I like to have at least one attractive plant, perhaps but not always, a blooming plant, to display on the kitchen table during the winter. There is just something about having a beautiful living plant in front of me during the cold winter that cheers me up.
Studies have shown that people who live in environments that contain living plants do benefit from the plants in terms of their emotional well-being. They may also benefit physically as many houseplants remove toxins from the air, thus benefiting those who live and work in those environments.
There are certainly lots of small, "disposable" plants offered for sale in retail establishments and I sometimes purchase one or two of them during the winter. However, over time, this can become expensive, and anyway, I enjoy growing my own plants too much to limit myself to store-bought specimens.
If you have a couple of coleus plants that you brought in for the winter and either a light garden or a sunny spot in front of a window, you can produce attractive displays all winter long. By continuous slipping of the coleus, attractive pots of colourful foliage can be available for display in the home during the dreary winter season.
Although grown for their foliage rather than for their bloom, coleus will provide great colour simply because their foliage is so vibrant. At this time of year when days are short and light intensity is low, coleus will need to be grown either in a light garden or near a sunny window if good strong foliage colour is to be achieved.
Firstly, you will need some parent plants from which to take slips. Taking a few good terminal shoots will not only supply the slips but it will encourage the parent plant to bush out and produce many more slips down the road.
The size of the pot I choose depends on how many slips I have and which jardinières I am using so that the pot will fit nicely into a suitable decorative container. Generally, five slips will create a nice full pot of foliage.
I take slips that are about 10 to 15 centimetres long and remove the lower leaves, leaving two or three pairs of leaves on the top of each slip. I dip the stems of the slips into a suitable rooting powder — coleus usually root readily but in the winter slips are more reluctant to root so I use the rooting hormone to ensure better results.
I plant the slips into a pot of good quality soilless mix, which has been watered to make it damp but not sodden. Before I insert the slips into the soil, I sprinkle a bit of soil insecticide powder on the soil surface to deter fungus gnats from invading the soil — the powder is watered in when the soil is watered before the slips are planted.
Although I winter the parent plants in my sunroom, the temperatures there are quite cool, so I either locate the newly planted pots inside the house in front of a window or in my warm basement light garden. I do not enclose the pot in a plastic bag although that could be done if the humidity was very low and I was worried that the soil would dry out quickly.
The slips might wilt for a day or so but then they stiffen up and before long they show new growth — a sign that the slips have rooted. I water the plants regularly but I give them a minimum of fertilizer as these potted plants will be short-lived and I don’t want the growth to be too soft, which might occur if the plants get too much food.
The ideal place to grow the coleus is in a light garden. They will get enough light to produce bushy, sturdy growth.
In about six weeks, the potted slips will have developed into bushy plants that will have filled the whole pot. After a couple of tries, you will get to know the spacing and number of slips required to produce the most attractive pots.
I treat these pots of coleus as disposable plants; I display them anywhere in the home and leave them on display until they deteriorate to a point when they are no longer attractive. The length of time they remain attractive will depend of the light levels in which they are displayed.
I try to ensure that I have enough pots of slips on the go so that one is always coming into its prime just as another is fading and needing to be replaced. I generally have two or three different varieties of coleus on hand so that I do not have to use the same one in a particular location all the time.
Growing pots of colourful coleus during the winter gives my green thumbs something to do during the winter months but it also provides some attractive potted plants to display in our home — two good reasons to grow pots of colourful coleus during the winter.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.