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How to Grow: Begonia
Learn how to grow wax begonias including information on the different varieties.
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part sun, part shade
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Begonias bloom summer until frost in colors such as white, pink, coral, salmon, and red
Mature Height x Spread
6 to 24 inches x 12 to 18 inches
attracts beneficial insects
Begonias are a broad group of shade-loving flowers. The wax-leafed begonia is probably the most popular annual for shade gardens and container growing. They’re one of the few annual plants that flower well in part shade. Not only are the flowers attractive in shades of white, pink, and red, but some varieties have red or bronze-tinged, glossy leaves making them an attractive plant even when they aren’t in flower. This low growing plant will flower right up to frost. Move begonias indoors to grow as a houseplant. They will continue flowering in a sunny window.
Another popular type of begonia for gardens is the tuberose begonia. I’ll cover those in the bulb section of this book.
Where, When and How to Plant
While you can grow wax begonias from seed started indoors 12 weeks before your last frost date, most home gardeners prefer to buy transplants from the local garden center. Although they grow well in shade, too much shade will inhibit flowering. Ideally they will get a few hours of morning sun to flower best. Plant seedlings in well-drained, moist soil in a part sun or shade location after all danger of frost has passed. Space plants 8 inches apart in beds and closer together in containers.
Keep the plants well watered. Be careful not to overwater. Overwatered begonia stems and roots can often rot during our humid, sometimes rainy summers, . Water more frequently when grown in hanging baskets or containers. Fertilize monthly with an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Deadhead spent flowers on your begonia plants and remove any rotting stems if they get overwatered. Watch for slugs and snails on the foliage during wet weather and set up traps or spread iron phosphate organic baits to protect your plants.
Companion Planting and Design
Wax begonias are often seen as the classic hanging basket or container plant. The small plants flower quickly and never get too large for their container. Hang the baskets where they get some sun and away from the roof edge where they might get drown in water during a storm. In the garden, plant wax begonias under trees or in front of shady flower or shrub borders to brighten up a dark area. They look best planted together in masses to create a flowering, ground cover effect.
The ‘Ambassador Series’ begonia features a compact, early flowering mix of red, pink and white flowering plants. The ‘Big Series’ features larger flowers and plants with bronze or green leaves. ‘Whopper Series’ is a new sun-tolerant wax begonia that blooms as well in full sun as shade in our region and can grow to 24 inches tall.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
This common flower originated in Central and South American. It was discovered by the Franciscan monk, Charles Plumier, who named it after his favorite botanist, Michel Begon. But it’s only been grown in Europe since the 1700s. Once there, it quickly became popular for its ease in growing and breeding. Gardeners loved the wide variety of flower and leaf shapes, colors and sizes. We know it as the begonia.
There are basically three different types of begonias. Fibrous rooted begonias, such as the wax begonia are common in garden centers. Angel wing begonias have colorful leaves and are popular. Rhizomatous begonias, such as Rex begonias, have insignificant flowers, but showy leaves. Tuberous begonias grow from bulbs producing brightly colored, dramatic flowers. There are trailing and upright types of each kind begonia group. Although grown mostly for show, begonias have also been used medicinally to disinfect wounds, stop swelling and relieve tooth aches. Begonias are even edible. The leaves are high in vitamin C and the stems of tuberous begonias. Some gardeners say the leaves taste like rhubarb.
Traditionally begonias grow best in a shady, moist environment. But with new heat and sun tolerant varieties, such as ‘Whopper’, many grow fine in full sun. Begonias need well drained soil or they will easily rot. Tuberous begonias are best planted in hanging baskets in a protected location. Rain and wind can damage the leaves and delicate flowers. Rhizomatous begonias make great houseplants for their showy leaves. These are also easy to propagate by dividing the pups that develop off the mother plant or taking and rooting leaf cuttings.