Gardeners are preparing to move outdoors

  • Cuttings from this rustic orange coleus can be taken, grown and then transplanted to outdoor containers or flower boxes.

    Cuttings from this rustic orange coleus can be taken, grown and then transplanted to outdoor containers or flower boxes. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted3/28/2021 7:00 AM

If you have kept a coleus as a houseplant, you can still start cuttings for transplanting to the garden.

Use a sharp, clean knife or a pair of pruners to cut the stem just below a leaf node. Remove the lowest leaves, dip the cut end into a rooting hormone and insert it into some fresh, sterile potting soil.


The cuttings will also readily root by placing them in a glass of water. Transplant to a pot with growing medium once a small mass of roots has developed.

The plants will be ready to use in the garden when the danger of frost has passed. Gradually acclimate the coleus plants to the outside environment by increasing the time the plants are left outside over a period of a week or so. Be sure to avoid direct sun at first so the leaves do not burn.

• It is best to wait to work your garden's soil until it dries, in spite of the occasional early season warm days.

Make a ribbon or ball with your soil and, if it crumbles with pressure from your thumb, then the soil is ready to work. The structure of the soil can be damaged if you dig while the soil is too wet to work. Work in compost or other organic matter to enrich the soil as needed when the conditions are right.

You should also avoid excessive walking in beds that are wet to avoid damaging the soil.

• Check garden beds to be sure plants have not heaved out of the ground due to the freeze-thaw-freeze cycles typical in early spring. Gently press the crowns of perennials back into the ground but avoid compacting the soil by stomping heavily around plants.

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Applying a layer of mulch will help prevent additional frost heaving.

• Spring flowering trees and shrubs such as crabapples, serviceberries, redbuds, Cornelian cherries and lilacs can still be forced to flower inside.

Cut branches should be at least one foot long, full of fat flower buds and cut on a day above freezing. Cut the ends at an angle and put into water in a cool room out of direct sunlight. When the buds begin to swell and color up, arrange the branches in a vase and display them in a cool room out of direct sunlight.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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