Celebrating Colorful Coleus

Coleus ‘Henna’ is a real color-filled beauty with shades of green, orange, and purple.

Long ago, Coleus had been considered a house plant. I can remember, my grandmother always had coleus growing in her house. It was a popular winter houseplant because the colorful leaves provided bright spots of color during the long Midwest winter months. Only occasionally were plants planted outdoors during the summer. My, how the times have changed!

Today, coleus varieties have been developed to be sun tolerant and the leaf colors, shapes, and plant habits are widely diverse. While coleus is technically a tender perennial down south, for most of us they are grown as summer annuals and provide wonderful leaf color throughout the season. The plants need warm weather to thrive and cannot withstand frost, but from late spring until the first frost of fall, they look lovely.

Selecting Coleus

The Proven Winner’s Coleus El Brighto glows in a porch garden filled with cannas, sunflowers, colocasias, and lantanas. The coleus flowers were pinched off after the photo was taken! (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

When selecting garden coleus, a good rule is to set them out at the same time tomatoes are planted. Both coleus and tomatoes need warm weather, and cold weather can stunt or kill plants if set out too early. Even though some new coleus selections have been developed as sun-loving coleus, I have found most perform better in my garden with some afternoon shade.

Coleus are ideal in both the garden and containers. More compact varieties make superb container plants with their colorful foliage throughout the summer season, such as the new compact, red, purple, and green Coleus ‘Spitfire’. Another I have grown both in a container and the garden is Proven Winner’s showy, ColorBlaze® El Brighto, with its brilliant fringed leaves of red, purple, and gold. (Click here to admire more of Proven Winner’s Colorblaze Coleus.)

Whatever coleus I choose, my potting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. It holds moisture well and also provides for good drainage. I add an organic fertilizer at the time of planting and mix it well into the potting mix.

Planting Coleus

Coleus ‘Spitefire’ has a unique layering growth habit suited to containers and hanging baskets. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

When setting out and growing coleus plants, it is a good idea to pinch the tips of the stems often to encourage a compact growth habit and encourage branching. Sometimes plants will send up spikes of white or lavender flowers. Even though bees like them, coleus foliage looks best if you pinch off the buds before they bloom. Pinching will stop flowering and encourage the plant to produce new colorful growth rather than flowers and seeds.

Sometimes one color plant can create a nice ‘pop’ of color. Last year I planted Coleus ‘Campfire’ with its amber-orange foliage, and it stood out nicely against a background of green (image below). Another bold coleus with only one color is Proven Winner’s Lime Time, which provides a beautiful display of chartreuse leaf color and is especially nice in a shady area. It mixes well with ferns in a woodland setting,

El Brighto is equally suited to container plantings. The container shown has three plants planted in early June and the photo was taken in mid-August. One plant would have been enough. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

Last summer, I saw a pot of Coleus Spitfire in a garden and was impressed. The variety has a unique layering growth habit as well as brightly colored leaves. It looked beautiful in the container and would work equally well in a hanging basket or a garden edge.

Caring For Coleus at Season’s End

The warm, glowing leaves of ‘Campfire’ look attractive against bright greens and golds. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

As the summer season ends consider overwintering a coleus. You can either take a cutting to pot up or transplant the larger specimen. They root easily in water and once rooted, can be planted in a small pot and kept by a window for necessary light. (Click here for video details on how to take cuttings.) The plants will probably have to be pinched often as they reach for light, but they are easy to keep over and then planted outside in the spring.

The selection of color combinations is vast and every year there are new forms on the market. Some dwarf types have small leaves and only grow up to about 12 inches. Then there is the Kong series with leaves reaching up to 8 inches in length! If you have not checked out the coleus section at your local garden center, you will be surprised at the diversity of leaf colors and shapes that are available.

Lime Time will brighten up any bed or potted planting. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

Tropical Rainbow House Plants

Why wait for flowering house plants to bloom for indoor color when you can have plants that always look vivid and dramatic? Some have foliage that’s so colorful their leaves look like a Mardi Gras parade. Just a few pots will bring dazzling delight to any room with good light.

These rainbow house plants come from tropical or subtropical regions and grow best in rooms with good humidity and warmth. Plant them in premium potting soil that holds water well. Then water and feed them, keep their leaves clean and sparkling, and they’ll paint living spaces with spirit-lifting color. The hottest of the rainbow hotties include the following bold house plants.

