Gardening: Coleus cuttings root in water

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Jack Frost will soon be knocking at the door, so if you haven’t moved any houseplants or those you would like to over-winter indoors, now is the time to do so.

We have several varieties of coleus in the OPC display garden that I would love to take into our atrium, but sadly they have grown way too large. But all is not lost because Coleus are tender perennials that root easily in water and can be propagated from tip cuttings. And the good news is it’s pretty easy to do.

In the Victorian era, when coleus were also all the rage but not as readily available as today, this was often the way plant lovers got their plants. If you visited a friend who grew them, chances are you would go home with a water-filled jelly jar filled with cuttings to root.

To start, use clean sharp shears or pruners to cut 4- to 6-inch stem tips from the plant. Choose those without blooms and make the cut just below a leaf node — the point where a leaf emerges from the stem.

Carefully remove the lower leaves, put the cutting in a jar filled with room-temperature fresh water and place it in bright indirect light.

To prevent bacteria buildup, change the water every few days.

When the roots begin to develop, often within as little as a week, plant the cutting in a container filled with soilless potting mix.

The potting mix should be moist when the rooted cutting is planted and kept continuously damp, but not sodden. If the heat goes on in the house, tenting the plant with a large clear plastic bag to make a sort of greenhouse or placing it on a pebble tray filled with water will help keep the air humid and help the cutting to thrive.

Put off fertilizing until active growth begins some time around March.

Among other plants that can be rooted in water are fancy leaf geraniums, Boston ivy, Swedish Ivy and many herbs.

If you lack enough light to grow plants indoors a grow lamp is the answer. I have a 4-foot plastic utility table with a shop light fitted with grow bulbs set up in my office for houseplants that need more light then I can provide naturally. These needy characters live there but take occasional vacations to darker areas of my house when I decide I need a change of scenery. Most don’t seem to mind a couple of weeks in semi-shade.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at