty much anything.
Fertilize in June, July and August with a liquid fertilizer at half the usual dilution.
Coleuses are usually pretty easy to find in any garden center or nursery. If you have a friend that already grows some, you are in luck. Coleuses are very easy to propagate.
These plants have a tendency to become leggy, unless you cut them back occasionally. Cutting them back will cause them to become fuller and more dense. It is these cuttings that you are after to produce more plants. Three or four inch long cuttings will readily produce roots, even in a glass of water. The better way to do it is to use some rooting hormone and stick them in an equal mixture of sand and peat. These roots will be better adapted to growing in soil as apposed to water. Seeds are also a cheap and easy way to propagate Coleuses. While you can completely reproduce your favorite ones from cuttings, the benefit of buying a package of seeds is you will get an array of colors. Coleus seeds are very tiny. The trick to getting them to germinate is, not to bury them. Sprinkle the seeds on the top of the soil and just pat them down to gain contact with the soil. Water in thoroughly.
In the late Summer, spikes with blue to lilac flowers will appear. The foliage is the show here, not the flowers.
Many people dislike their appearance, and if allowed to go to seed the plant will decline. To alleviate this problem, it is as easy as pinching off the flower bud as soon as it appears.
Coleuses are pretty much problem free. Some pests to watch for include mealy bug, aphids and whitefies. Insecticidal soap will take care of these. Some disease problems to watch for include stem rot and root rot. As long as you water correctly, these should not be an issue.
This whole conversation started today with houseplants. I don't know when it happened, but, like I stated at the beginning, I only ever knew of Coleuses as houseplants. Here in the South, and maybe elsewhere, they have turned into this huge multi-million dollar annual yard plant. Flats and flats of them are sold every year, yet, you never see them sold as houseplants. They do still work for this purpose.
To grow them this way, your Coleuses should be planted in a light, quick draining, commercial potting soil. Place it where it will receive several hours of bright light, such as a South or East window. You can also provide artificial lighting with plant lights for best leaf color, and fullest plant. One other thing to remember if growing them as houseplants, Coleus vary from smaller types that will reach only 1 foot in height to tall bushy types of 3 feet. There are some sprawling types suitable for hanging baskets, these can still reach 3 feet in length.
Please don't forget to feed them inside too, probably once a month or so, with a dilution of half strength, water soluable houseplant fertilizer.
I hope you go out and try to find yourself some of these extremely beautiful plants. There really are many, many cultivars to choose from, with awesome sounding names like: 'Plum Parfait', 'Solar Eclipse', 'Fishnet Stockings' and 'Freckles'.
I knew somebody would ask, here is what Fishnet Stockings looks like:
As a final note, I stumbled across a cultivar I have never seen in real life, only a picture. If anybody ever sees this or knows where I can get one.....Please let me know!