Overwintering Coleus

Learn the best way to root coleus cuttings for next year's flower bed.

August 26, 2013

Q. I have a gorgeous coleus that I would like to carry over winter so I can enjoy it in my garden next year. What's the best way to get it through the winter months?—Ciel Resendez, Toledo, Ohio

A. "It's always hard to see your favorite tender plant reduced to mush after the first frost," says Joshua Coceano, horticulturist at the Scott Aboretum of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.


Coceano offers a couple of options for overwintering your favorite Solenostemon (coleus) or Begonia cultivars. "First, consider digging up and bringing a plant indoors," he suggests. "Whether you call it a stock plant or parent plant, mature plants that have been growing outdoors all summer have substance to them, which translates into survivability through the low-light days of winter.

"Second, rooting cuttings is a tried-and-true method," he says. To improve the odds of success, Coceano recommends getting cuttings started during the warm days of summer rather than waiting until fall. "The cool days of autumn—typically when we start thinking about the coming frost and bringing plants indoors—trigger changes in plant physiology that result in reduced vigor and thus reduce rooting success," he explains. "Cuttings taken during the height of summer are vigorous and generate roots quickly.

"Finally, root your cuttings using whatever method you have success with. Some literature will tell you not to root in water, as cuttings don't transplant well. Truth be told, water works quite well for some genera—Solenostemon in particular." If you use water for rooting, Coceano says to be sure to transplant cuttings before the roots get too long. "When rooting in water, transplant before the roots have begun to circle around the container. Using a glass jar lets you keep an eye on the root development. I like to pot up cuttings, especially coleus, when roots are about 1⁄2 inch long. Diligence and observation are key."





1. Place a 6-inch coleus stem in water.   2. Allow roots to form.   3. Transfer the rooted cutting to potting soil.   4. Overwinter coleus on a sunny windowsill, pinching the stem tips to keep growth dense.

Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, Oct/Nov 2013