(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 17, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
After an exciting summer of acquiring and growing Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) the approach of cooler weather slows my active days. My first year of featuring Coleus in my garden is ending. There are no new varieties to look for and the last of the season’s annuals are now discounted in stores. Lower temperatures mean I will not have to water as often and the last fish emulsion fertilizer for the season has been applied. As the foliage colors deepen under a gentler sun into vibrant hues, I sit, relax and enjoy this culmination period. It is the time the coleuses are at the height of their growth maturity for the season. They are stunning and colorful as they bask in the dappled sun of a cool afternoon. I feel as if all the months of care that have gone into their growth have paid off, and I am pleased.
Although I can now sit amongst some of them on my patio and just enjoy, if I think ahead even a few weeks, I know that this pleasurable time will soon end. I will have to make decisions about protecting these tender tropicals from first frost. Not being able to keep them all, I must decide which ones will be brought indoors for overwintering. It is a final weeding of the season, but not a determined pull and toss process. Rather, it is a thoughtful selection of gathering together those that will spend the winter closer to me under my protective custody.
It is not an easy process. I remember the tender cuttings given to me by friends that were coaxed to root and branch out. I remember the giddy anticipation of eagerly opening the boxes arriving in the mail from an online order. I remember the car trips to out of the way places to scout out new cultivars. I remember nursing the sick ones and finding just the right spot for the shy ones. I remember the feeding, repotting, and rescuing through drought, flood and pests. All that tending and diligence has got me here, and now I must choose.
Thinking practically, my most prolific growers were the trailers. Coleus trailers are a species unto themselves in the family of coleus (C. rehneltianus) known for its non-standard growth pattern. Spreading out and hanging down for over two feet, they are the bushiest and most movable. Indoors, I can just install hooks and hang them. They present the easiest storage space solutions for my indoor limitations. Hung from the ceiling in front of south facing sunny windows or near an existing light source, they wouldn’t require much else in their dormancy except water. With this in mind, I decide to also start baskets of my favorites and make all my overwintering favorites “hang out” over the winter.
By simply rooting some cuttings in water, and potting up several different varieties in baskets I can maximize space and reduce the cost of shelving and lighting. Hanging baskets can be purchased cheaply at dollar stores. Also, repotting large trailers to bring indoors can be achieved through cutting the large root ball in half and placing into smaller pots. This method is best achieved in warmer weather to give the plant a chance to sprout new roots before being brought indoors. Plants should be brought indoors before heating systems are turned on and if the air is hot and dry, humidity can be provided from a thrift store bought humidifier placed in the room..
Since the trailers are the bushiest they will also provide an abundance of cuttings in the spring to start new plants for outdoor use as container plants, ground covers and accents in borders. The non-trailers in baskets grow as if in their own indoor bed and provide surprises as some of them start to trail also.
Making the selection to over winter seems less daunting now that I know more of my favorites will be “hanging out” with me this winter. They will also provide color and atmosphere to my rooms and windows untill they can enjoy the outdoors again come spring.
Many thanks to LaLa_Jane and Brinda for the generous use of their photos.