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There are more than 1000 species of begonias that offer attractive leaves and flowers for the outdoor and indoor plant enthusiast alike. Fibrous, rooted begonias or wax begonias are probably the most common to gardeners. These plants have white, red, or pink colored flowers on green or red leaf varieties. They are grown as bedding plants in spring, similar to marigolds, impatiens and petunias. Although they are perennial in a warmer climate, most gardeners treat them as annual flowers.
Tuberous begonias are probably the second-most popular outdoor begonia for gardeners. These grow from underground tubers into upright or trailing plants with stunning clusters of flowers. They bloom in colors from white to deep red with many bicolored varieties, from late summer until fall. The tubers are usually dug and stored indoors for winter. Rex and other rhizomatous begonias are mostly grown as houseplants, or brought out to a deck or shady porch in a container, as soon as summer hits. They are grown for their showy leaves more than their small flowers. Some of these will creep along and spill over a pot edge.
Wax or fibrous begonias are best grown in annual flower gardens that get at least some afternoon shade. Newer varieties, such as 'Whopper', are more sun tolerant, but under warm summer conditions, too much sun can cause the leaves to burn and the plants to suffer. They grow best with cooler air temperatures. On the other extreme, wax begonias won't flower strongly if planted in deep shade.
There are many varieties and mixes of wax begonias available for sale in spring. Some examples are the ‘Ambassador Series’ begonia which 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. Wax begonias do well with other shade tolerant annuals such as impatiens, clown flowers, and coleus.
Ideal perennials to pair with wax begonias include lamium, brunnera and small hostas. Wax begonias do beautifully in containers, too; consider putting together a container combination of wax and Rex begonias to display their attractive leaves and colorful flowers side-by-side.
Tuberous begonias are stars all by themselves. Although you could pair them with creeping annuals, such as alyssum and lobelia, they are so stunning when in full flower they need little help. Varieties are often just named for their flower color such as white, orange, peach, scarlet and apricot. The 'Non-Stop Series' features a group of colorful tuberous begonias that have large, double, flowers that bloom, you guessed it, non-stop.
'Picotee' begonias feature attractive flowers that are edged in a deeper colors. The 'Pin-Up Series' has single solid colored yellow flowers with fiery red edges. The flowers of many of these tuberous begonias are so large and interesting that one way to display them is to pick individual blooms and float them in a shallow bowl of water like you would a peony or camellia blossom.
The most beautiful tuberous begonia containers are often found in greenhouses or on protected porches and patios. That gives you the idea how sensitive they are to wind, rain and cold. Although they're shade tolerant, they do need enough morning sun to flower their best. Although they like a consistently moist soil, overly wet conditions will cause the stems to rot.
While Rex and Angel Wing begonias like humid conditions found in the tropics, tuberous begonias are native to the high Andes and like a cool, drier environment. Their leaves and flowers will develop powdery mildew disease if kept too wet.
Tuberous begonias grow from tubers and, in all but frost-free areas, these tubers need to be dug and stored in winter. Here's how:
After frost has killed back the tops, dig the tubers from the ground or container and leave some soil on the roots. After the soil dries, break the stems free of the tubers and remove the excess soil. Let cure for one week in a warm, dry location out of direct sun. Store throughout winter in flat containers filled with dry peat moss or sand in a 40F to 50F room.
Fancy leaf begonias, such as Rex and Angel Wing, make excellent houseplants because they don't need flowers for them to be so showy. The unusual textured, colored and shaped leaves add interest to a table or windowsill.
But don't limit yourself to just growing them indoors. In the garden they pair well with other shade lovers such as New Guinea impatiens, coleus and wandering jew. Some interesting selections are 'Stained Glass' with its eye popping, large red leaves with silver edging. 'Cowardly Lion' has unique chocolate colored leaves tinged in green. 'Fireworks' features a combination of black metallic silver and red all in one leaf.
Another nice feature of the Rex begonias is that they can be propagated easily by division, or stem and leaf cuttings. This allows you to make new plants to add to your collection or give away as gifts. Plus, once your begonia gets too big outdoors and becomes hard to bring indoors in winter, you can propagate a smaller version that is easier to manage.
About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.
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