Exploring Variegated Plants for Containers

Variegated Plants in a Window Box

Variegated plants make this wooden window box vibrant with color and texture.

Containers look their best when you group plants of different colors and textures together, but including a variegated plant or two in the mix creates a combination that can’t be ignored.  This rare genetic anomaly is present in a wide range of perennial and annual plants, from the lowliest ground cover to graceful trees and shrubs.  There are many suitable variegated plants for containers, many that go beyond the typical green and white coloration.

What Causes Variegation?

Gardeners may be hesitant to add variegated plants to mixed containers for fear of what they’ve heard about variegation being caused by plant viruses.  While this is true for a few plants like tulips and flowering maple, most variegated plants have a simple genetic mutation that stops production of all or part of the pigments in an affected cell.

Variegated Plants in a Window Planter

Can you name all of the plants in this window planter? Leave ’em in the comments below!

Commonly recognized variegations are of the random white and green variety, but many plants, including Draecena marginata, express their variegation much differently, with regularly defined areas that appear in colors ranging from pink to orange.  Others may grow into or out of variegation as leaves age.  But no matter how the variegation presents or what causes it, you have little to worry about mixing variegated plants with normal plants.

Designing with Variegated Plants


European Window Box Cages and terra cotta pots overflowing with trailing and flowering plants.

No matter what kind of landscaping you’ve got in mind, from a natural English Garden to an ordered collection of containers on a windowsill, careful placement of variegated plants can make a huge impact.  They can lend your home a lot of curb appeal when planted in a window box that compliments your home’s style – a wrought iron hayrack planter is perfect for an airy cottage or rustic French country home, copper-lined window boxes are great for more formal homes.

The best perennials for window boxes and other containers are those that can tolerate some drought conditions and remain compact throughout their lives.  Window boxes are beautiful additions to any home, but require frequent watering to look their best – without adding a resevoir, many plants will have to be watered at least once daily.

Variegated calamint (Calamintha grandiflora ‘Varigata’), jeweled orchids (Goodyera pubescens) and lilyturf (Lirope muscari ‘Varigata’) are interesting additions to windowboxes without resevoirs because they tolerate dry conditions well.  Despite this, never let the soil dry out completely or even these tough numbers may begin to look tired.  Adding a resevoir opens up your options to a dazzling array of plants for your windowboxes, including trailing chameleon plants (Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’), spreading Japanese aster (Kalimeris yomena) and clumping golden dwarf sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’).


Spring flowers and variegated plants help this Lancaster PVC Window Box reach maximum curb appeal.

Of course, these aren’t the only variegated plants of note that are suitable for your containers.  It would be a crime to overlook the jagged foliage of bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis ‘Tasmanian Angel’), boldly-veined leaves of the orange candleflower (Arum italicum) and the speckled charm of deadnettle (Lamium galeobdolon ‘Hermann’s Pride’).  These variegated plants really stand out when placed in front of solid-colored companions.

Bringing Variegation Indoors

There’s no reason that you have to leave all the great variegated plants of the world outdoors – many are happy inside.  Take our Tropical Foliage Getaway, a pre-designed indoor container featuring variegated favorites like pink splash and an assorted variegated ivy, for example.  Together, the green and white trailer and the pink and green, low-growing clumper create a balanced, colorful accompaniment to a very green-leaved pink anthurium.  This grouping is happy living indoors all year long.

Although variegated plants are far from the norm, that’s really the best part about them – they’re a little different and they make whatever planter they inhabit a little different, too.  Gardeners with an eye to the unusual are to thank for keeping these mutations around for us to enjoy today.  Plantings with variegation really pop, making them perfect for any space that needs to draw attention to itself.

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