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Why Is My Coleus Wilting (Causes and Solutions)

Few plants have a leaf as striking as the Coleus. It’s difficult to imagine them in anything other than their brash, bold best colors ranging from fiery scarlet to rich royal purple. But, on the other hand, Your Coleus will wilt if not adequately cared for.

The most likely causes of your Coleus’ wilting are dehydration from lack of water or excessive exposure to the sun.

Poor soil quality, repotting shock, and root rot should all be considered, as should an unstable temperature or low humidity.

Fortunately, once their needs are met, these fast-growing superstars rebound quickly. If your Coleus is wilting, we’ll look at what’s going on and what you can do to fix it.

The Plant Loses Turgidity Due to a Lack of Water

Coleus Wilting Due to Underwatering
Coleus Wilting Due to Underwatering

Many of the Coleus’ biological functions rely on water. For example, it combines water with carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis to produce sugars.

It also loses water through transpiration, which occurs when it inhales and exhales through the pores in its leaves. Finally, the plant’s vibrant leaves use water as structural support, filling the cells within its leaves to keep them upright and strong.

When you don’t water your plant, it tears through the water stored in its leaves as it photosynthesizes and transpires. Without water, the leaves wilt and lose their support.

Examine the growing medium you’re using. Is it dry and flaky? Is the medium free to pull away from the sides of the pot? Then, insert your finger into the mix. Your plant is under-watered if it feels dry no matter how far down you go.

Solution

It’s time to rehydrate your Coleus!

Watering from below is the most effective way to rehydrate the growing medium. This is because the growing medium absorbs an ideal amount of water, directing it directly to the roots, where it is most needed.

You will need a large tub or basin along with ample clean water. To water from below:

  1. Remove your Coleus from its saucers or tray, freeing the drainage holes.
  2. Place the Coleus pot into the basin.
  3. Fill your basin with clean water halfway up the side of the pot. Filtered, distilled, or rainwater is best.
  4. The water will begin to percolate into the pot through the drainage hole. As the level drops, add more water to maintain the level. 
  5. Leave your Coleus in the basin for at least half an hour.
  6. Remove the plant and allow it to drain for a minimum of fifteen minutes before placing it back in its saucer or tray.

Check on your Coleus throughout the day and remove any water accumulated in drip trays or saucers. Laggard drops may take some time to drain, so keep an eye on them.

If you can’t water from below, water from above with caution. Coleus’ soft, fuzzy leaves become damp quickly and take a long time to dry, making them susceptible to fungal infections. If possible, avoid wetting the leaves when watering from above.

Begin by applying small amounts of water directly to the soil. While it may be tempting to drench a thirsty Coleus thoroughly, dry soils do not retain water well.

By adding small amounts at a time, you can keep moisture from gushing through and out of the drainage holes before your poor Coleus can use it.

Allow enough time for each dose to be absorbed. You can give your plant a more thorough drink once you see tiny drops flowing from the drainage holes. As with watering below, allow the medium to drain before returning it to drip trays or saucers.

After you’ve revived your dehydrated Coleus, the next step is to keep it moist. It can be a difficult balance to strike.

While I prefer low-tech solutions, any Coleus enthusiast should invest in a moisture meter. This device detects moisture in the soil using a mild electric charge and alerts you when it’s time to water.

Too Much Sun Exposure Cause Loss of Water

Coleus wilting in sun
Coleus Wilting in Sun

Even a well-watered Coleus will dry out if exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period. While the plant can tolerate direct sunlight, they thrive in dappled shade and bright but indirect light.

When exposed to too much sunlight, all of the water that supports the structure of its leaves evaporates completely.

Solution

Relocate your Coleus to a location that receives less direct sunlight. They prefer a few hours of direct early morning sun and choose plenty of bright but indirect light.

After moving a sun-struck Coleus, give it a thorough watering. They, like us, enjoy a cool drink after a long day in the sun.

Coleus Wilt Due to Temperature Shock

Coleus is native to South-East Asia and Australia’s tropics. They require consistent warmth. Its native range has mild winters and warm summers, so keeping them consistent is critical.

Sudden changes, whether a cold snap or a heatwave, disrupt the Coleus’ equilibrium, causing it to wilt.

Solution

The ideal temperature range for your Coleus is 65°F-75°F (24°C-27°C), with a focus on consistency. Coleus can withstand slightly lower temperatures, but they will struggle to grow if temperatures are too low.

Coleus is vulnerable to temperature changes, no matter how brief. So keep them away from droughts, especially those caused by powerful air conditioners, which both chill and dehydrate those fuzzy leaves.

Find a nice spot in a south-facing window, away from droughts, and your Coleus will soon bloom.

Low Humidity Increases Transpiration

As mentioned before, Coleus hail from the equatorial tropics of South East Asia. It’s a humid region, and they thrive in moist air. 

Humid environments prevent water loss during transpiration. Without the support of a moist environment, your Coleus will dry out and crisp up.

Suppose a wilting Coleus develops leaves with crisp edges, especially at the tip. In that case, it’s a sign that humidity in the growing environment is too low.

Solution

Coleus thrives in environments with a humidity level of 60 percent or higher. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to keep that kind of atmospheric moisture in a typical home or office, so you’ll need to supplement your dramatic beauty.

I would strongly advise any Coleus enthusiast to invest in a humidifier. This, when placed nearby, will provide the consistent amount of humidity that this colorful beauty requires to thrive.

A pebble tray is another option. These are a low-tech but surprisingly effective way to provide gentle, consistent humidity.

A pebble tray is simply a low dish of stones and water placed under or near your Coleus. As the water in the tray evaporates, it adds moisture to the air most needed.

It’s worth noting that, unlike many other tropical plants, Coleus does not benefit from regular misting. Misting poses the risk of leaving marks on velvety leaves and can result in fungal infections.

