Growing Begonias

Showy Blooms Brighten Shady Gardens

Double begonias, such as these Double Pastel Begonias, have twice the usual number of petals—and they thrive in shade.

Of the more than 1,000 species of begonias known to man, the tuberous begonias must be considered the most stunning. With up to 8-inch, showy flowers that bloom from summer to fall, tuberous begonias provide non-stop color when planted in containers and beds.

Breeders have created various classes of tuberous begonias, which are distinguished by the flower's form. Flower color ranges from pure white to the deepest crimson. There are even picotee types that feature contrasting colors on the petal edges. The type you choose to grow is purely a matter of personal taste.

The camellia-type tuberous begonias, such as Double Pastel Begonias, feature double, vividly-colored, 6-inch flowers. The plants grow 12 to 15 inches tall and look stunning planted alone in large containers.

Picotee begonias, such as those found in the Picotee Begonia Mix, feature two-tone flowers on 12- to 14-inch-tall plants. They look especially nice when planted with solid-colored, double begonias.

Cascading varieties, such as the scarlet-colored, single-flowered 'Skaugum' and the cream-colored, double-flowered 'Champagne', feature 10- to 12-inch-tall plants that look beautiful planted in baskets hung on decks or patios, or suspended from the branches of a large tree.

Carnation-type begonias, such as those found in the Carnation Begonia Mixture, have 4-inch fringed flowers in colors ranging from white to red. Growing a mere 1 foot tall, this group works well when planted to edge a walk or when combined in small flower beds with other annuals, such as ageratum and dusty miller.

Planting and Care

Tuberous begonias are native to high altitudes growing conditions in the Andes Mountains. They perform best when grown in a similar environment with high humidity and cool nights. Tuberous begonias do not grow well in hot, arid environments without special care. Though they need to be shaded from hot sunlight, they do need some sun to flower best. Morning light or light that is filtered through leaves or a lattice roof is best.

It may take up to three months from planting the tuber to full bloom, so tubers should be started indoors at least a month before the last frost date. Set tubers 1 inch apart, hollow side up, in shallow pots filled with moistened potting soil in a 70-degree room. Cover each tuber with about an inch of potting soil. Water thoroughly only once to stimulate growth, but do not let the soil dry out completely. Again, a humid environment is best.

Once the sprouts are 1 to 2 inches long, re-pot the tubers in 6-inch pots, or their permanent containers. Use a light, moisture-retentive growing mix and cover the tubers with no more than 2 inches of soil. To produce fewer, but larger flowers, pinch off all but a few of the young stems. For a bushier plant, allow all the buds to develop into stems.

After danger of frost has passed, move containers to a partly shaded outdoor location away from any strong winds. If planting in beds, set begonias 8 to 12 inches apart. Plant in a location that gets early-morning or late-afternoon sun. Fertilize regularly. Keep containers moist, but avoid overwatering, which may cause the begonia stems to rot. Begonia foliage should be kept as dry as possible. Overhead watering can lead to powdery mildew disease, so use drip irrigation or self-watering containers for best results.

Deadhead plants regularly to reduce the threat of disease. For an exotic effect, snip a flower and float it in a bowl of water indoors.

Tuberous begonias are cold sensitive and will survive outdoors only in frost-free areas of USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10. In most areas, come fall before frost has nipped the plants, remove tubers from containers or beds and let them dry in an airy, shady place indoors. After the tops dry, remove them and store the tubers in dry peat moss in a cool, dark place with temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees F. In late spring, begin the cycle again starting tubers indoors about a month before last frost.

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