Begonias are flamboyant, mostly tender perennials used in bedding, pots and hanging baskets. They have a reputation for being a little old-fashioned, but the bold new varieties are very different from the luscious plants traditionally used in bedding systems. Some have masses of long-lasting, showy flowers in neon hues that are great for pots and hanging baskets, while others are grown for their spectacular, eye-catching foliage. All begonias do best in direct sun, so are a welcome addition to a shady patio or border.
Tuberous begonias are grown from round, fleshy tubers. They have large, showy flowers in bright shades of pink, yellow, orange, red and white, all summer and into fall. They make excellent pots and hanging basket plants, as some of them trail. Because they will not survive cold weather, the tubers are often planted as annuals each year, or dug up and stored indoors for the winter.
Fibrous begonias, as the name suggests, have a typical root ball of thin, fibrous roots. They include the dwarf bed types, known as wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens) and tend to have smaller leaves and flowers. They can be grown in containers and window boxes or as bedding plants at the front of a shady border. They are usually treated as annuals and discarded at the end of the season.
Hardy begonias can be left in the ground in winter in sheltered, warm locations. The most common type found in the UK is Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana.
Leaf begonias are grown for their spectacular leaves, which come in a variety of shapes, colors and patterns. They include the cane types (with upright stems that have different segments, like a bamboo cane, also known as angel wing begonias thanks to their beautiful leaves). They are popular as houseplants but are increasingly grown outdoors in summer, where they will add a jungle, exotic look to a patio or shady border. Rex begonia (Begonia rex) has the showiest leaves of all, while Begonia luxurians, the palm leaf begonia, looks like a palm tree and can grow to 3 meters tall.
How to grow begonias
Grow begonias in peat-free, multipurpose compost in dappled sun to partial shade. Plant tuberous begonia tubers in spring. Only plant begonias outside in May, when no more frosts are expected. Water regularly and feed weekly with a high potassium fertilizer such as tomato feed. In the fall, dig up the tuber begonia and store the tubers in a cool, frost-free place for the winter. Bring fibrous types indoors over the winter, or treat as annuals and toss on the compost pile. Leaf begonias are grown as houseplants but can enjoy time outside in the summer.
Tuberous begonias are ideal for growing in pots and hanging baskets. They have rather fragile stems and heavy flowers, so grow them in a sheltered spot. Flowers fade very quickly if they are too warm. Fibrous rooted begonias can be packed quite tightly in mixed summer displays of other bedding plants.
Leaf begonias are best grown as houseplants, in dappled shade. They will enjoy a holiday in the garden in the summer, in dappled shade.
How to plant begonias
How to Grow Begonias – Planting Begonia Tubers
In March or April, you can buy begonia tubers at the garden center or online. Plant the tubers in individual pots or in a seed tray with the hollow side up. Plant 2.5cm deep and store in a warm place at least 18°C. When the leaves start to appear, repot into larger pots filled with John Innes No. 2 compost or peat-free multi-purpose compost.
How to plant begonia plants in pots
Harden off the plants before planting them out in the garden in May, when no further frost is expected. You can also buy tuberous begonias as fully grown plants, although this is a more expensive option.
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