Making a Coleus Topiary


Making a Coleus Topiary

Coleus is a great group of plants. They have beautiful burgandy and green foliage and like living in the shade, which makes them great for many balcony gardens, or even for use indoors if you have no gardening space outdoors (or none left!). Recently, there have even been new hybrids that tolerate full-sun.

While flipping through a copy of the Crate and Barrel catalog I spotted a pair of great looking coleus standards. I don’t know why, but I’ve really been attracted to standards lately and have plans to make a mint standard with some of the seedlings I have been growing. Perhaps its because standards need pinching and pruning and I love garden projects that require fussing over plants. I like the challenge.

I found these instructions to make a coleus standard from Garden Gate Magazine, and it looks pretty easy.

  1. You can start with any sized plant, just look for a straight central stem, called the “central leader.” Obviously, the smaller the plant, the longer it will take to grow into a standard, but at the same time, smaller plants are cheaper and its less painful when you make a mistake on a plant you only paid a few dollars for.
  2. When the plant is 8-10 inches tall, insert a bamboo stake near the base of the central leader, being careful not to damage the roots. If necessary, pot the plant in a larger container at this time. Loosely tie the central leader to the bamboo stake in several locations to help keep the central leader growing straight. Use twine, “bring[ing] the twine around the back of the stake, crossing it in an “X” between the plant and the stake. Then tie it loosely around the coleus stem.”
  3. Once the plant reaches approximately three feet tall, transfer it to a heavy, 12 inch container to help keep the plant from tipping over and give it enough root space. Don’t worry about shaping your plant or snipping off leaves that are growing directly on the central leader just yet. However, you do want to inspect your plant for branches that are growing near the bottom of your plant as you will want to cut those off before the become thick and woody.
  4. When your coleus reaches the height you want it to be (coleus can grow anywhere from 2-5 feet tall depending on which variety of coleus you have) it’s time to start the serious pruning work. A general rule of thumb for standards is 2/3 stem to 1/3 head. So if your coleus is 3 feet tall, you’ll want 24 inches of exposed trunk at the bottom and 12 inches of bushy leaves at the top. When you start getting branches at the head, keep them pruned back to the second or third node from the stem. This encourages more side branches and will help your plant fill in. Keep the secondary stems pinched back to the second or third node as well.
  5. Ta-da! You have a beautiful coleus standard.

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