Grown mostly for its pretty foliage, this large group of plants works well both in the garden and indoors.
This family of 350 diverse foliage plants includes coleus, Swedish ivy, and Cuban oregano. Many species of plectranthus have fragrant foliage, like their close relative the mint family. While some smell pleasant, others have a much more pungent scent when crushed. The blooms of plectranthus are generally not the main attraction in this group, but there are some exceptions.
The many hues of plectranthus along with the various sizes, shapes, and textures available provide options for gardeners. Several species are known for their spectacular flowers, often in pinks, purples, and whites. Although this plant isn't most notable for its blooms, its foliage takes center stage adding plenty of texture to the garden space.
Plectranthus Care Must-Knows
These fanciful foliage plants are easy to grow and make excellent houseplants or container plants. The flowering types generally bloom outdoors during the short days of the year in winter hardy plant zones and begin flowering in the fall and continue until spring. They also bloom in cool summer climates. A great bedding plant, plectranthus can be used with flowering plants to add color with their foliage when other plants may not be in bloom.
For best results, make sure to plant plectranthus in good, well-drained soil. One of the surest ways to kill a plectranthus is overly wet soil or pots that hold too much water. These plants are similar to a succulent and can handle short droughts from time to time. Even when the whole plant wilts, it will generally bounce back quickly when watered again.
The species you are growing dictates the amount of sun needed and whether the plant will thrive indoors or outside. While almost all plectranthus can grow in full sun, most will prefer a bit of shade, especially in the afternoon sun. Light foliage varieties, especially gold ones, can sometimes burn in full sun causing unsightly bleached leaves. Some varieties can handle quite a bit of shade, but some of the bright color varieties will tend to "green out" with the foliage taking on a green tinge in too much shade. Indoors, most plectranthus will do best in lots of sunlight; a southern exposure ideally yields the brightest color. Many will handle eastern or western exposures, and only the most shade tolerant will thrive in northern windows.
Many varieties of plectranthus are quick growing. To keep them looking nice and tidy, give them an occasional pruning or pinching. For young plants, it is best to pinch off a few leaves just up from the base. This encourages good branching early on and helps create a bushy plant. It is also good to pinch off old flower blooms. This coaxes some of the longer-blooming types to rebloom, and gives all of them a tidier look.
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If you are pinching back older plants, you can use the cuttings to grow new plants. At the base of the cutting, trim the stem directly below where the bottom leaf attaches, remove several sets of leaves above the new cut, leaving 1 to 2 sets of leaves above that, and place the stem in moist soil. In a few weeks, roots will sprout. Or, root removed stems in a glass of water, making sure to change the water at least once a week. Taking cuttings in the fall is a good way to save plants for next year's garden, or entire plants can be brought indoors. These are frost-sensitive plants, so if you are planning on growing indoors, make sure to take your cuttings before the first frost. This is also a good way to start a new plant if you find mealybugs, a common pest of plectranthus. It is much easier to clean up a small cutting from an outbreak of these pesky bugs than a whole plant.
More Varieties of Plectranthus
Plectranthus parviflorus 'Limplep1' is more commonly known as Blue Yonder or Blue Spire plectranthus. It was selected from a species native to Australia. Blue Yonder has green foliage edged in white, and in summer it sends up spires of sky blue blooms. The plant grows 14 inches tall (24 inches in bloom) and spreads 24 inches wide.
Plectranthus coleoides 'Cerveza 'n Lime' resembles Cuban oregano with its fuzzy, scalloped green leaves. But the leaves on 'Cerveza 'n Lime' are a bit larger and not quite as succulent. It makes a great heat- and drought-tolerant addition to container gardens, or it can be grown as an indoor plant. It grows 18 inches tall and wide.
Plectranthus amboinicus has thick, succulent, hairy gray-green leaves. The plant has short internodes, forming a compact mound of fragrant foliage. It makes an easy-care houseplant or a low-maintenance herb. Leaves of Cuban oregano can be substituted for oregano or sage in poultry and meat dishes. It grows 12-18 inches tall and wide.
Plectranthus neochilus 'Fuzzy Wuzzy' forms a ground-hugging mat of gray-green foliage with white leaf margins. It grows less than a foot tall and spreads up to 2 feet wide. It is also called lobster flower for the clawlike shape of its blue-purple bloom spikes that rise 3-6 inches above the foliage.
