How Long Do Coleus Plants Live? What’s Their Average Lifespan?

Are you thinking of adding a coleus plant to your indoor or outdoor garden, but aren't sure how long this plant will live if you do? These plants can have different lifespans depending on where they are planted, and on their biology. In this article, amateur gardener Jason White looks at the average lifespan of the coleus plant.

Older Coleus Plants on Windowsill

Are you thinking about adding coleus to your garden or having one as a houseplant? If so, you might wonder whether this is a perennial plant or an annual that you will have to replant every year. In other words, how long do coleus plants live?

Not unlike other houseplants, the coleus has become quite popular over the last several years. But will it live longer than a spider plant, or outlive an air plant? These are somewhat subjective questions, and will largely be based on the care you provide each plant.

How long a coleus lives will usually depend on where you keep it (indoors or outdoors) and where you live. If you keep them outdoors, where you live will be a crucial factor. If you keep them indoors and in the right conditions, it should live for several years. Coleus is a perennial plant when it has the right environment.

What is a Coleus?

The coleus is a tropical plant with brightly colorful foliage. The foliage is the primary reason gardeners grow it. You can find coleus foliage in many different colors, including pale yellow, lime green, fuchsia, purple, and dark green. Sometimes there may be black foliage, as well. In the late summer months, your coleus plant will have some flowers, too.

The coleus is sometimes called the Painted Nettle and even Poor Man’s Croton, and it’s closely related to mint.

Average Coleus Plant Lifespan

Potted Plant in Terra Cotta Pot
The average lifespan for this plant will depend on if it’s kept indoors or outdoors, amongst other factors.

The average lifespan of a coleus plant is one year. But indoors, they can live much longer, if they are properly cared for. It’s not uncommon for indoor plants to live between 3-4 years if they are properly cared for, which means proper watering, sunlight, the right soil, and the right plant food to keep it green, and healthy.

Keeping Coleus Indoors

You can keep coleus as permanent indoor flowers, or you can keep them in the garden and just bring them inside for the winter. To keep them alive and healthy indoors, you must provide certain conditions. While it needs bright sunlight, it should be indirect.

Your plant’s soil needs to be kept a bit moist at all times when it’s still growing. During the winter, however, you won’t need to water it as often. All year long, you should give your plant a light biweekly dose of high nitrogen fertilizer.

You can usually go with a general-purpose potting mix for your coleus. It needs to be a rapidly draining type, though. While this plant needs mostly indirect (although bright) sunlight, it will tolerate direct sunlight for a small part of the day. You should re-pot your them every one or two years.

Depending on how much light you have coming through the window where you put your coleus, you may need to expose the plant to some fluorescent plant “grow lights” for a certain amount of time each day. As coleus prefers warm temperatures like 70 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you shouldn’t skimp on your furnace bill. Adding a humidifier to the room will also help.

As the coleus species doesn’t like cool temperatures, you shouldn’t keep it close to any draughts that may be in your home. You will probably keep your coleus at a window, but make sure that window is well-insulated. 

One caveat about having coleus indoors is that they are toxic for animals. If you have pets, you will want to make sure there is no way they can access and chew on this plant.

Keeping Coleus Outdoors

Tropical Plants in a Pot
Your outdoor weahter and hardiness zone will impact an outdoor plant’s lifespan.

You will need to know your USDA hardiness zone to figure out how long coleus can live outside in your region. If you live in USDA zone 10 or 11, your region should be mild enough for coleus to survive the winter in your garden.

If you live in USDA zone 9 and want your outdoor coleus to last the winter, you should bring them inside. Keep them in an indoor container in a suitable area until the spring arrives.

It’s called overwintering when you bring your plant inside for the winter. With coleus, it’s imperative to get it indoors early. If you don’t live within USDA zone 9, 10, or 11, you have two options for your coleus plant. You can also keep it as a permanent indoor plant, or you can keep it as an annual flower in your outdoor garden.

While coleus is a shade-friendly species, they shouldn’t be in deep shade. This kind of plant requires a certain amount of sunlight to develop its variety of colors. In general, an environment providing partial shade is best for coleus. When coleus has these kinds of conditions, it has the best chance of eye-catching color.

One potential sign of strong sunlight is foliage with a bleached appearance. The key to success with coleus is to strike the right balance between shade and sun.

Growing Coleus From Seed

Yes, you can grow coleus from seed. Most people who plant coleus use nursery transplants, but this can be pricey to develop many coleuses. You should wait until the last frost is over and done with before planting, no matter which method you choose. If you do it too early, you might end up with damaged or dead plants.

Coleus is extremely sensitive to cold, so it will probably die if exposed to freezing temperatures. When this happens, you won’t be able to revitalize the plant.  No matter how you plant your coleus, be incredibly meticulous about keeping it regularly watered.

Coleus Size

Several Tropical Plants Together
The size of the plant will depend on the variety it is, and where it’s planted.

The mature size of coleus depends on the specific variety. You might find your coleus grows as tall as two or three feet. The general height range is between six inches and three and a half feet. You will usually have to wait between six months and a year to grow a standard-sized and attractive plant.

Problems That Shorten Lifespan

Although coleuses are beautiful plants, they sometimes do present problems. One is the fact that they may attract pests if you have them indoors. Examples of pests attracted to coleus are:

Mealybugs are sometimes difficult to notice, so you can end up with an infestation without even realizing there’s any kind of problem. Bugs are one reason you should regularly inspect your plant. These bugs are light-colored and look a little like caterpillars. They will damage your coleus, especially the leaves.

You should remove mealybugs by hand as soon as you notice them. You may use this technique alone to deal with the problem if you discover it early. It’s the same situation with many other kinds of infestations.

If your coleus doesn’t get enough sunlight, it might end up drooping. On the other hand, coleus that gets excessive sun will have a faded look. In some cases, you may notice that the leaves are burned.

Choosing the Right Coleus

Tropical Plant Planted Outdoors
There are many different varieties to choose from, some with longer lifespans.

There are several different coleus varieties, so you should choose the type or varieties that suit your needs and preferences. You can see the differences in the type in how they look. You can find different coleus varieties with different kinds of veins, margins, blotches, splashes, specks, and color intensity.

The different types of coleus have variations in how much sun they can tolerate. If you have coleus with darker leaves, it probably means that it can deal with more direct sunlight. A plant with lighter-colored leaves, however, you should be more careful to protect it from too much sun.

Find out about the variety of coleus you have or purchase so that you can give it the proper care. The coleus also varies in terms of leaf texture and size. You can find small and large leaves, as well as shapes and textures such as finger-shaped, lobed, elongated, and twisted. If you notice your coleus leaves look a bit like webbed feet, you have the “duck’s foot” leaf variety.

Keeping Your Plant Alive Longer

Like any other plant, you need to give your coleus plant care appropriate for it. Know the variety of coleus you have when deciding how to care for it to maximize its life. Give your plant the proper watering it needs, and refer to the information we provided on care earlier.

Keep an eye on the plant and water it whenever the soil looks dry. There are some cases where it might look like the plant is dead, but it might not be. If you’re worried that your coleus may be dead, give it a thorough watering. You might find it’s not actually dead and will regain a healthy look.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve learned here, the coleus plant is a tropical perennial, that has an average lifespan similar to other perennial plants. Whether it will behave as a perennial depends on your region and whether you are keeping it indoors or outdoors. Coleus will quickly die if they’re exposed to freezing temperatures and frost. Overall, expect outdoor plants to last about a year, and indoor plants can keep you company for up to 3-5 years if properly cared for.

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