Coleus canina Care: 35 Secrets To Growing Scaredy-Cat Plant

coleus canina scaredy cat plant

If you’re looking for a plant that deters cats, dogs, and other small animals, start with the Coleus canina. It has a smell that’s somehow close to both cat and dog urine. In short – it stinks. The scent isn’t quite as strong to a human nose, but you can catch a whiff if you touch the leaves or prune the flowers. Fantastic.

In this helpful guide, we’re looking at the care needs of this fantastic deterrent plant, including light, water, temperature, and fertilizer requirements. This plant has a bit of an identity crisis, as it’s also regularly given the botanical names Plectranthus caninus and said to be part of the Solenostemon genus. So we’re going to discuss the origin as well.

Do you have difficulty keeping cats and dogs away from your plants? Read on, and we’ll tell you how this unsuspecting beauty can provide you and your garden with some extra protection.

What Is Coleus canina?

Coleus canina, also called Scaredy-Cat plants, Dogbane, and even a “piss off plant” in parts of England, is considered a tender perennial plant that thrives in USDA zones 9 and 8 outside and grows well as a houseplant in either an eastern or south-facing window. 

Their oblong green leaves and square stems are drought-resistant and considered odorous to cats and dogs. Some would say they have an appearance of a semi-succulent.

Most people see the word Coleus and assume it has excellent foliage with bright colors. But showy leaves are only common in some of canina’s more ornamental Coleus cousins. 

Coleus canina is a simple green plant that looks good for ground coverage and helps deter pets from snacking. That said, it has attractive blue flowers that we’ll talk about in just a bit.

Origin And Family

The Scaredy-Cat plant comes from the Coleus genus, which belongs to the Lamiaceae and the Mint families. It is originally from the forests of India, Myanmar, parts of southern Asia, and parts of eastern and South Africa. In recent years,

Coleus canina has become a popular indoor plant that can thrive inside most homes. It’s typically considered easy-to-care-for.

Discovered in the 1800s by Karl Ludwig Blume, this smelly plant makes a great addition to any indoor grower’s collection. It produces small light blue flowers in small spikes from spring until fall, as long as the plant isn’t exposed to frost.

Using Scaredy-Cat Plant As An Animal Deterrent

If the primary purpose for purchasing this plant is to deter pets or other animals (this is common!), we recommend you snip the flowers off. This alone will activate its smelly scent, even without your fur friends rubbing up against the plant. And you want to produce as much stinky foliage as possible.

Where To Buy

You might be able to find a Coleus Canina plant at your local nursery or home improvement store, but don’t forget that you can also get them on Etsy or Amazon.

If you purchase a plant online, we only ask that you read the directions carefully. Transplanting a Coleus – or any plant really – too soon can cause stress. And your plant has already been shipped to you, so it has likely already experienced stress!

Coleus canina Plant Size

When grown indoors, the plant Coleus canina grows to a height of between 12″ and 18″ and spreads to a width of 16″. It grows at a fast pace and thrives near a south-facing window. East-facing windows work fine as well. 

Coleus canina Care Needs

Like any houseplant, your Coleus plants will thrive if you take good care of them. Although the Dogbane, with its green leaves and drought-resistant capabilities, loves to be in full sun, it also likes mostly dry soil.

This plant’s drought-tolerant nature is one of its most remarkable features. As for the light source, this lovely plant requires indirect light to thrive.

Take a look at the extensive care tips that follow to get more specifics.

Care Difficulty

As garden plants or indoor plants, the Coleus canina is easy to care for. Having bright light and well-draining soil are typically considered the most important considerations for this beauty.

Growth Rate

The growth rate of a Coleus canina is a fast grower. As stated before, it will grow to about 12″ and 18″ tall at a mature height. You can expect this growth in about 12 months or so.

Potting

This simple plant has adjusted well to indoor living and can thrive in most potting options. For most growers, plastic, terracotta, or clay will work well for Coleus canina.

In terms of sizing, you typically want to use a medium for most plants. As long as it has a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, it should be fine.

Repotting

You typically need to repot your Coleus canina every 1-2 years. You can also replant if you want to grow a larger plant. If you decide to do this, you’ll also need to go up a size on the pot.

From here, replant your Scaredy-Cat plant into a new pot. 

Soil

A good quality potting soil is ideal for the canina plant. In a perfect state, this plant wants soil with sand, organic matter, perlite, and anything else that can support good drainage.

Like most plants, well-draining soil is also a must for this easy-to-care-for plant.

Here are some excellent options for soil or potting mix:

pH

You’ll want to aim for a neutral to acidic pH, somewhere between 5.5-6.5. A standard commercial potting soil will already be close to this point, so you shouldn’t need to worry too much.

If you are seeing some trouble with your plants and are doing some troubleshooting, you could do a pH test on the soil to see if this is the culprit.

