It’s easy to get lost in the never-ending Begonia group. Learning just the three most prevalent kinds can be helpful for begonia lovers.
Every spring, I shop for the little six-packs of bedding flowers, Begonia x semperflorens, that are sold as annuals. These begonias are useful in flower beds and do especially well in containers, even concrete containers.
Begonia x tuberhybrida, better known as tuberous begonia, has bulbs/tubers that are planted in late winter for really showy flowers in spring. To stay beautiful all summer, tuberous begonias require a bit more care than the semperflorens.
Both of these kinds are grown for their continuous flowers and can be easily found in local nurseries every spring. They are usually used as annuals, but are actually tender perennials. In the past, pots of begonias of any kind were brought inside for the winter. They were just one of our many, treasured, pass-a-long plants.
The third kind of begonia is the one we grow, not for pretty flowers, but for pretty foliage. Pretty foliage year-round. They can live outside, if protected, in summer, but the rest of the year, they need to be inside. The most well-known of these begonias is an old pass-a-long plant, Begonia Rex.
The “Iron Cross”, Begonia masoniana, is another that has been passed down through time. Most of the foliage begonias will flower in late winter or early spring, but the flowers are usually insignificant. These plants have a huge range of leaf color patterns, shapes, sizes, and textures. Leaf colors of white, silver, pink, purple, red, yellow and green can be found, with a thickness that can range from “thin as paper” to “thick as leather.”
Some have a glossy sheen, some are hairy. Last winter, I purchased a small plant with very small wine and green, patterned, hairy leaves. It was labeled “Eyelash Begonia”. It had a cloud of pinkish-white flowers held above the foliage. Wanting to know how to care for it, and what to expect of it, I finally learned it is Begonia browerae, “Tiger”. Similar to a Rex, it requires the same conditions.
Foliage begonias are sensitive to temperature changes, and their range is about 60 to 72 degrees in winter. Avoid hot or cold drafts. They don’t like hot, dry conditions. Provide enough humidity, but not too much is the rule.
Humidity in the home can be monitored by how well these plants are doing. If they get dry edges, then it’s past time to check the humidity level.
I feel a kindred spirit to these plants, because they like the same inside conditions that I do. I place glass jars of water on the heating vents in winter, the water evaporates, and the plants stay healthy. Grouping plants also helps with humidity.
No fertilizer is the rule in fall and winter. Water sparingly. Let the soil be slightly dry between watering to prevent crown rot. An east window with lots of indirect sunlight will keep them happy and colorful.
I brought a Rex Begonia home last month from the gardening meeting. It was just the one leaf that had been used for propagation. In one month, it has produced two new leaves of frilly reddish-purple, silver, and green. So grateful it was still waiting to be chosen when my turn came for a door prize.
Gardening Partners is a non-profit founded in 2003 to serve Dickson County with gardening education and advice. Readers may submit gardening questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, on the website: www.gardening.partners, or by mail: PO Box 471 Dickson TN 37056