Wrong Potting Medium

Coleus is notoriously picky about their potting medium. They prefer rich, loamy soils that drain well and have a mild acidic quality.

Poor soils prevent Coleus roots from extracting what they require from the soil. A growing medium that drains too quickly will not provide the moisture your plant needs. On the other hand, one that drains poorly is a breeding ground for root rot (more on that later).

Suppose your Coleus does not respond well to changes in its watering schedule, humidity levels, or light and temperature. In that case, your soils may be suitable for your Coleus.

Solution

Make sure to pot Coleus in a rich but well-draining growing medium. I like to use a combination of two parts premium potting mix and one part each of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss.

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that holds water without rotting or becoming saturated. Peat moss retains moisture well and decomposes slowly, contributing a mild acidity to the mix. The perlite aids drainage and keeps the mixture from becoming too heavy.

Root Rot

Coleus Wilting Because of Root Rot
Coleus Wilting Because of Root Rot

While a lack of moisture is usually the cause of your Coleus’ wilting, over-watering also results in sad, limp leaves. In addition, a wet medium that never drains exposes your plant to root rot.

The fragile roots are drowned in a soggy, marshy growing medium. The delicate fibers deteriorate and begin to rot. 

Invaders from fungi take over, and your poor plant soon has a rotting mass of tissue where its root system should be. 

It can no longer draw moisture from the soil and begins to wilt, regardless of how much is present.

Check the soil if your Coleus shows signs of dehydration, such as wilting, despite being well watered. Is it mushy? Is there water standing in the Coleus drip tray or saucer? Is the soil smelly or rotten?

If any of these conditions apply, this Coleus may be suffering from root rot.

Solution

It’s time to take drastic measures if your plant has root rot. But, first, you will need to repot the plants.

Choose a clean, new pot with at least three drainage holes, fresh potting medium, and clean, sterile shears.

Remove your ailing Coleus from its old pot with care. I prefer to do this in a water basin to avoid tearing the damaged roots. Remove the old potting medium with the care and inspect the roots.

Healthy roots are pale, ranging from white to creamy peach in color. Roots that are black, brown, or even bright red or orange indicate rotting or infected.

Remove the dead roots with a snip. Check for structural damage as well. For example, if the root’s outer sheath peels away like an onion skin, the root is already dead. Simply snip it off.

After trimming the roots, rinse them and repot the Coleus in the new, clean pot as usual.

I’d also recommend pinching off and propagating newer growth. This not only serves as an insurance policy in case your sick plant dies, but it also reduces the strain on your roots. With fewer leaves to feed, the plant can grow new roots.

Coleus Planted in The Same Potting Medium for Too Long

An indoor Coleus’s pot is their entire world. It represents all of the resources at its disposal. Those nutrients will be consumed by the plant over time. 

The root mass will fill the pot, making it difficult for the exhausted medium to hold enough water to keep your Coleus alive.

Is there visible root growth on the soil’s surface or protruding from the drainage holes in the pot? It might be time to get a new pot and medium for your Coleus.

Solution

Fast-growing Coleus quickly fills their pots. As a result, they need to be replanted once a year, in the spring.

It’s not a difficult task. First, choose a pot two inches wider than your existing pot and enough new potting medium to fill that space with some leftover. 

Then, tap the Coleus out of its old pot, loosening the roots gently, and place it in its new home. I recommend shaking off as much of the old potting medium as you can while keeping the roots intact.

Coleus Wilting After Repotting

Repotting can be a stressful experience for your Coleus. The act of removing roots from the soil is enough to stress any plant. If the roots are handled in any way during the process, even the toughest specimen will show signs of trauma.

If an otherwise healthy plant suddenly wilts after receiving a larger new pot, the roots have most likely been traumatized during the repotting process.

Solution

Be gentle when repotting a Coleus. It will not harm the plant if you leave the roots coiled in the shape of the old pot, as long as you loosen them enough to free the old soil and allow contact with the new.

Never remove healthy roots, and try to keep as many of the delicate, fibrous roots at the mass’s edges as possible.

While a tender touch will lessen the trauma, even the most tender technique will cause some stress. So wait it out and take good care of your Coleus, and it should recover quickly.

Coleus Repotting at The Wrong Time of Year

Late winter to early spring is the best time to repot your Coleus. But, of course, we don’t have the luxury of waiting in some cases, such as root rot.

The Coleus slows down in the fall and winter. While they do not enter an actual state of dormancy like many plants, they are significantly less robust during this period and respond poorly to system shocks.

The trauma of repotting is more significant on a winter plant than on a growing plant. It is more challenging to heal damaged roots and become ill or die.

Solution

Avoid repotting your Coleus during the colder months of the year to avoid trauma. However, if the plant is root bound, it will not suffer significantly by waiting a few weeks. It’s come this far, after all!

However, if you must repot due to root rot or other unavoidable reasons, try to do so during the day’s warmest part. Coleus, including their bare roots, are extremely sensitive to temperature changes.

Maintain a newly potted Coleus in the most stable, warm part of the growing environment, and monitor its humidity levels. If you can raise the temperature to summer levels, that’s even better.

How To Revive Wilted Coleus

The Coleus’s soft, vibrant foliage is its most endearing feature, and it’s heartbreaking when those radiant leaves begin to wilt. To revive a wilted Coleus, do the following:

  • Water is needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. A moisture meter will be helpful.
  • Keep the Coleus in bright, indirect light, with no more than a few hours of direct sunlight in the excellent morning hours.
  • Keep the temperature warm and the humidity high.
  • Make sure your Coleus is planted in rich, well-draining soil.
  • To avoid shocking your Coleus, repot late winter to early spring.