This succulent herb is believed to have originated in tropical South America. The genus Begonia has more than 1,000 species and 1,000s more hybrids. With so many shades of color, blossom styles, variety of leaf shapes and designs, and differing growing habits there is a begonia to fit any garden design.
Finding the Right Begonia for the Garden Space
Begonia plants are separated into three categories, identified by the type of root structure they possess:
- fibrous-rooted (like most plants)
- rhizomatous (roots grow from a thick, creeping rhizome)
- tuberous (a tumid storage unit at the base of stem).
Fibrous-rooted begonias have three different appearances. Cane-like begonias have stems resembling bamboo and the most popular are often called “angel wing” begonias because of the shape of their leaves. Bush-like plants grow to a variety of heights. The hirsute begonia (shrub) has fleshy stems, leaves and flowers covered with fuzzy hairs. These are typically bushy similar to the cane begonia although they will trail if unsupported and may be grown in hanging baskets. The third fibrous-rooted begonia is fleshy-stemmed as well, but the leaves are smooth and shiny, not hairy, thus they are often called wax begonias. Wax begonias are ideal border plants, and are excellent for use in planters.
Rhizomatous begonias are primarily grown for their attractive foliage. Rex begonias are favorites among this type. These plants produce a horizontal stem that sends roots down into the soil at intervals and new shoots upward, sometimes referred to as creeping. The plants typically grow less than 9 inches tall and those that do grow taller need to have some type of support. Although they do produce blooms, they’re grown primarily for their striking foliage. They have leaves of varying colors, patterns and shapes, some with intricate patterns and they can be hairy or shiny. Commonly used as a container plant, the rhizomatous begonia may sometimes be planted in shaded garden areas, as well.
Tuberous begonias are grown for their striking blooms. They are a truly deciduous plant requiring a period of dormant rest during the winter months. At this time the gardener should place the tubers in a cool, dark storage place until spring arrives. Blooms on 18″ plants come in single or double flowers in every shade except blue. Best planted in shaded beds, borders, containers, and hanging baskets.
Caring for Begonia Plants
It’s important to consider the amount of sunlight available in the area where the plant will be located. Begonia plants grown for their foliage don’t require direct sunlight and do best in a shady location where the hot summer sun won’t scorch their delicate leaves. Most flowering begonias need at least 3 – 4 hours of full sun each day to produce a season of blooms. Some varieties are more sensitive to the sun and would prefer filtered light to direct exposure. Tuberous begonias will thrive in shady conditions and may actually be harmed if the sun’s rays are too intense. The best advice is to read and follow the grower’s instructions for each individual plant.
Begonias thrive in rich well-drained soil. Containers should have a layer of pebbles under the soil to provide for adequate drainage. They prefer to be watered moderately, when the top inch or so of soil has dried out, and do not have soggy roots. A liquid fertilizer can be applied every two weeks. Gradually lessen waterings and feelings toward the end of summer and into autumn for tuberous begonias entering their dormancy.
In cold climates, begonias are considered annuals because most can’t withstand temperatures under 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Begonias can be grown as perennials if grown in containers that can be brought inside during the winter months, providing color all year round, or by digging up tubers for storage during the cold season.
Planting Tips and Suggestions for Patio Gardens
Fibrous begonias should be re-potted each spring to the next size container until the optimal container is reached. Tuberous begonias are ready to be re-planted in the spring when little shoots begin to emerge. When potting any begonia the soil should be sprinkled with a hose nozzle around the roots and the container tapped vigorously to settle the soil. Do not tamp the soil around the roots. In areas where the humidity is low, sit containers on trays of moist pebbles or water.
Container gardens are more interesting if several different plants are set together. Choose plants with similar growing habits and needs. Some plants that are compatible with fibrous begonias are Fuschia, Petunia, Lobelia, and Geranium.
Gardeners with a growing affinity for the genus Begonia will be interested in the American Begonia Society where they’ll find discussions of begonia culture, information about new plants, and where to find demonstrations and shows.