Turning an everyday coleus into a tree.

Despite an atypically cold winter, my rear patio garden emerged unscathed; I’m particularly happy with the coleus seeds I planted last October: look how big and bushy they’ve gotten! (see container between the two tall tropical plants, below)

Rear patio garden, 2/18/14

…a few even sent up flower spikes during the coldest weeks!

Rainbow Mix Coleus, 2/18/14

Coleus is the common catch-all name for more than 50 trademarked seed varieties and uncountable hybrid mixes of cross pollinated  plants known as Solenostemon scutellarioides.  But don’t grow partial to this taxonomy just yet: according to University of Florida Prof.David Clark, Ph.D. “just to make things crazy for you – the taxonomist powers that be are now calling S. scutellarioides by the new nomenclature Plectranthus scutellarioides, so heads up for that name change coming soon!”

My field grown, hybrid seeds came from a Ferry Morse packet labelled ‘Rainbow Mixed Colors’: lots of genetic variety but with a max height of 12-24″ not the best choice for turning into a potential tree.  Instead, I’m selecting from the groups I sowed directly in- ground a few weeks after the original container seedlings:

To “train” a coleus into a tree, the most important factor is this: do NOT allow flowers to develop. Any signs of spiking should be pinched away, redirecting the plants energy into stem and foliage production.

You can start with any size coleus: if the “leader” stem is straight and strong, even a 4-6″ plant will do!

Unknown hybrid coleus, 2/18/14

Step 1:
Once you’ve selected your plant, prune away any small stems or little leaves you see developing.   To have good proportion, 2/3 of your tree should be “stem” and the upper 1/3 should be round, leafy “head”.  Immediately next to your plant, place a bamboo stake cut to the approximate ideal height for your finished tree ➡ Don’t forget to mark your stick with the correct 2/3 to 1/3 ratio!

Step 2
When the tip growth reaches the mark on your stake, snip it off.. This prompts two new branches to form in it’s place. When you start getting branches at the head, let them grow 2 to 3 nodes long before pruning again.  Remember, each time you pinch, two more side branches grow in its place, and you’ll notice the head filling in. Note: If you’re new to gardening, a node is the little bulge along a stem from which new growth emerges. For an illustrated explanation, click on this previous post.

Step 3
All of this snipping and pruning may confuse your coleus! If strange secondary growth occurs along the stalk, snip it off to maintain a proper shape.

Step 4
Depending on the variety of coleus you’re working with, you may notice your plant getting potbound as the roots keep pace with your plant’s increasing “canopy.”.  Feel free to repot as needed!

One final note: If you’re starting from scratch with this, check out the Colorblaze Coleus varieties from Provenwinners.com. All are tall growing (some reach close to 3ft!) and would look beautiful as trees!  I’m especially fond of the two in this short video:

If you’re a bit confused or uncertain, leave me a question in the comments section!

Until next time…..

🙂 🙂 🙂

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16 thoughts on “Turning an everyday coleus into a tree.

  1. Lovely share… we tend to use these as indoor plants as their colour is so striking…
    I hate all this name changing that is going on, just as I get to learn a tree they tend to change it’s name and I’m lost… I know they are breaking away from the surname attached to a lot of the species, but still I’m finding it hard to keep up…

    • Yes, we Master Gardeners in the States use the term “standard” too, but I hesitated on it in this post because most regular people (here) would have thought “a standard what?”
      After I hit publish I wondered if “topiary” would have been the better choice! 🙂

  2. Tree Form is a great option for defining topiary..When specifying it is usually tree form or bush form. In my opinion, there is nothing better than a ‘Bloody Mary’ Coleus with the possible exception of ‘Alabama Sunset’ …?

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