Spider Plants come in all shapes and sizes and make for excellent beginner-friendly plants. They’re hardy and resilient to damage, but that doesn’t mean you can forget about them and leave them on their own once planted. If you do, you might soon see your spider plant lose variegation.
Spider plants most commonly lose their variegation due to a lack of sunlight. However, too much sunlight and an inadequate watering routine are also likely culprits. Nutrient deficiencies in the soil and pests and disease may also play a role in the loss of variegation.
In this article, I’ll dive further into these factors and discuss how they cause a loss of variegation in spider plants. Of course, I’ll also take you through the steps you need to take to control and, hopefully, reverse the damage.
The Most Common Reasons for Lost Variegation in Spider Plants
I’ll first highlight the most common reasons why spider plants lose their variegation.
A Lack of Sunlight
Let’s define how much sunlight spider plants need. Spider plants thrive under bright but indirect sunlight. They don’t do too well under full sun, but you don’t want to place them in a dark room, either.
Simply put, spider plants prefer a moderate amount of sunlight. They’re perfect for growing indoors, although some varieties can be grown outdoors under partial shade.
The thing with growing indoors, though, is that you can easily go wrong. A common mistake beginner gardeners make is neglecting to consider sunlight when positioning their potted plants. In the case of spider plants, this will lead to a loss in variegation.
Why this happens is actually quite interesting. As we all know, variegated plants are green and white in color. More specifically, the green leaves have a white stripe running down them.
The green part of the leaf contains a compound called chlorophyll. The presence of this compound allows the plant to absorb sunlight, which in turn is necessary for photosynthesis to occur.
Photosynthesis is like respiration in humans. It converts nutrients to energy. A process essential to sustaining life.
All of this may seem a little complicated, but the key takeaway is that the green parts of the leaf can absorb and make use of sunlight, unlike the white parts.
So what happens when you reduce the amount of sunlight the plant receives? You can probably guess by now – the plant tries to make up for the lack of sunlight by reducing the white and increasing the green so that it can absorb more of the sunlight that it is exposed to.
This is what we see as a loss in variegation.
Too Much Sunlight
Next up, I’ll be discussing the effect of too much sunlight.
This issue is not as intricate as the one discussed above; it’s just the fact that overexposure to intense sunlight literally bleaches the leaves of the plant, leading to discoloration. You can think of it as getting a sunburn.
Intense sunlight will directly damage the pigments in the plant that give the plant its color. Yes, that includes chlorophyll. Intense sunlight can cause chlorophyll to decompose.
Something to keep in mind here is that it’s usually not a prolonged exposure to sunlight that results in damaged, discolored leaves. Don’t get me wrong – that will damage your spider plant noticeably in the long run, but the process will be slow and gradual. Spider plants are very resilient, after all.
What truly bleaches and causes sudden discoloration in the leaves is exposure to harsh and intense sunlight. During a scorching summer afternoon, for example. Combine those conditions with a dry spell, and your spider plant will be left extremely unwell.
You want to be extra careful when growing spider plants outdoors and ensure that they are grown under partial shade, especially if you live in a region that experiences hot and arid weather.
You’re not entirely in the clear when growing indoors, though. Sometimes, there’s little difference in the amount of sunlight a south-facing window and an outdoor garden receive.
A signature sign of damage due to intense sunlight is yellowing or browning of the leaves.
An Inadequate Amount of Water
An inadequate amount of water will cause your spider plant to lose its variegation. This goes for both over and underwatering.
You should water your spider plants once every one or two weeks. This may sound very conservative, but it’s compensated by the fact that when you water your spider plant, you’ll be very generous with the amount of water you deliver.
Keep watering until the soil around the plant is moist but not completely saturated with water. Water when the soil dries out.
In most cases, watering weekly during the summers and bimonthly during winters should be sufficient.
