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Foliage Follow-up – What happened?

It’s the 16th day of the month which means its time to join Pam at Diggings for Foliage Follow Up, the monthly gardening meme where garden bloggers showcase the beauty of foliage in their gardens. This month I’m looking for advice …

“Variegation is the appearance of differently coloured zones in the leaves, and sometimes the stems, of plants. This may be due to a number of causes. Some variegation is attractive and ornamental and gardeners tend to preserve these”.

Most gardeners love variegated foliage and I’m no exception. I love the contrast they provide and discovering how one can add interest in a garden with different colours, shapes and textures of foliage is what really got me interested in gardening. I can spend hours looking at different foliage types in a nursery and I have spent many, many hours pouring over books learning about different plants and their foliage and how to use them in a planting scheme.

One of my favourites has been the unassuming Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’ (Japanese sweetflag) that I use as a contrast in my back shade garden. I’ve really loved this easy plant and have used it in my big plant bed as a border at intervals, for repetition and colour. Its been a stellar performer up until very recently when I noticed one of the groupings starting to go ‘all green’, i.e. reverting to all one colour (‘reverting to type’ is what I believe it is called).

I thought I’d show a few photos of it … the way it was and how it looks now.

In my ‘brand new’ garden in February 2011 …

Acorum gramineus in February 2011

And then a few weeks later I planted some more in another spot …

More Acorus gramineus

Still more, I have this in groups of five in four differences places …

More Acorus ...

A closer view of the variegated foliage …

Close up of Acorus gramineus ...

Here you can see what a wonderful contrast it provides to some of my foundation plants …

A lovely contrast plant

And now … just a few months later its ‘returning to type’ / going green. Sigh … what to do?

Is this something I should be expecting? Is this normal? It is not an expensive plant. In fact I can buy them very cheaply and am wondering whether I should just yank these out and replace them with fresh new plants, or will they change back again? I love this plant – It’s evergreen, has narrow, shiny erect, fine leaves that are about 12 – 18 inches long. According to my notes it likes Sun to light shade; prefers moist to wet organically enriched soil.

I’d really appreciate any opinions and advice on this. They don’t look attractive the way I’ve planted them if they are all just green like this as they just look like ordinary lawn that has been left to grow wild – which is not the look I was going for, or want right here. It looks exactly like overgrown lawn right now.

Happy gardening

By Christine

Dominated by large trees on a medium sized property, my garden is very shaded. With no “full sun” areas I have to plant shade and partial shade loving plants. I love shrubs and flowers including camellias and azaleas but Roses and Irises are my favourite and getting these to thrive is a challenge …

13 replies on “Foliage Follow-up – What happened?”

I have no idea why it’s turning green, I just think it’s pretty. But I do agree that a light exposure experiment is the best way to determine the cause if you think that’s the reason for it losing its variegation.

I love variegated foliage too! Some plants show greater variegation according to the season, but I agree that yours probably needs more light. I like Alan’s suggestion, too. Good luck!

Heyyy, Christine, seems like you’re on your way to an interesting experiment, centering on light and maybe moisture and temperature. I’m looking forward to reading what you learn.

Meanwhile, I much enjoyed your images showing the differences in variegation. They’re beautifully graphic. Here’s to the garden of learning.


Hi Christine! Let me start off by saying, thank you for sharing such beautiful photos! I found them inspiring to use this plant that I have seen but had kinda forgot about! I have a new shade bed so there must be a spot for it! I agree with the ideas of Alan and Chrstina, it could very well be the low light. The other idea I had was are the temperatures getting quite a bit cooler for your area? That in combination with lower light could be why they are mostly green now. If possible maybe keep some of them planted where they are and see if the variegation returns next spring. Good luck!

No idea what caused that, but perhaps the idea about the amount of light is correct.
It is a very pretty grass – I can certainly see why you like it.
Happy Foliage Day!
Lea’s menagerie

I love it in sunny yellow-green, but you’re right, as a green, grassy plant, the effect is not the same. I hope you can find a good substitute that will keep its variegation. Thanks for joining in for Foliage Follow-Up!

Hi Christine. The reason your grass is reverting to just green is the low light level. Many variegated plants will become entirely green when in deep shade because they need more chlorophyll to photosynthesise and the chlorophyll is in the green part of the leaf (it’s what makes it green). If you are happy to keep replacing them you could treat them as an annual and use them for compost! Or search for a grass that is variegated that loves shade. You could ask Caroline at Caroline’s shade garden, she’s a real expert about all things shady! Christina

What I’m wondering is … will they revert back to variegated if we let more light in or do they stay solid green once this happens?

Dig some up, put into a pot, and move into sun. If it regains its variegation, then you’ll know.

Some plants will revert to green forms with the new growth, but it sounds like yours came up variegated and then turned green? Also, some plants produce variegated leaves early in the season, then more green later. I’ve got some bamboos that do that — the spring foliage is so creamy, but by mid-summer there are lots of green leaves in there too.

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