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My mother was a remarkable plantsperson. She grew unusual things that had no business making it in the yard of our suburban, Long Island split-level. And yet, I cannot remember going with her to a nursery to buy plants. Instead, she helped herself to small cuttings here and there. In fact, when I was a child I remember being mortified (many times!) when she enlisted my help to block her while she bent down at the NY Botanical Garden to take a few little cuttings, using her long and extravagantly manicured fingernails to make clean cuts. She then surreptitiously slipped the cuttings into the Baggies that she conveniently had in her purse. I was convinced we were going to be found out, hauled off to the office of the Garden Manager, and then escorted off the grounds. Maybe the police were going to be called in. I do not remember ever getting caught, however, I know that if we were, she would have easily talked her way out of the situation. In fact, she would have been given a tour of the work rooms and offered more cuttings.

I do not have my mother’s nerve but I do like to propagate my own plants, and cuttings – of the right plants – are about the easiest way to do this. So when I saw a few overgrown and potbound coleuses at a local nursery, I thought of my mother and had to buy them. Not only are they not native to dry Southern California, they are tropical ornamentals from southeast Asia and Malaysia that require lots of water, both in the soil and in the air. Nevertheless, I had fun making cuttings and unless I get busy, I may be able to keep their colorful leaves from turning into brown, dry and crunchy chips, for a little while, anyway.

4 inch pots of overgrown, potbound coleus to be used as propagation stock. I already took cuttings from the plant in the middle and the one on the right.
coleus cutting
Coleus cuttings. The one on the right has too much leaf-surface so the lower leaves will be removed and the two remaining leaves will be cut in half, like the cutting on the left. Notice the stem is cut right below a node. The new roots will grow from the node.
Coleus cuttings
Coleus cuttings in flower pot. I use a non-sterile soil mix made from oak leaf mulch, garden soil and a bit of perlite. I may cut in half a few more of the large leaves to reduce water loss.
coleus cuttings
Coleus dry out very quickly, so I put a plastic bag around the pot to keep it moist. Since the soil isn’t sterile the whole thing may get moldy, but I doubt it. Coleus root very easily, and as soon as they do I will remove the bag. I check the plants each day; if I notice any fuzzy mold I will remove the bag to allow it to dry a bit.