Coleus – Flame Nettle

Coleus – Flame Nettle

Coleus – Flame Nettle 13 deg C (55 deg F) South East Asia.

Of the less expensive foliage houseplants there is none that can compare with the Flame Nettle when it comes to leaf colouring. From a single packet of seed sown in the greenhouse in the spring come plants with colours and colour combinations of an almost infinite variety, including purple, red, bronze, yellow and white.

These are highly ornamental plants of orderly growth, valued for their foliage. The leaves are shaped like those of the common stinging nettle but are so varied in colours and combinations of colours that two are seldom alike. The flowers are insignificant and should be removed to make the plant stronger. Given a liberal diet and plenty of light, they are among the easiest of all indoor plants to grow and maintain.

Flame Nettle belongs to a large family of plants from tropical Africa and Asia. It is a perennial foliage plant which is often treated as an annual by commercial growers. The plants have beautifully patterned and coloured leaves with toothed, lace-patterned or fringed edges.

Flame Nettle is grown purely for its colourful foliage and should be kept in a bright position to allow the strong colours to develop. It will live outside quite happily during summer, but should be brought in before the first frosts. The plants will produce small spikes of insignificant blue and white flowers which should be removed as soon as they are noticed. This will channel all the plant’s energies into the leaves. flame nettle coleus blumei hybrids

Easy to grow from seed, Flame Nettle can also be increased by cuttings, which root readily. Plants tend to become rather large and shapeless and should be pruned hard to keep them bushy. Replace old plants regularly as the foliage looks most attractive while it is young.

Flame Nettle grows quickly to a height of 45cm (18in) or more. The leaves are shaped like nettle leaves with toothed edges, or may be narrow and elaborately serrated or fringed.

There are many named varieties of Coleus blumei hybrids, many of which have been perfected in Japan. Probably the mixtures are the most fun to grow and special favourites can be kept for years by taking cuttings from them. Mixtures include ‘Superfine Rainbow Mixed’, shades of green, red, orange, yellow and maroon, ‘Wizard Mixed’ and ‘Milky Way’. For unusually shaped foliage as well as strong colours, choose ‘Fashion Parade’ or ‘Old Laced Mixed’.

Hybrids available separately include ‘Scarlet Poncho’, in red with white edges, which has been specially bred to cascade from window-boxes and hanging baskets. For something different, grow ‘Molten Lava’, 25cm (10in) high plants with striking black and bright plum leaves, or ‘Pagoda’ which has yellow leaves patterned with bright red.

Flame Nettle has spikes of tiny flowers which should be removed as soon as they are noticed.

Growing from seed

Flame Nettle plants are easy to grow from seed providing the seed has not deteriorated. Look for seeds in foil packets as these are likely to be freshest.

1 Sow seeds thinly on the seed compost surface and mist.

2 Cover with glass or polythene until the seeds have germinated. Keep at 24°C (75°F).

3 Remove covering as soon as the first leaves appear.

4 Prick out into individual pots when the seedlings have two or three pairs of leaves.


Propagate Flame Nettle by taking cuttings from non-flowering stems during spring or summer.

1 Take 8-10cm (3-4in) long tip cuttings with 2 pairs of leaves.

2 Remove the lower pair of leaves and plant cuttings to an 8cm (3in) pot of soil-based compost.

3 Cover with a ventilated polythene bag and keep at 18°C (65°F). Remove the bag when new growth appears and keep barely moist.

4 Pot cuttings on until they are in 15cm (6in) pots filled with peat- or soil-based compost.

Although seed-grown plants are not as good as named varieties that have been raised from cuttings (taken at any time when they are available provided there is a warm greenhouse or propagating case available for starting them off in) you can, nevertheless, get some very fine plants if the best colours are selected for growing on in larger pots.

Pinch out the growing points regularly to promote bushy side growth. Coleus are generally greedy in respect of feeding, but need for feeding can be reduced by potting plants on into large pots it would be quite possible to have spring sown seedlings growing in 18 cm (7 Coleus - Flame Nettle in) pots by the autumn. Use a loam-based mixture when potting and be sure to select only the best coloured plants, as there is no point in lavishing extra care on some of the more cabbage-like plants that one may find among almost any batch of seedlings.

All coleus do best in good light and reasonable warmth with a little tender care thrown in for good measure. They may reach 45 cm (18 in) in height. Although seldom grown on for a second year, good forms can be overwintered for cuttings to be taken from them in spring.

Coleus is a good plant to group with others.


  • Growing season 22-24 °C (72-75 °F)
  • Minimum winter 15 °C (60 °F)
  • Soil: A soil-less compost. Where to position: A south-facing sunny position summer and winter, protected from hot sunshine. It is not susceptible to draughts or temperature changes.
  • Watering requirements: Enough tepid water to keep the soil moist, possibly twice daily for large plants. Avoid leaves. No spraying needs.
  • General care: Feed once a week. Pinch out growing tips to produce a good bushy shape. Remove flowers that appear. Cut off dead or damaged leaves, using a sloping cut, and lightly dust the wound with fungicide powder.
  • Rest and care: It doesn’t usually survive its rest period. Coleus is cheap and grows quickly. Buy another.

Pests And Diseases

Aphids can be a serious problem on Flame Nettle as they like the soft, herbaceous growth. Treatment: Spray with a suitable systemic insecticide at the first sign of trouble.

The edges and tips of the leaves turn brown, if there is a shortage of water in warm weather.

Treatment: In hot weather water generously, keeping the compost evenly moist.

Leaves begin to fade when light and nourishment levels are low. Treatment: Move the plant to a brighter spot and increase feeding.

Leaves flag : Caused by over or under-watering. Check soil conditions. Too warm an atmosphere causes leaves to lose moisture faster than the roots can take it up. If the soil condition is correct, this is almost certainly the reason.

Mildew : This may affect open wounds and the treatment is to dust with fungicide powder.

The plant grows spindly : Pinch out the tips to force a lusher growth and stand the plant in better light. Stained and blotchy leaves : Stop allowing water to get onto the leaves. Check regularly for pests. Mealy bug is a possibility.


Flame Nettle is easy to look after. Give it a warm, light position and regular watering and it will reward you with colourful foliage. Pinch out the growing points to keep plants bushy and remove flowers as soon as they appear.

  • Potting: Repot plants you want to keep in late spring. Use either peat-based or soil-based compost.
  • Water generously in summer, keeping the compost evenly moist. Never let the plant stand in water. Water less in winter, giving just enough to prevent the compost drying out.
  • Feeding: Feed every 7 days with a liquid fertilizer from about June to September.


  • Light: Stand the plant in a bright position such as near a south-facing window. You may need to protect the plant when the sun is very hot as the foliage may scorch.
  • Temperature: Flame Nettle thrives in normal room temperatures or outside during summer. Don’t let winter temperatures fall below 13°C (55°F).

Buying Tips

  • Buy young plants during spring from garden centres and nurseries. Contact a specialist seedsman for unusual varieties to grow.
  • Buy a small, bushy plant with bright, well-marked foliage. Avoid tall, leggy plants with pale leaves.
  • Flame Nettle will live for more than one year, but it is best to raise new plants regularly from cuttings and discard the parent.

The ornamental foliage of Flame Nettle hybrids makes a striking feature either indoors or outside on the patio. Choose from different leaf shapes and a rainbow of colour.


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