Water

Scaredy-Cat plants are sun-loving plants that need mostly dry soil throughout the year.

During the spring to fall, water your plant when the top 1″ of soil becomes dry. Water plants deeply until the water drains out the hole in the bottom of the plastic, terracotta, or clay pot. Be sure to toss out the water collection tray to fend off root rot.

In the winter, you won’t need to water as much. Water your plants deeply but less frequently.

Photo by GAP Gardens

Light

This houseplant prefers bright light in a sunny spot for approximately 6-8 hours a day, but it can typically survive in part shade environments. 

Too much light and its leaves could burn, although this is unlikely for natural light. If you don’t have enough light, its leaves may droop.

If you’re worried your Coleus canina or other house plants aren’t getting enough light, you may need to move them closer to a window or consider using artificial lights. Here are some basic indoor grow light options to consider.

Fertilizer

During this plant’s growing season – the spring to fall – fertilize your Dogbane once a month using a basic slow-release fertilizer.

In the non-growing seasons, when plant development naturally slows, you don’t need to fertilize at all.

Propagating Coleus canina

Propagating a Scaredy-Cat plant can be done through a few basic steps and methods. We should warn you that this plant’s odorous nature is no joke. We recommend you use disposable gloves when working with it.

Here are the top ways to propagate this unique plant and a video on general propagation techniques.

Stem Cuttings In Soil

One of the most convenient techniques to propagate your Coleus canina is through stem tip cuttings in soil. Packets of seed are sometimes available, although they might be challenging to find and start. It’s much easier to make more of an existing plant or buy stem cuttings from an online marketplace like Etsy.

From spring to fall is the best time to take stem cuttings. Choose healthy cuttings with a reasonable rate of development, preferably fresh growth. You want to take your cutting from below the leaf node. Remove all but the top few leaves from the stem and set it in a moist soil mix.

Maintain a high degree of humidity around the cutting by keeping the soil moist. Until the Coleus canina takes root, it’s best to cover the plant with a plastic bag or other enclosure. For healthy root development, you’ll also need to keep the plant warm, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pinch the stem tips of a junction with visible leaf buds or where lower leaves have begun to grow. By nipping back any unwanted growth just above the leaves, you can get rid of it.

To maintain constant light exposure, turn and rotate the plant to reduce legginess. Regular rotation may not wholly prevent gangly growth, but it does mitigate unpredictable stemming patterns.

Stem Cuttings In Water

A Scaredy-Cat plant can be propagated in water using five simple steps.

  • Identify a 4-6-inch-long stem and cut it above the stem nodes using clean gardening shears
  • Place stem cuttings in filtered water and wait 1-2 months for roots to appear.
  • Place your cutting area in an area with indirect light
  • Refill the water as needed, and when the new growth cuttings have developed roots, transplant them to the soil.
  • Plant your cutting in a couple of inches of soil once it has a rudimentary root system – a couple of inches of roots or so. As it adjusts to life in the soil, it may appear limp at first. This is considered normal, and it should improve in a few days.

Humidity And Aeration

Coleus canina or Dogbane prefers moderate to high humidity, often between 40-60%+.

If you’re concerned about your humidity or see brown edges on your plants, consider these options for increasing humidity.

  • Group your houseplants to create a more humid microclimate through transpiration.
  • Mist your plants
  • Use a humidifier
  • Place your pots on a tray with an inch of pebbles and water. This is called a pebble tray and is often associated with bonsai tree humidity.

Temperature

Warm-to-temperate temperatures are preferable for this odorous plant, but it can thrive in a temperature range of 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit. They do, however, like a constant temperature, so keep them away from vents and openings that may allow chilly air in.

Temperature and humidity requirements are frequently intertwined. Make sure to go over the humidity portion as well.

They are certainly in danger of frost. If you are trying to overwinter these plants in colder climates, we recommend you bring them inside.

Flowers

The Coleus canina can produce light blue-purple flowers from spring to early summer. They can even bloom in fall, as long as there isn’t a frost.

Toxic

Dogbane is considered mildly toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. If ingested, this plant will cause the following symptoms: light vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases, this plant is considered non-life-threatening. 

It’s also not common for a pet or human to take more than a single bite of this plant, as the smell makes it less appetizing than you might think. 

Pests, Diseases, And Other Problems

The Scaredy-Cat plant, as a whole, is a disease and pest-resistant plant. Sill, though, here are some of the common diseases, problems, and pests – and ways to treat them.

Downy Mildew

Downy mildew is a fungal ailment that most commonly affects greenhouse-grown plants, but it can also affect houseplants.

Downy mildew flourishes in damp, chilly conditions. If you overwater your canina, it might become a breeding ground for this fungus.

Downy mildew spreads quickly and can damage a lot of plants if it is present. Any plants infected with this disease will need to be quarantined.