Rainbow House Plants

Jacob’s Coat

Jacob’s coat ‘Mosaica’ is a riot of color and grows well as a house plant or seasonal ornamental.

A native of the Pacific Islands, Jacob’s Coat (Acalypha wilkesiana) is a tropical shrub that makes a wonderful potted house specimen. It has standout multicolored evergreen foliage that typically comes in shades of white, green, pink, and red. Choice selections include the pink-, peach-, green-, and purple-leaved ‘Mosaica’ and peach- and orange-hued ‘Tiki Peach Whirl’. The plants can grow quite large and should be pruned to size as needed.

Chinese Evergreen

‘Two-Tone Moonstone’ is one of many wildly colorful Chinese evergreens.

The brilliant leaves of Chinese evergreen (Agleonema spp.) are boldly colorful. These low, lush plants originate from the humid tropics and subtropics of Asia where they survive in the forest understory. Two of our favorites for color include ‘Two Tone Moonstone’, with its pink and white leaves speckled with green, and the poinsettia-like ‘Red Zircon’, which has crimson-red leaves edged in green.


Begonia T REX™ ‘St. Nick is one of the thousands of different begonias with cheerful leaves. (Image thanks to Terra Nova Nursery)

The variety of colors that can appear in a single begonia leaf are truly impressive. Species extend from subtropical to tropical regions across the Americas, Africa, and Asia where they exist in moist, forested habitats. They have been intensively bred, resulting in thousands of impressive cultivars, such Begonia ‘Martha Stewart’ with its gold-, chartreuse- and russet-leaves, and Terra Nova’s T REX™ ‘St. Nick, with a purple- and red-centered leaves decorated with green and silvery white spotting. Another good pick from Terra Nova is Begonia SHADE ANGEL™ ‘Aurora’ with its lustrous leaves that have hints of silvery blue, lavender, raspberry pink, and ivory.


Croton ‘Mammy’ has the bonus of curly extravagant leaves.

The leaves of croton (Codiaeum variegatum) are arguably the most colorful and visually diverse of all the plants in this list. Natural populations exist in the South Pacific and Australia where they grow in open forests and shrublands.  The lush, glossy-leaved plants can take a little less water and have brilliantly patterned leaves that may have mixed shades of yellow, red, purple, white, and green. Some are broad-leaved and others elongated. We like ‘Mrs. Iceton’, with leaves of deep purple, rose, green, and yellow, ‘Lauren’s Rainbow’, with elongated leaves of purple, orange, green, and yellow, and the compact ‘Mammy’ with its curly multi-colored leaves.

Rose-Painted Calathea

Rose-painted calathea ‘Princess Jessie’ loves shade and always looks lovely.

Native to the forests of Brazil, rose-painted calathea (Calathea roseopicta) has broad, striped leaves of green, ivory, and rose. The compact plants always look and grow well in low-light areas of the home. Try the dark green, rose, and ivory ‘Princess Jessie’ (a name I like very much).

Ti Tree

Few house plants are as electric as ti tree!

The upright, lance-shaped leaves of ti tree (Cordyline fruticosa) come in lots of brilliant tropical shades. Like croton, it comes from the South Pacific and adjacent Australia where it survives in drier tropical forests. Specimens develop woody, trunk-like bases over time. Give them bright light and large pots that will allow their roots to grow freely. For color, we like the purple and magenta ‘Ruby’, and the green-, yellow- and pink-leaved ‘Morning Sunshine’.

Tricolor Prayer Plant

As the name suggests, the low-growing tricolor prayer plant (Stromanthe ‘Triostar’) has three-colored, lance-shaped leaves with bold markings of cream, rosy purple, and green. It originates from Brazilian rain forests and requires sufficient moisture and humidity for good growth.

Caring for Tropical House Plants

Aside from bright filtered sunlight, warmth, and humidity, these tropicals need plenty of rich, moisture-holding soil to dig their roots into. At planting time, provide them with containers that are several inches larger than their root balls. Make sure the pots have drainage holes at the bottom and deep saucers to catch excess water. Two of the best Black Gold mixes for substantial water-holding ability are Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix, which is OMRI Listed and contains coconut coir, and Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix, which is our #1 best seller for house plants of all kinds. Keep the potting mix evenly moist, never wet, and fertilize regularly with an all-purpose fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizers are easier to apply and time-saving.

A collection of these rainbow house plants will bring spectacular looks to any indoor space. Forget about flowers! Planting with indoor foliage is the best way for busy gardeners to achieve neverending color.