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Clone Wars: Coleus vs Sweet Potato

clones 001Coleus cloning, and sweet potato cloning!  And okay, no wars, as such.   But “friendly side-by-side plant cloning” would have made such a bland title!

Read on for a cool sweet potato thing you can do with your kids indoors which will also help you have free and beautiful ornamental plants for your garden (for the cost of a sweet potato)!  Coleus comes first because, well, I love coleus and it’s my blog.  Sweet potato last.

On Friday, browsing through Plant World, I happened to spot something dark-red down at the end of an empty aisle that will soon be filled with annuals.

Amazing:  coleus!!!   (did you guess already?)

Just four types, but four that were nice enough to make the cut.  Henna (which I loved from last year), Electric Lime (which I had, but killed over the winter), Redhead (nice deep red shade) and Mint Mocha, which looks very similar to a frilly, spotty one I loved last summer.

clones 002Well, at $2.99 each, I sure wasn’t about to buy more than one of each… and who would, when you can CLONE THEM???

I pinched off tops and shoots, at least two from each of the four Plant World coleus, to give a grand total of not four but FIFTEEN (potential) coleus plants. 

To help ensure success, I did use two substances I rarely rely on in the garden:  ROOTS, a rooting hormone gel which can help convince plants to settle in more swiftly.  And also little Jobe’s fertilizer spikes – you know, the ones that look like cigarettes. 

I do think of them as cigarettes for plants:  bad for them, bad for the world… in the long run.  In the short run, I want these plants to grow and settle in as quickly as possible so I can get them out in my garden.  With May 9th being our official average last-frost date, we don’t have long at all…

clones 003And now, here’s the sweet potato!  All set up for its superfun cloning experiment, one you can easily do with kids, though I will warn you, it can take just about forever.

This is just a regular, organic, sweet potato in a drinking glass, and I change the water every few days.  It’s been sitting like this doing nothing for almost three weeks, but this morning, I noticed it is actually growing roots!

Here are the step-by-step instructions I put together last year showing how to grow ornamental sweet potato vines for your garden.  If you’re doing it with kids, have them check on the sweet potato every few days to a week; if they’re running to look at it every ten minutes, they’ll quickly get very, very bored.

ALSO:  it matters which way goes up.  It matters a LOT; it won’t work the other way.  As you can see here, I have the pointy end down; it’s usually slightly puckery as well.  I have been doubting myself the whole last three weeks while it failed to root, but I think now that I do have it the right way around.

You can get lots of individual vines from a single sweet potato, but if you are hoping to fill lots of hanging planters, you should probably start more than one.

And, like I said, be prepared to wait a while.  Something we cheapo gardeners must often be prepared to do since we can’t or won’t buy fuller, bushier, more expensive versions of the plants we love at retail garden-store prices.

p.s.  Coleus cloning is probably highly illegal.  I’m serious.  Unique and distinctive plants are often protected by various patents throughout the civilized world.  Please don’t turn me in for the crime of being cheap!  :-o


  1. I clone coleus plants too. Even ones I don't buy. If they plant any in the planters near my house I take a cutting or two.


  2. we breed coleus for a living, and when you propagate those plants, you violate patents on them. I understand you are cheap, but it takes money to do the research that goes into developing nice plants for your gardens

  3. @Anonymous - like I said, highly illegal. HOWEVER... I also believe a lot of the so-called "research" done by plant breeders, esp. a few companies I could name, involves selling as many of an expensive brand-new cultivar as they can in a season and then leaving it to home gardeners to see if the thing is actually hardy and will thrive in the area in which it was sold.
    I personally feel that coleus, which mutates and morphs as readily as it roots, and which dies off fairly quickly, is a bit of a grey area as long as I'm not selling them. It seems to me that I'm not really harming anyone OR cutting into anyone's profits, because I wouldn't be able to buy more than a couple anyway. (But then, I'm not a lawyer.)
    The music industry seems to be heading towards the "roll with it" model where, due to the black market, they sell fewer albums but tons of singles, merchandise, concert tickets, etc. I'd like to see the plant world do that, too. :-)

  4. p.s. Yes, I WOULD buy a super-cool new-intro coleus t-shirt!!!


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