While it’s often best to destroy sick plants to prevent them from infecting others in extreme cases, most may be pulled back from the brink with a fungicide.”

White Flies

Whiteflies, which are gnat-like animals that feed on the sap of your plants, may be attracted to the Coleus canina. They are really inconvenient. They also deposit eggs on the tops of leaves, which hatch into larvae that eat the undersides of your leaves.

Whiteflies may benefit from the use of a pesticide. You may either buy one online or make one yourself using the recipe below.

Homemade Whiteflies Recipe

  • Five drops of dish soap – make sure it doesn’t have any bleach in it!
  • 1 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • Mix ingredients in a cup to get your base
  • Add 1.5 tsp of solution per cup of water, shake well, and then add to your spray bottle.
  • Make sure you spray under the leaves of the infected plants.

Scale Insects

Scale insects may appear as lumps on the stems or branches of a plant rather than insects. Once they’ve latched on to a plant, the tiny bugs, which come in green, gray, brown, and black colors, usually stay put.

Care for Light Infestation

You can use a teaspoon of neem oil in water to help keep new scale insects from attacking your wonderful canina if your infestation isn’t too bad — on a single plant or part of a single plant.

While neem oil or horticulture oils will not kill everything, they will undoubtedly cause some damage. Another alternative is to introduce scale insect predators, such as the dreaded ladybug.

Aphids

Aphids can eat the leaves and leave a mark on them, resulting in black and brown patches.

Use an insecticidal soap or neem oil to treat aphids, or prepare your own with a dish detergent like Ivory Liquid. Look for a product that is free of fragrances and other ingredients that could harm plants. Combine the soap and water in a weak concentration (starting with one teaspoon per gallon and increasing as necessary). Spray the plants, paying particular attention to the undersides of the leaves.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs may infest your Coleus canina. If you come to find these tiny parasites with their white fluff, act promptly. With a cotton swab bathed in rubbing alcohol, the bugs will be released from your plant. Neem oil also works well as a prophylactic spray.

Brown Leaf Tips

If the tops of your Scaredy-Cat plant start to turn brown, it could be an indication that it’s getting too much sunlight – or that your home isn’t humid enough.

Root Rot

Overwatering, inadequate drainage, or soil fungi can all contribute to root rot, a plant disease. Like many other plant diseases, rootrot is difficult to treat, so prevention is the best approach to avoid it.

The best way to prevent root rot in Coleus canina is to monitor how much you’re watering it. Damp soils and too much water is the leading cause of this annoying and often deadly condition.

Spider Mites

Spider mites could potentially be unwelcome visitors in your home. The larvae will not be visible, but the tiny mites will. During the larval stage, neem can help eradicate them. Home growers can also use an organic pyrethrin spray to get rid of these annoyances.

Similar Plants

Love Scaredy-Cat plant? Here are some other similar plant options you should try:

Kong Coleus

King Kong Coleus is an annual herb that spreads its green and growing branches outwards. Sometimes called Rose Kong Coleus, its texture works well with the landscaping; however, a few sparse or densely planted plants might balance it for an excellent arrangement. This plant is incredibly low-maintenance and can survive in direct light and indirect light.

Coleus Wasabi

The Wasabi Coleus is a flowering herbaceous annual that grows quickly and has almost jagged leaves with a lime green hue. It does well surrounded by other plants since its texture is delicate and, by itself, is likely to be lost in the garden.

Coleus Black Dragon

Coleus Black Dragon is known for its dark purple and red leaves that are incredibly flashy. And like the other coleus varieties, it’s easy to maintain either inside or outside. Similar to the Scaredy-Cat plant, the risk of frost is this plant’s most significant danger.

Coleus Electric Lime

This is one of my favorite Coleus plants right now. The Solenostemon scutellariodes or Electric Lime Coleus is stunning. It looks like dragon scales with its lime green color and white veining. We highly recommend this cultivar inside a pot or planter.

Coleus Redhead

If you’re trying to make an impression, look no further than the Redhead Coleus. The Solenostemon Redhead is a tender perennial with bright red leaves that are sharply edged. It can also withstand both bright sun or bright indirect sun. For the best appearance, I recommend putting it in either south or east-facing window.

Conclusion

With its characteristics and attractive looks, Coleus canina is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a new houseplant, especially if you’re trying to keep your fur-ever friends at bay. Your efforts will be rewarded with a beautiful and stinky green flora that you will enjoy having in your home! 

Good luck as you grow this fantastic and smelly perennial herb.

Can’t get enough of our plant guides? Check out these other options below.

Patrick Chism

Patrick likes to pretend that urban gardening is just a hobby, but he’s actually prepping for the apocalypse. He’s a practical grower, specializing in hydroponics systems and grow lights. His dream is to one day feed his family with just the food he grows in his Chicago-based condo.

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