Growing Scaredy Cat Plants: Coleus Canina Plant Repellent

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By Anne Baley

The scaredy cat plant, or Coleus canina, is one of many examples of gardener’s traditions and tales that aren’t always exactly true. Legend has it that this plant smells so badly that it will repel cats, dogs, rabbits, and any other small mammal that might otherwise get into the garden and eat the plants.

While scaredy cat coleus does have a distinctive skunk smell, which is worse when someone brushes up against the plant or bruises it, there’s no proof that this alone will keep any animals away from the garden. Coleus canina plant repellent is probably another old gardener’s tale that grew up from some anecdotal evidence, and now is a great advertising tool for nurseries that want to sell more of these plants.

What is a Scaredy Cat Plant?

What is a scaredy cat plant? The scaredy cat plant (Coleus canina) is a growing falsehood. It’s neither a member of the Coleus family, nor does it have anything to do with dogs, or canines. This attractive perennial herb is actually an aromatic member of the Mint family. They’re native to southern Asia and eastern Africa, and they attract butterflies and bees.

Scaredy Cat Coleus Info


Growing scaredy cat plants may be among the simplest of garden tasks you have. Much like willow branches, scaredy cat leaves will root in just a few days as soon as they touch soil. For propagating a large number of these plants, cut the leaves in half and plant them, cut side down, into fresh potting soil. Keep the soil moist and you’ll have a large batch of rooted herbs in a few weeks.

Transplant the baby plants in full sun or partial shade, and space them about 2 feet apart. Another popular way to plant them is in containers, to enable portability. If you have a guest who is sensitive to the smell, or small children who are likely to run over the plants and bruise them, it’s a good idea to be able to move them to a more secure location.

Scaredy cat plant care is relatively simple, as long as it’s planted in the right environment. A healthy Coleus canina will produce attractive light blue flowers from spring until frost, sprouting from leaves that look surprisingly like those of peppermint or spearmint. Wear gloves when pruning this variety, as the act of cutting will cause the plant to smell very badly.

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