Silver Leaf – Senecio bicolor

During the summer, Silver Leaf makes a spectacular display. It is often found growing among colourful summer-flowering annuals in parks and other public gardens.

Silver Leaf is mentioned in the descriptions of many of the great gardens of the past. The formal gardens of France, Britain and Italy all included this elegant plant. In many cases, the same pattern, colours and plants were used year after year.

Although grown mainly for its lovely foliage, Silver Leaf sometimes produces yellow flowers in July and August. As with most of the plants in this group, the flowers are rather similar to daisies. Remove them if you think they detract from the plant’s appearance.

Silver Leaf is an upright bushy plant that grows to 38-60cm (15-24in) in height. The pinnate leaves are divided into four to six three-lobed leaflets. Both the leaves and stems are covered with fine white hairs, which gives them a velvety texture.Silver Leaf - Senecio bicolor

Display ideas

Silver Leaf makes a very decorative addition to a patio or balcony. Plant several together in a large tub on their own, or with colourful flowers in shades of red, pink or blue.

Varieties and strains

In the past, the variety Senecio bicolor has been known as both S. cineraria and S. maritima. It is often confused with Centaurea cineraria, a close relative that has very similar foliage, but purplish-blue flowers.

Silver Leaf itself is available in several different forms. Of these, ‘Silver Dust’ is one of the prettiest. The pale silver foliage is deeply dissected. Other popular forms include ‘Diamond’, with almost white leaves. S. elegans is a true annual that has feathery dark-green foliage. The purple flowers have yellow centres and they are borne in clusters. S. cruenta, commonly known as Cineraria cruenta, is the popular winter-flowering pot plant.

Pests And Diseases

Young plants stop growing or wither in cold periods immediately after they have been planted out. This is almost always a result of crown rot, caused by overwatering or poorly drained compost. Treatment: It is difficult to cure, but plants may be saved by heaping a dressing of compost and sand around the base. This will give them an opportunity to strike new roots above the area that has been affected by crown rot.

Mildew can also attack Silver Leaf, although it may be difficult to see. If your plants are growing in a very dry position, white deposits on leaves, stems and buds may be visible. Treatment: Spray the plant with a fungicide.

Tiny tunnels in the leaves are the trails of leaf miners.

Treatment: They are difficult to get at since they are protected by the skin of the leaf. Treat with an insecticide.

PLANT CARE

Take care not to overwater. Otherwise the plant is undemanding and needs very little attention. Plants that are overwintering should be cut down to compost level in November.

  • Potting: It is not necessary to repot. Plant in a well-drained soil-based compost in May or early June.
  • Water moderately at all times; keep the compost fairly dry to prevent crown rot
  • Feeding: Feed every third time you water the plant, using a standard liquid fertilizer.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: For best results, place in a position where it will get full sun.
  • Temperature: The plant will tolerate normal summer temperatures when grown outdoors, and will survive most winter conditions. Plants grown in a greenhouse should be kept at 18°— 24°C (65°-75°F).

Buying Tips

  • Available as bedding plants in May or early June from most garden centres and nurseries.
  • Make sure that the leaves are healthy and succulent.
  • Often grown as an annual, Silver Leaf is in fact a perennial that will live for several years if the winters are not too harsh.

Silver Leaf is a particularly handsome plant, grown for its feathery grey or white foliage. Although often treated as an annual, it is a perennial that will survive most winters.

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