Plectranthus oertendahlii 'Emerald Lace' is named for the lacy gray-green pattern of markings on its scalloped, rounded foliage. It is a compact selection of silver plectranthus, growing just 6-8 inches tall and 8-12 inches wide. In fall and spring, it sends up spikes of white or pale lavender blooms. Grow it as a houseplant or in annual flower combinations outdoors.
Plectranthus ciliatus 'Drege' is sometimes called spur flower for its small pink flowers, which are borne in spring and summer. It is a tropical subshrub from Africa that makes a good drought-tolerant groundcover where temperatures remain above freezing. Its leaves are green on the upper surface and purplish underneath with stiff white hairs.
Plectranthus coleoides 'Nico' is a vigorous variety that has dark green leaves with purple veins and purplish leaf undersides. It has a semiprostrate growth pattern that makes it useful as a trailing plant in container gardens or as a groundcover in landscape beds. It grows 8-12 inches tall and spreads 12-36 inches wide.
Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' shows off rich purple leaves topped by spikes of lavender-purple flowers. It grows 28 inches tall and wide. It makes a lovely houseplant.
Plectranthus coleoides 'Nicoletta' has large, fuzzy, silvery-gray leaves and purplish stems. This semitrailing plant grows 8-10 inches tall and spreads up to 36 inches wide.
Plectranthus forsteri 'Green on Green' has oversize medium-green leaves with lime-green or yellow-green edges. It grows up to 24 inches tall and wide, and it rarely blooms.
Plectranthus verticillatus is a common houseplant. It is native to South Africa and Australia, not Sweden where it was first popularized. This mint relative has a trailing habit, making it an excellent choice for hanging baskets. The glossy green leaves with scalloped edges are borne on stems that reach 12-18 inches tall and trail up to 3 feet long. It used to be classified as Plectranthus australis.
Plectranthus amboinicus 'Ochre Flame' is a highly ornamental form of Cuban oregano. Each avocado-green leaf is splashed with an irregular central patch of pale lime. The leaves are both scalloped and wavy at their margins. In winter the plant bears lavender-pink blooms. It grows 12 inches tall and wide.
Plectranthus argentatus displays hairy, silvery leaves and is easy to grow indoors or out. It grows 3 feet tall and wide.
Plectranthus argentatus 'Silver Shield' is an Australian native that produces large shield-shape silvery leaves on plants that grow 24-30 inches tall and wide. It bears pale blue to white flowers in summer, but because they are not particularly showy, pinch the flowers back or deadhead them to show off the foliage, which is the main attraction of this plant.
Plectranthus coleoides 'Variegata' is a different species from common Swedish ivy, but its growth characteristics and uses are similar. This trailing plant has scalloped leaves with white margins. The plant cascades nicely from container gardens or hanging baskets. It grows 6-12 inches tall and trails 24-26 inches.
Plectranthus ciliatus 'Troy's Gold' offers golden foliage variegated with purple and green. It grows 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide. It can be grown as a houseplant in a sunny window.
Plectranthus oertendahlii is a spreading plant that grows just 8 inches tall but can spread up to 3 feet wide. This growth habit makes it an excellent choice for hanging baskets or as a groundcover. It is also sometimes called prostrate coleus, silver Swedish ivy, or candle plant.
Plectranthus forsteri 'Marginatus' offers large hairy leaves edged in white. It grows 18 inches tall and 36 inches wide. It can be grown as a houseplant.
Plectranthus Companion Plants
Petunias are failproof favorites for gardeners everywhere. They are vigorous growers and prolific bloomers from mid-spring through late fall. Color choices are nearly limitless, with some sporting beautiful veining and intriguing colors. Many varieties are sweetly fragrant (sniff blooms in the garden center to be sure.) Some also tout themselves as "weatherproof," which means that the flowers don't close up when water is splashed on them. Wave petunias have made this plant even more popular. Reaching up to 4 feet long, it's great as a groundcover or when cascading from window boxes and pots. All petunias do best and grow more bushy and full if you pinch or cut them back by one- to two-thirds in midsummer.
Shade-loving coleus with blended leaf color provides vivid color and wild markings even in the darkest corners of your yard. The mottled colors often change in intensity depending on the amount of sunlight and heat. These varieties are easy to grow—just plant them in a shady but warm spot; give them enough water to keep the soil moist, but not wet, and add a little fertilizer. When frost threatens, pot them up and enjoy them as houseplants in a sunny window until spring. Then plant them outdoors once again!