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Annuals/Coleus stopped growing suddenly


QUESTION: Hello, i'm from Bangalore, India.
I brought a small coleus which is in a small pot of around 4 inches and have been growing continuously until 5 days ago since when i couldn't see any growth of small budding leaves , they are of same size as 5 days before where as it used to grow everyday visibly. Also some leaves(very few) are getting brown directly without drying eventhough they're too small to get brown n fall off. I water it everyday twice with almost half glass water as it's small like 5-6 inches .It's in shade always but not inside home. WHAT'S the Reason for this stop of growth ?Some said i'm watering more but once i didnot water it ONE day n in evening i saw coleus STEMS came DOWN as if there's no energy in them to stand . I watered it then n in half an hour i saw stems were ERECTED again. So how can my watering be excessive. N personally i don't think 1 glass of water a day is more. N yes it used to grow fast enough that i could notice growth everyday but very minute ofcourse. Please help cos it's more than 5 days n it's still not growing n also leaves get half brown(dry) n fall off (rarely).
PLEASE HELP ME. I don't wanna lose my cute plant.

ANSWER: Gaurav,
You might be seeing a couple of things with your plant. Have you turned the pot over and lifted the pot away from the plant so you can see the roots? Use your hand to cover and support the soil, turn it upside down and pull the pot away from the root-ball. Look to see if the roots look white, not brown. If the roots are brown that's how you know that too much water is the problem - you'll see that the roots have rotted. If the roots are white you will know that too much water isn't the problem that the roots are still growing and healthy.

Secondly, look to see if there are lots of roots all curled round and round in the pot. If this is the case the plant has stopped growing because the roots are crowded.

With plants the growth up above (stems and leaves) reflects what's happening under the soil. If a plant has room to spread its roots it will continue to grow on top. (This is why bonsai trees stay small: they are grown in small, shallow pots so that their roots are confined.)

Have you fertilized this plant with a synthetic fertilizer? If so, and the soil was dry, you might be seeing some fertilizer burn. Plants usually grow out of this although some leaves brown especially on the edges.

Browned leaves could also be a sign of something hitting the leaves. Hot water or cleaning products are common things that cause this problem. Think if anything might have splashed on the foliage.

Finally, was the plant suddenly put in more sunlight? A sudden change to stronger light could cause sunburn on some of the foliage.

Go though this list and see if any of these might be causing your problem. At this point do the following: If the roots look white and healthy, put the plant in a slightly larger pot with fresh potting soil. Water by soaking the soil well when it's dry and waiting until the soil is looking and feeling dry before watering again.

If the roots are brown, cut about half of them off and shake off the rest of the soil as well removing all brown, rotted roots the best you can. Replant in new soil. The plant will take a few days to recover but will grow new roots and start to grow on top again once the new roots are in place. Water as described above.

Pick off any leaves that are totally brown. Once the plant seems stable again you could give it some mild fertilizer after the plant is well-watered. Never fertilize a thirsty plant!

I hope this helps and contact me again if you have other questions,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks a Lot.. I couldnot take out the plant away from pot without creating mess so i haven't . But i will transfer it to a bigger pot soon so it's roots can grow further and will check roots colour that time and do as you have mentioned.
No, it was never under direct sunlight but yesterday i kept it under sun thinking it might start growing. But no help. Browning of leaves is since while potting it i left a little part of roots above soil and so that part used to get dry soon but then i realised it and covered it with soil but still that is continuing but very less compared to then. Leaves starts to brown from it's front edge (the pointed edge) and by the time half of leaf would get brown the leaf falls off.

ANSWER: Gaurav,
It could be that what you saw was a result of the dried roots. Some direct sun, especially in the morning, is fine for coleus. There are newer varieties that have been bred to withstand direct sun but most of them like only a couple of hours early or late in the day. Just avoid the noon-day sun and it will be fine.

If you've repotted it recently you don't have to do it again unless it has been over six months since you did that, or if you didn't use a pot that was much larger than the original. You could tip the plant out and quickly look at the roots while holding it over a paper or cloth so that any falling dirt could be taken outside.

