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Variegation in horticulture: making light of plants

What are variegated plants, where do they come from, and how do they develop and thrive? They are a collection of mottled, checkered, spotted, blotchy, multi-colored, or variegated foliage plants. It's like having a brightly colored plant in flower all year long without the flowers.

By definition, "variegated" means to have discrete markings of different colors or white stripes on the plant's leaves. The word more often applies to the foliage of plants that we have in our homes' interior. The most common variegation colors are white, light green, and pink.

Chimeral variegation is by far the most common type on specific plants. It is caused by a genetic mutation with two different chromosomal makeups in a single plant, which causes only some of the plant tissue to produce chlorophyll, which is how plants make their own food.

Once you delve into the world of variegation, you will realize that many variegated cultivars are considered "rare" because certain chimeral variegated plants can only be propagated by cuttings or grown by meristem tissue culture in a specialized laboratory.

It is important to remember that every variegated plant has a different genetic code passed down through its DNA.

Since these unique plants have less chlorophyll than a non-variegated plant in their leaves, they will need more light to carry on their photosynthesis for healthy growth. The rule of thumb is, the more variegated a leaf is, the brighter the morning sun will aid in its development, but not full sunlight, for this can be damaging to this class of plants.

I have some variegated aspidistra plants in my garden, and no two leaves are exactly alike, which is like a variation upon a theme to the beholder, and I enjoy it. There is nothing else quite like it in the design palette. Flowers come and go per their seasonality and built-in flowering cycles, but variegated plants have a charm all unto their own.

The selection is enormous, from annuals, perennials, succulents, shrubs, vines, and trees of all types. Interest in plants has never been higher, and folks are expanding their knowledge and quest for unique, novel, and uncommon plants more and more.

The past pandemic year and staying at home have given a boom to the plant industry both in the garden landscape and the interior home décor. Plants make us happy and are considered horticultural therapy, which is a good thing.

Folks have found out that besides using plants as a visual enjoyment, plants of all types help clean the air in our environments and are our natural air-conditioner.

I have always been drawn to unique and unusual plants in my lifetime of collecting plants, which has expanded my plant hunting over the years.

Once your plant tastes start to get fulfilled, you are in constant search of something new, and the palette of variegated plants will take you to new and adventuresome horizons.

A few variegated shrubs are pittosporum tobira var. hydrangea, spirea, camellia, fatsia, nandina, oleander, schefflera, gingers, plumeria, poinsettia, abutilon, geraniums, daphne, angel wing begonia, aspidistra, hibiscus, ferns, sansevieria, leucadendron, boxwood, euonymus, Japanese privet, cordyline, and more

Some variegated interior plants are photos, aglaonema, many bromeliads, calathea, ivies, ficus, crotons, clivia, ferns, cyclamen, monstera, palms, syngonium, hoya, and much more.

A few vines with variegated foliage are stephanotis, ivies, jasmines, datura, bougainvillea, cissus, mandevilla, solanum, fatsia, creeping ficus, lonicera, thunbergia.

Be prudent and careful using fertilizers, for variegated plants are extremely sensitive to high nitrogen types of fertilizer. You can use fertilizers with low nitrogen carefully, for if too much nitrogen is applied, the leaves will have foliage tip burn.

When I design and install landscapes, I like to add a splash of variegated plants into the plant matrix to add some highlights and break up too many greens out in the garden.

I hope I have piqued a bit of new interest in your plant thinking, and when out plant shopping, search out some variegated plants to add a little spice to your life and your garden motif.

Roger Boddaert, Maker of Natural landscapes & The Tree Man of Fallbrook, can be reached at 760-728-4287 for designs & consultations.


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