One of my favorite annuals to grow in containers on the back patio is coleus. This stunning tropical comes in varieties with foliage that range from variegated yellow and green to a red so deep it’s nearly black. Instead of watching these beauties die at the first frost, I’ve tried a couple of coleus overwintering methods so I can plant them outside again in spring.
Bringing Containers Indoors
The easiest way to overwinter a tropical plant is to bring it indoors. It’s not necessarily the ideal situation for a coleus because it needs a lot of warmth and humidity. It can work, though, if you take good care of the plant.
Start by taking the plant out of the pot and rinsing the roots to get rid of any bugs or eggs. Repot it in a clean container with fresh, moist, high-quality potting soil. Give your indoor coleus a north-facing window, as it prefers indirect light. Make sure it’s a warm spot and use a humidity tray for moisture.
One reason I don’t like overwintering coleus using the full plant is that it just doesn’t do well indoors. If you can keep it alive, it should thrive again in spring, but in the meantime, it will look scraggly and dull.
A better way is to take cuttings from your favorite plants. A cutting is like a baby coleus at an earlier growth stage. It will be eager to start growing new foliage throughout the winter.
Be sure to take cuttings before the first frost, or you’ll lose the plant. Place cuttings in water just long enough to get root growth. You can use a rooting hormone to speed the process. Once you see roots, pot up the coleus cuttings with some good potting soil. Give them a sunny spot and plenty of moisture.
Getting Coleus Ready for Spring
Whether you saved the whole plant or grew new ones from cuttings, it’s vital that you acclimatize them properly before replanting outdoors. Take the plants outside on warmer spring days for a few hours and increase the time spent outside day by day.
After a couple of weeks, they will be ready to go outside full time. If you kept an entire plant, you can now cut it back a little, removing any faded or browned leaves. Pinch back both plants regularly to help them grow fuller and to avoid leggy growth.
I’ve used both methods in the past to save coleus and find the cutting method works best. They look healthy and vibrant in spring. All they really need is to be hardened off for a couple weeks. My patio looks like I bought new plants from the garden center.
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Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.
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