When Leaves Come First

There are few pleasures that gardeners look forward to more than the first flowers of spring. After the bloom fades, all that's left is the foliage. However, the foliage can come in an endless array of colors.

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Plant breeders usually first notice variegation in a "sport," a mutant offshoot of a branch that is different from the original plant. The abnormal distribution of chlorophyll that creates the odd colorization can be a happy accident or the result of a virus, mineral deficiency or environmental stress. Variegation interferes with a plant's ability to photosynthesize because there's less chlorophyll in the leaves, so the resulting varieties are generally less vigorous and produce fewer blooms. Some, particularly those with white or yellow foliage, can burn if exposed to full sun or cold winds. The intensity of foliage color can vary according to the amount of sun or shade. Those with purple, yellow or brown leaves have the best coloring in full sun. White or creamy hues perform best in shade.

Not all sports are garden-worthy. Some have a tendency to "revert," or return back to their more vigorous parent. With those that exhibit occasional reversion, the green leaves or branches can simply be trimmed out to prevent the entire plant from turning back to green.

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