How to grow and care for a begonia
With patterned leaves and brightly coloured flowers, a begonia will be a welcome addition to your garden, whether it is in a pot, hanging basket or garden bed.
What you need to know about a begonia
Name: begonia, wax begonia, bedding begonia, rex begonia, Begonia sp
Height: varies according to type, from 15cm–2m
Foliage: olive to bright green, bronze to red. Often beautifully marked and covered in fine hairs. Colour, texture and shape depends on variety.
Climate: tropical and sub-tropical, temperate with protection, frost tender. Will grow in other regions as summer annual, house plant or in glasshouse.
Soil: prefers deep, well-drained soil rich in organic matter or compost. Requires good drainage, as roots will readily rot if the soil is too wet. Most grow well in pots that are kept moist.
Position: begonias will grow in a range of positions: full sun, shade or semi shade, depending on type.
Flowering: showy, much-prized flowers in shades of red, pink, white, orange and yellow.
Feeding: feed year-round when actively growing, following the recommendations on the pack.
Watering: keep soil or potting mix moist but not wet. Mulch to maintain soil moisture.
Appearance and characteristics of a begonia
Tuberous begonia: upright variety, great for pots, and the cascading variety looks lovely in hanging baskets. Grow this plant in dappled shade in the garden or in the shade house to enjoy its large coloured blooms.
Trailing begonia: perfect for hanging baskets or in the garden, trained to grow up a post or trellis. Some can grow to 2m or more. Some varieties flower throughout the year with pink or white flowers. Regular pruning will keep them in shape.
Semperflorens: small bushy plant commonly known as bedding begonia. Its leaves can be bronze, green or variegated. Its flowers are white, pink or red, and it rarely grows more than 30cm.You’ve probably seen semperflorens mass planted in public parks and gardens.
Rhizomatous begonia: forms a rhizome, which is a thickened stem that supplies water and food. The rhizome grows roots from the bottom and leaves and flowers from the top.When flowering finishes the rhizomes can be pruned and repotted.
Cane-like begonia: has tall bamboo-like stems and wing-shaped leaves, often with striking markings, and large hanging clusters of flowers that can last for months. Grows well in pots and is quite cold-hardy, but needs staking.
Elatior begonia: short-lived, indoor plant with flowers in pastel shades of pink, apricot, peach, lemon and white and heart-shaped leaves. Usually available in pots.
How to propagate a begonia
It is easy to propagate a begonia by cuttings. You can cut a leaf into wedges, dip it into plant cutting powder and place on a tray of moist seed-raising mix. Hold the cuttings in place with wire or toothpicks. Put the tray in a light spot, keep moist and in around eight weeks you’ll have new plants.
You can also put 10–15cm stem cuttings in a jar of water and they’ll form roots. When the roots are 4–5cm long, pot your new plants in a free draining, light potting mix.
Caring for a begonia
All begonias hate wet feet—that is, they don’t like the soil or potting mix to be continually wet. Depending on the season, a good watering every 7–10 days should be enough, though some plants may need a little water every day during warmer weather.
It is important that the pots don’t dry out. Overwatering is a common problem and can lead to rot, so it is best to pour water into the saucer the pot is sitting in, rather than directly into the pot. Make sure your plant has good air flow and is only watered when the top of the soil is dry to the touch, and avoid overhead watering.
Begonias like most fertilisers, especially a slow-release weekly feed in spring. Just follow the recommended application rate on the package.
Diseases and pests
There are a few pests and diseases you need to watch for. Powdery mildew is the most common, but this is easily treated—just spray with fungicide and then provide good air circulation.
Common pests affecting a begonia are caterpillars, snails and aphids. Pick them off by hand if the infestation is small, or check out our range of pest and disease control.
If you like this then try
Impatiens: a brightly-flowered, colourful annual for shady gardens or pots.
Torenia: a bushy annual border plant with flowers in multiple colours and shades.
Caladium: a tropical-like plant with multi-coloured red, white, pink or green foliage.
Lysimachia: grow as a dense, mat-forming ground cover with bright green leaves and yellow flowers in summer.
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