How to overwinter coleus in Western New York

coleus Chocolate Covered Cherry at Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Awhile back, I got this question from a reader. I apologize to whomever sent this in– I lost your email, but I did keep your question on my list and I am finally getting around to addressing it!

The question is: How do you overwinter coleus?

I asked David Clark, nationally known garden educator, who teaches the series of horticulture classes at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

The basic idea for overwintering coleus is to cut pieces off your coleus plant, root them, plant them in pots and keep them growing in a sunny window through winter until it’s time to plant them outside in spring.

If you have your coleus in a pot, you might be tempted to just bring in the whole pot, but unless you have a greenhouse, the plant won’t do well, Clark said.

If you want your coleus to last through the winter, it’s better to take cuttings because you’re setting back the growth cycle of the plant to an earlier stage, the vegetative growth stage.

The stages of this kind of plant are:

  • Seed
  • Germination
  • Vegetative growth
  • Flower production
  • Pollination
  • Seed development
  • Death of the annual plant

If your coleus has already produced flowers, it’s nearing the end of its life cycle.

“That’s why we deadhead annuals,” Clark pointed out.

When you take cuttings, the cutting is starting out at that earlier vegetative growth stage.

“Coleus is very easy to root,” Clark said.

This is the time of year to take cuttings, he said. With the weather that we’re having now, they’re beginning to go dormant.

Plus, you want to make sure you bring cuttings inside before the frost or snow gets to the plant. I had a gorgeous coleus in my garden in 2006. I was going to take cuttings, but the plant looked so pretty in the garden, I decided to wait a few more days. That evening we got the October Storm, which brought almost two feet of snow. I never saw that coleus again.

Once you have cut off some pieces of coleus, place them in a glass of water. Keep them in the water just until the roots form, Clark said.

Next, plant your cuttings in pots using a well balanced potting mixture.

Place your pots in the sunniest window you have.

Plant them outside when the danger of frost has passed.

You can find out more about propagating plants in two of the classes that Clark teaches.

Plant Propagation, Course number HCP 102, will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 16 at the Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo. Get more information about the Horticulture I series of classes here.

Advanced Plant Propagation, Course number HCP 202, will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Botanical Gardens. Get more information about the Horticulture II series of classes here.

You don’t have to take the entire series of classes; you can take individual classes. You don’t have to take the classes in order.

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3 Comments on “How to overwinter coleus in Western New York

  1. Appreciate any suggestions re coral bells — should I cover the coral
    bells for the winter????

    Regretting the thought of cutting back on my small garden for next
    year — the deer had a banquet.

  2. Hello Lorraine!
    It is a good idea to mulch perennials after the soil is frozen 2-4″ deep to reduce the root systems from heaving during freeze-thaw cycles during winter. A 2-4″ layer of compost, well-rotted cow manure and/or leaves (avoid maple leaves as they mat down and can rot the crown of perennials) are good choices, and will improve your soil. Apply around the base of your coral bells.
    Happy Gardening!
    Regards,
    David Clark

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