When you repot it be sure not to push the soil down firmly - this compresses the soil and makes it harder for the roots to grow. That too will inhibit growth on the top. So just gently put any new soil around the root ball when you repot and water it. The water will settle the soil so you'll see if you need to add more, but this will allow air spaces to remain in the mix.

Coleus are pretty tough plants, so I think yours should be fine.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I had covered the roots atleast a week ago, and the browning is happening to even new leaves also (but as i said it's very less) coming nowadays. I don't keep it under sun as it don't need it , only when it was not growing so i kept it under sun for almost an hour for 2 days thinking that might help.
With the word  ' mess' i actually meant both a dirty ground which ofcourse can be prevented by doing it over a paper or something but mainly i meant a 'mess for plant'. As it wasn't coming out of the pot even when the soil was dry and the drainage hole in that small pot is not exactly at the bottom but on 'side of bottom edge' which means i can't poke with a pencil to force it to come out of the pot alongwith soil  without Eradicating the plant or messing with the soil in pot which might break the roots. That's why i decided to take it out only when i can transfer it to a bigger pot.
I did make 'mistake' by pushing the soil while potting the plant as i didn't know anything about the gardening. May be that's also one reason for growth stop.

1a. What should i do now ? The current pot size is 4.5 inches and it's the first pot of my coleus as it's been around only 2.5 weeks since i brought it.
Should i change pot to bigger size ?
How much a coleus is likely to grow maximum in a pot of 4.5 inches ? (It doesn't matter to me if it grows tall or bushy , both is fine to me, just want it to grow)

1b. How should i take out the plant from previous pot when transferring into a new pot ? Should i pull the plant by holding stem or take it out along with soil and put into new pot?

2. In case if i don't need to change the pot then what should i do to counter-act that ' Pushing ' of soil i 've done when potting coleus which might be one major reason for browning of leaves and growth stop.

1a.  Normally you wouldn't have to repot since it's been so soon, but if the soil was pushed in around the plant so that it's too compact, I'd say that you might want to do so now. See answers for #1b and #2.  It's hard to say how large it will grow since different varieties of coleus get to be different sizes - some are short and some are tall. Some have tiny leaves and some have large leaves.

1b. When transferring the plant again, put your hand over the soil with the stem between your second and third fingers. Turn the pot upside down and pull the pot away from the soil. Hold that root ball over a cloth or piece of paper and with your other hand knock the soil that was added into the new pot away from the root ball. My guess is that you'll see the root ball from the smaller pot pretty much intact. Try not to break the roots but just move the newer soil away.

2. Next lay the plant down on the cloth/paper and take your 4.5 inch pot. Put some of the soil back in the pot without anything else in the bottom of the pot. Don't push the soil in but just let it fall into the pot, filling it up so that you'll be able to add the plant and roots on top of that. Before adding the plant you could knock the pot of soil gently on the table a couple of times, hitting the bottom of the pot on the table, to settle the soil a bit. Add the plant and sprinkle the soil all around the sides to fill up the pot.

Water the plant well at this point and let the excess water drain into a pan, bowl, or the sink. The soil will settle down and if you need to sprinkle more of it around the roots after it does, do so.  

Water again after sprinkling in any more soil and let the excess water drain. Put the plant back in the location where it gets bright light and maybe some early morning or late afternoon sun.

It will take the plant a couple of weeks to recover but don't worry - you should see it start to grow again soon.

I hope this helps,


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C.L. Fornari


Annuals suggested for specific situations (sun, shade, windowboxes etc) New or unusual annuals are a particular interest of mine, and I grow many of these from seed. I am happy to help problem solve, answer questions about maintenance, and guide you to sources of unusual plants.


I am a garden writer/speaker/consultant and host of a weekly gardening radio program in the Northeast. I have been gardening all my life for my own pleasure, and started as a professional gardener and garden communicator 15 years ago. I work part-time at a garden center, selling and tending shrubs/trees/annuals/perennials...and doing some propagation and design work. I often think that all these professional activities serve to put a somewhat legitimate framework around a serious case of plant-lust.

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