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Variegated plants are beautiful, unique additions to any plant collection but they can be a bit temperamental and sensitive in comparison to their green-leaved counterparts.
WHAT IS LEAF VARIEGATION?
Variegation simply means that a plant’s leaves have both green and non-green parts —this can present in a variety of patterns. Colors range from minty green, pale white, cream, yellow or even pink patterning which can be very aesthetically pleasing. Keep in mind, though, that the variegated sections are more susceptible to leaf damage.
The reason why variegated leaves are more easily damaged than regular leaves is that the white/yellow or pink areas of the leaves don't contain any chlorophyll - which means that they can't absorb any sunlight in these areas. Although it's pretty to look at, these parts are very sensitive and can easily turn brown and dry.
Chlorophyll is a green pigment in plant cells. It is a vital part of photosynthesis and the growth of your plant. There are different reasons variegation occurs in plants but most commonly it's genetically determined or randomly mutated variegation.
COMMON ISSUES FOR VARIEGATED PLANTS
The variegated portions of the leaf turns brown or dries out
The new growth appears to lose the variegation and turns fully green. This is called reversion and usually happens to individual branches.
The new growth appears to lose all the green and is fully variegated.
HOW TO PREVENT BROWN SPOTS:
Variegated cultivars are slightly more sensitive to the same issues that can cause brown and dry spots in their green, counterparts. These are issues like too much direct sunlight without proper acclimation, the soil drying too much in between watering or the plant being overwatered.
The best ways to prevent this from happening is to give your plant a bright spot sheltered from direct sunlight and keep a regular watering schedule according to the species needs. If you're growing your plant under a grow light, be careful not to place it too close to the foliage as it might burn.
Any transitions between different growing conditions should be slow to allow the plant to acclimate; whether it's related to light, temperature, humidity or a combination.
IN THE CASE OF REVERSION:
Reversion is when the distinct markings on variegated leaves turn back to solid green. This often occurs independently from the growing conditions and care of the plant, but it depends on what type of variegation your plant has.
If your variegated plant starts to revert, the best thing to do is remove the reverted branch back to where it was last variegated. Once a branch begins to revert, it's unlikely that it will grow variegated leaves again from that section. The plant may promote the non-varigated portions as these grow faster and more vigorously.
IN CASE OF FULLY VARIEGATED GROWTH:
Just as a branch can revert and get fully green leaves, a branch can also start putting out leaves totally devoid of chlorophyll. This might be beautiful to look at but in the long run the plant won't be able to support it since the branch can't produce any resources on its own. Just as a green reverted branch should be removed, a fully variegated branch should also be pruned away to the point of having both variegated and green parts on their leaves. After your plant has put out two or three totally variegated leaves, consider pruning it back.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE DAMAGE IS DUE TO VARIEGATION, AND NOT SOMETHING ELSE? Reversion is a variegation-specific problem. However, browning and shrivelling of the leaves are often caused by the same issues as the non-variegated counterpart might have. They're just a little more prone to get them.
HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN? Try and make sure that your site conditions are suitable for a sensitive variegated plant. It should ideally be somewhere with good light, but not any harsh direct sunlight (to avoid sun scorch), and away from drafts or extremes of temperature.