Here’s how to keep multicolored plants alive
Fads and fads have always influenced the plants we keep. And so it is with variegated plants, which have become very popular with houseplant lovers these days.
Variegated plants possess several colors – usually on their leaves, but in some cases on the stems, flowers and fruits. Their patterns include stripes, dots, edges and patches. They are usually green with white or yellow, but can also feature red, pink, silver, and other colors.
Variegated plants can divide opinions. I remember a great-aunt telling me many years ago of her great fondness for the variegated Aspidistra elatior that cultivated her garden. But I’ve also heard gardeners and garden designers reject variegated foliage because it doesn’t fit their design or color themes.
Now it seems that indoor variegated plants are considered a “must have» interior decoration accessory. But before you rush out and buy one, make sure you know how to make him happy.
Understanding variegated plants
Most plant species are completely green, but sometimes a variegated individual appears. Some attract the attention of a dedicated plant collector or nurseryman and become a popular variety.
Plant variegation can occur for several reasons.
In some plants, such as tulip flowers, it is due to a viral infection. The resulting streaks of different colors can be cursed or enhanced depending on the aesthetic effect.
Other plants, such as those of the genus coleus, are naturally patterned. Groups of cells produce different combinations of colors, causing leaves to grow with attractive markings.
Plant variegations can also result from a genetic mutation.
When growing variegated plants, it is important to understand how different colors affect its functioning.
The green part of plants contains chlorophyll, a pigment essential for photosynthesis. (Photosynthesis, of course, is the process by which leaves convert sunlight into oxygen and carbohydrates that provide energy for plant growth.)
In variegated plants, the white parts of the leaves do not contain chlorophyll and therefore do not photosynthesize.
The yellow parts of leaves can help send energy to chlorophyll, but cannot perform photosynthesis on their own. The same goes for some red, orange, and pink fabric patches.
But all leaf cells, green or not, use the plant’s energy. This means variegated plants are less efficient energy producers than their all-green counterparts, causing them to grow more slowly.
Some plants have mutated into albino does not contain chlorophyll. These normally die a few days or weeks after germination.
Caring for your plant indoors
It is no coincidence that many popular houseplants – such as coleus, philodendrons, monsteras, dracaenas and calatheas – are variegated. Because they are generally much less vigorous than fully green versions of the species, they won’t grow against the ceiling in a few weeks.
The decorative color and pattern of a variegated houseplant is an added bonus.
Variegated plants may take longer than others to reach a size considered suitable for sale in a nursery, so they may be comparatively more expensive. But there are ways to protect your varied investment.
First of all, pay attention to the “reversion”. This can happen when a variegated plant sends up an all-green shoot. The sprout will grow rapidly from the variegated parts and may eventually take over, turning the whole plant back to green.
To avoid this, vigilantly remove any green shoots before they grow large.
You don’t want variegated plants to quickly outgrow their space, but remember that they are low in chlorophyll and therefore need good light.
And like any houseplant, make sure its leaves are free of fine dust and that you don’t give it too much or too little water.
Variegated plants in the garden
The popularity of indoor variegated plants will almost certainly lead to greater outdoor use.
Their slow-growing nature means that outdoor variegated plants are generally much less likely to “weed” and spread where they are not wanted.
This can be an advantage if you have avoided planting a species as it will overrun the garden. The various versions of pittosporeficus and oleander neriumfor example, are much less concerned with world domination than their all-green counterparts.
When planting a variegated plant outdoors, make sure it is not shaded by other faster growing plants. Many variegated plants already struggle to do enough photosynthesis. A little extra shade can damage or even kill them.
So make sure they get enough light – and occasionally give them a helping hand by trimming nearby plants.
Growing up brilliantly
Variegated plants have their heyday in the sun. But their interesting biology is always in style!
These plants can brighten up your indoor space and provide attractive colors and patterns in the garden.
By learning how variegated plants work and taking into account their special requirements, you can enjoy them for years.