Beautiful begonias a favorite in gardener’s containers


Begonias are native to moist subtropical and tropical areas of the world — South and Central America, southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

With more than 1,800 species, begonias are some of the most common flowering plants and favorites in containers at our house.

I’ve grown several of the most popular kinds of begonias beginning with wax begonias in containers at my first apartment.

These shiny-leafed plants are frequently planted in masses in bedding displays.

Although most of us consider them summer annuals, they’ll grow year-round in warm areas.

They’re classified as semperflorens types by the American Begonia Society, which groups begonias by their growth habit rather than their horticultural designations.

Our Port garden has two kinds of begonias.

The most inconspicuous is Begonia grandis, which is marginally hardy in our zone. It’s a shade plant native to China.

I grow mine under the cover of the magnolia in the back yard and put pine boughs over the area as winter mulch.

I frequently think I’ve lost the plants, but in late spring I’ll see signs of bright green shoots coming out of the soil.

The large leaves almost cover the small pink flowers that develop in late August or September.

To be honest, I’m not sure if my plants survive year to year or if I’m actually getting new seedlings every spring. Whatever the case, I’m always happy to spot them.

Our other begonias are from the Begonia Society’s most popular group — tuberous begonias.

They’re scarlet-flowered Begonia boliviensis, or Bolivian begonias. They’re native to rocky stream sides in the eastern Andes mountains. I’ve had the same plants for four years now.

By late autumn, the flower production has already slowed, so the stems are weak.

I wait and leave them outdoors until a light frost kills the foliage, then I pull off the top growth and unearth the tubers.

I dry them in the garage on a pile of crumpled newspapers and then store the tubers between layers of paper in a cardboard box in the coolest part of the basement.

The tubers stay in the box until sprouts appear from the top of them in the early spring. Then I pot them and put them in a sunny window or under lights in the basement until it’s warm enough (in the high 50s or 60s) to take the containers outdoors.

After four years, our original two bolivian begonias are about 3 feet tall and more than 5 feet wide.

They’re in 15-inch pots this year, so the highest flowers are almost at my eye height. The tubers are more than a foot in diameter now.

The tubers of trailing and fancy begonias are just as easy to overwinter. Just be sure the tubers are completely dried out before storing them. Wine boxes are popular storage containers. Just wrap the tuber in a sheet of paper and drop it into one of the convenient sections.

Begonias are also popular house plants. Angel-wing or dragon-wing begonias are considered cane types by the Begonia Society. Rex begonias, grown for their colorful foliage, are Rhizomatous. They’re long-lived plants indoors if they aren’t over-watered. The plants are happy in bright filtered light.



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