Here's Why Coleus Is The Best Shade Garden Replacement for Impatiens

Coleus are usually grown for their amazing foliage and not for their flowers. Luckily, they are both easy to grow, easy to start from seed or cuttings and have a wonderful range of both colored leaves as well as leaf sizes.

They're low maintenance. No picking of flowers and if they do produce them later in the season, I recommend you simply snip them off.

Quick Growing Details

Sun exposure - grow mostly in part-shade to shade although there are a few advertised varieties that will handle more sunshine than others.

Planting Generally, coleus are planted about 2/3 of their height apart (give or take) An 18-inch coleus is then planted 12-inches apart.

Water and feed; It prefers a steady supply of water and regular plant food.

Pruning: If you want it to bush out, prune off the growing tips. Pinch off any flowers that develop, they're not attractive and take away from the beauty of the foliage.

It is not frost hardy - a whiff of frost and it is pretty much done.


A large bed of coleus in the shade garden

Coleus In The Landscape

This is a tough plant producing colored leaves in the shady garden and shade container-garden.

Use as a ground cover, a foliage accent or a container garden plant.

coleus 9 A bed of coleus in the shade garden - a lovely look when you combine different colors.

Growing Details

Many will produce flowers earlier if they are under stress. The solution to these flowers is to cut the stems off right at the base where they start from the plant. This will cut off the top of the coleus as well and that's fine. It will branch and bush out from this spot making a better plant.

Feed as per any annual. Some varieties will flower quicker than others but the flowers are spikes of small insignificant flowers (unless you're another coleus of course) :-)


Coleus 'Dark Star' from Proven Winners

Watering and Feeding:

As recommended for any annual plant, in my gardens I feed them weekly and water when needed to keep the ground damp.

how to propagate coleus from seed Sow seed and keep the soil warm using a bottom heat mat.

If you sow around the middle of March, your plants should be about 6-inches tall 6-8 weeks later.

Do not cover the seed - they prefer to germinate in the light. Sow seed at least one-half inch apart. Crowding this plant is not a good idea as it does tend to get damping off (suddenly falls over even though it looks good)

Only water with luke-warm water and keep the soil at 70F for best results. Colder soil temperatures will result in poor germination.

If you are growing them properly, they should be ready to transplant into small pots for growing on around two weeks after sowing.


Coleus 'Dipt In Wine' from Proven Winners

Can I sow them directly in the garden?

When the ground has warmed up, usually the first week of June in a USDA 4/5 sow in the garden as above.

Firm the soil before sowing so the seed doesn't sink between soil particles and press the seed to the soil so it is in good contact.

Again, do not cover and water with warm water.

Transplant to where they are going to grow about two weeks later. This isn't the best way to get mature plants but it's a great way to obtain new colours for your collection. :-)

Taking Cuttings

This plant easily propagates from cuttings


Coleus 'Gays Delight' from Proven Winners


Do pinch out tips and/or prune all summer.

Some varieties take right off and outgrow their containers or garden spots. I had one such variety one year and had to cut it in half every few weeks to keep it in check.

Remember, if you prune the tops of this plant (or any growing shoot) it will bush out from below the cut to produce a great many more shoots - and a bushier plant.


This is an annual plant, killed by frost. So if you want to save a particularly nice color, you have to dig it up, pot and bring indoors before frost hits them. They do turn a "lovely" shade of black once frosted and don't recover.

Grow in a sunny windowsill as you would any houseplant. They will grow leggy over the winter and in March, you can take tip cuttings to root and give you a great many plants for the summer

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Common Variety Summary (2014)

Be prepared to be knocked over with advertising for new varieties. As impatiens are no longer grown, coleus will become a much more important annual bedding crop.

Kong series - 18-inches tall, almost equally wide with pruning. This is a huge leaf, usually premium series of colors (cost a lot more) sold in individual pots. You can purchase your own seed from major seed companies.

Wizard series. A dwarf 10-inch plant - plant 8-inches apart. A range of colors and mixes.

Versa series 18-20 inches tall, grows in sun or shade (may throw flowers a bit more in sun) comes in a wide range of colored leaves.

Giant Exhibition 16-inches tall and different colors including golds. Another fairly common variety

Proven Winners Color Blaze Series - 20-inches tall in a range of colors. Premium pricing and usually sold by the pot.

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