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Why is my Coleus losing color?

Why is my Coleus losing color?

How do I make Coleus more colorful?
In a world where the popular indoor plants are dominantly green, Coleus offers a striking contrast with its vibrant color ranges and patterns. Although the plant is easy to care for, many Coleus owners experience problems with leaves losing color or changing color. Why does it happen and how can you avoid it? Read on below.


Bright pink. Neon green. Lemon yellow. Deep purple. My oh my. The Coleus color palette is out of this world. When you think about it, it’s no surprise that it’s a popular plant – both indoors and outdoors.

It’s one of the easiest and most forgiving house plants you can have. It does require a lot of water, especially during summer, but can recover fast even after wilting. It grows incredibly fast and will display intense colors under the right conditions.

But if you’ve had Coleus before you may already know, that sometimes it will lose color or even change color. From red to green or green to white. Luckily this is completely reversible, you just have to understand why it happens.

Why is my Coleus plant losing color?

We grow Coleus for its color, so when the once so vibrant colors fade away and turn boring, we know we’ve done something wrong. But what?

The short answer is: it’s all about sun, light, and how many hours of the day the plant is exposed to it.

So how much sun does Coleus need?

From my experience, light has the biggest and most direct impact on the color of Coleus leaves. The key to keeping your Coleus a bright color is therefore completely tied to getting enough of the right light.

And what is “the right light”? 

Well, this is where it gets trickier.

I live in Scandinavia where we have long and dark winters. From around November-February my most vibrant Coleus will fade in color. Around the end of March I see the colors starts to change yet again, but this time from the washed out colors and back to the vibrant ones. It’s a drastic change, mainly visible in the newest foliage.

These two leaves come from the same plant. Can you believe it?

Coleus color change
Left leaf: winter foliage. Right leaf: Spring foliage (march/april)

On my less vibrant Coleus you see below, the color change is not as drastic. What you do notice is how much more dominant the red color is on the spring foliage than winter foliage.

color change in coleus over winter
Left leaf: new foliage from spring. Right leaf: winter foliage

If you ask me what causes Coleus leaves to fade in color, my answer will be a decrease in light over a longer period of time, and if you want to make a Coleus change color, you need to up the hours of direct and/or indirect light.

I usually have my Coleus placed in a south-east facing window throughout winter and summer. In the case of longer periods of 30 degrees celsius during summer, I move them as they tend to drink more water than I can give them. I have however not had problems with colors fading due to too much sunlight.

As for where you should place your Coleus to get the best results, this will greatly depend on your location. Comparing let’s say Copenhagen to California would be like comparing apples and oranges.

If you live in a warmer climate my recommendation would be to first and foremost test it – this is always the best way to learn what works in your environment. Hot climates can be too much for a Coleus, and you may experience that too much sun will result in leaves turning green, white, or fade. In these cases the ideal place for a Coleus will be in a spot with as much indirect light as possible (and up to a few hours of direct light daily).

Older foliage also fades in color

If you’re experiencing fading colors on your Coleus start by examining the plant to see which leaves are affected. As with most plants, older foliage will die back and the resources will instead be used for new foliage. This causes a natural degression which can lead to dull-looking leaves at the bottom.

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Foliage colors in Coleus seedlings

If you are growing Coleus from seed you won’t achieve bright foliage colors immediately. Instead, you’ll notice that this won’t start to change until the plant has grown to a certain size. The first true leaf will however determine the pattern the plant will get.

Use fertilizer throughout the growing season

Coleus is a fast growing plant, and to keep up health and growth you will want to make sure to feed it properly during the growing season (spring-summer). I generally use a normal fertilizer for indoor plants, but if your Coleus has pale green leaves it could indicate that it’s lacking nitrogen – in this case, opt for a fertilizer rich in Nitrogen.

How many color ranges for coleus are there?

Coleus cultivars come in many different colors and patterns. Here’s some of them:

Coleus color varieties



When do Coleus plants get their color?

Coleus won't show their true color until they reach a certain size. Give it at least a couple of months of growth before you can determine the actual color.

Why is my Coleus turning white?

If you Coleus is turning white it could be due to too much direct sun. Try to move it to a spot with lots of indirect sunlight and only a maximum of a few hours of direct sun.

Why is my red Coleus turning green?

A red Coleus turning green could be because the amount of light has decreased. Try to change the placement to give it either more direct or indirect light throughout the day.

What produces the brownish-red color in the Coleus leaf?

When you see a Coleus with foliage ranging from pink through red, pink and purple it's because of pigments called anthocyanins.


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