This is just a general guideline, and you can get much more specific with the amount of water required by considering factors such as temperature, humidity, and rainfall. If you want to be more precise with your watering routine, I’ve compiled a complete guide: How Often Should You Water a Curly Spider Plant
Underwatering damages a plant by impeding growth, weakening the plant, and causing discoloration. Thankfully, spider plants don’t need a lot of water, and they can tolerate a dry spell or two in the absence of extreme heat.
Overwatering is a menace that can kill a plant very quickly. Stagnated water in the soil leads to soggy and damaged roots. Soggy roots rot away very quickly, which cuts off the plant’s access to nutrients in the soil. As you can imagine, this leads to a slow but steady decline in health.
Whether you’re growing in a potting mix or outdoor soil, it is imperative that the medium has excellent draining abilities.
With both underwatering and overwatering, you’ll see discoloration as a noticeable symptom.
Another thing worth mentioning is that spider plants are particularly vulnerable to salt compounds, such as fluoride, frequently found in tap water.
A buildup of these salt compounds can harm their health, so you may want to use distilled water for your spider plants.
Other Reasons That Might Cause Lost Variegation
A spider plant losing variegation from the following problems is not as common, but it still happens from time to time.
If you’ve gone through the above-mentioned causes by process of elimination, here’s what to look at next:
Nutrient Deficiencies in the Soil
Nutrient deficiencies in the soil refers to the absence of one or more of the major nutrients required for a plant to grow healthily.
The major nutrients are NPK – Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. A deficiency in any of these three will lead to stunted growth and other adverse effects on the plant, including discoloration of the leaves.
If you’re growing your plant in a potting mix, these nutrients are probably already present in a healthy amount. It’s also recommended to fertilize every now and then, but be cautious.
Overfertilization is very much a reality when it comes to spider plants. Most experts recommend fertilizing only once every month or two.
You may even want to go for a slow-release or granular fertilizer.
Pests and Diseases
Lastly, we have pests and diseases. Fortunately, these are not a big issue when it comes to the durable spider plant and when they do make their occasional appearance, they’re seldom life-threatening.
That said, you do need to take remedial action in case your spider plant has been swarmed by pests or infected by a disease. They will cause damage to your plant, which can encourage it to lose the white stripes on its leaves in favor of more chlorophyll.
Truth be told, non-variegated or solid green plants are the purer form of spider plants, although they may not look as great. They’re healthier, so it makes sense for variegated plants to want to go back to that healthier state to improve their odds of survival when met by a serious threat.
The increased chlorophyll content on leaves increases energy and resource production to dedicate to a stronger immune response and damage repair.
You can think of it as us humans eating healthy food – and more of it – when we’re ill. It helps fight off the disease.
What To Do if Your Spider Plant Is Losing Variegation
Let’s quickly run through what we’ve learned from our above discussion and how we can put this information to good use.
- Adjust for sunlight. Reposition your potted spider plant so that it receives a moderate amount of sunlight. North-facing window sills are perfect for spider plants.
- Provide partial shade. If growing outdoors, ensure the spider plant remains covered during the summer afternoons.
- Follow a proper watering routine. Water whenever the soil dries up. Provide water until the soil is moist but not saturated. Make sure there’s no stagnated water. Use distilled water if you can to avoid salt buildup.
- Fertilize every one to two months. Using slow-release fertilizer is recommended to avoid the risk of over-fertilization.
- Deal with pests and diseases promptly. Infestations can get out of hand if left unattended.
Unfortunately, non-variegation, once it takes place, is usually not reversible. To prevent the color loss from spreading to the rest of the plant, you can deadhead the leaves that have lost their white stripes.
This works because the solid green leaves are likely to outlive their variegated counterparts because of the increased chlorophyll content and, consequently, added energy production.
Spider plants can lose variegation due to a lack of sunlight or too much sun. Inadequate watering routines are also a common cause of the loss of color.
If the above factors are taken care of, then it’s worth checking for nutrient imbalances in the soil and taking corrective measures by using fertilizer if necessary. Pests and disease can also encourage an otherwise healthy spider plant to lose its variegation.
To prevent the loss of variegation from spreading, deadhead the leaves that have turned solid green.