Planting a Coleus in a Container

coleus with green and red leaves in a pot outside by grass

Coleus is a sturdy plant that is as happy in a container as it is in your garden. Since container plants don't become established in the same way, they would in the ground, you will want to keep these tips in mind when planting coleus in a container.

Plants, Containers, and Soil

You can buy different coleus types at your local garden center in 4-inch pots, 6-paks, or gallon containers. Or you can start coleus from cuttings; put cuttings in a glass of water to root first before planting. Use good, sterile potting soil. Choose a potting soil that provides aeration, water retention, and nutrients. Buy a brand you trust or make your own.

Use a new or clean container. If you re-use a container, sterilize it by washing it out with soap and water and spraying it with bleach diluted with water. Air dry your container, and it's ready to use. Decide what size you need, whether it will hold one or several plants. You don't need a huge or deep container for one plant as coleus has a compact root system. Still, coleus can grow to two feet or more in height. If you decide to plant several coleuses in the same container, choose the container size accordingly. Make sure the container you choose drains easily.

Fill the container 3/4 full with potting soil, and place the plant, so the bottom of the plant is an inch or two below the top of the container. Hold the plant at the proper level and fill the rest of the container with potting soil. Water thoroughly to settle the plant and add more potting soil if needed. If you choose, put wood chips or moss on the top as a mulch to retain moisture.

Care and Maintenance

Coleus likes moist, well-draining soil—water your coleus when the soil is dry on the top. Pinch off the small flowery tips to promote fullness and lessen leggy stems. Coleus colors are more intense in the shade; they look washed out in full sun. Keep them in a shady place or an area with filtered sun to enhance the color of the foliage. Coleus can last for several seasons if protected from frost; if they are in a container, you can bring them in when it gets colder. Fertilize monthly with a good all-purpose fertilizer.

Companion Plants for Your Container

Coleus is often used ornamentally thanks to its beautiful, colorful leaves. Coleus colors include green, pink, yellow, dark purple, maroon and red in various combinations and patterns. Mix and match several different types of coleus plants in a large container to offer interesting color combinations.

Coleus also goes well with other plants. Plant coleus in a container with other bushy plants with an assortment of colored flowers or colored foliage. Choose plants with varying colors, textures, and sizes. Plants to combine with coleus, which also do well in filtered sunlight, include hostas, impatiens, sweet potato vine (ipomoea), fuchsias, ferns, begonias, and verbena. Or you can arrange plants of different sizes and colors in the container; for example, use fountain grass or flax in the back, coleus in the center and bacopa, Million Bells (calibrachoa), or lobelia trailing over the sides. Arrange your plant choices close together to give you a continuous bed of color.