Begonias are one of those flowers that everyone recognizes for their unique leaf shapes and lovely blooms. They’re frequently seen as houseplants, but growing begonias outdoors is a great way to give a shady area of your garden a bright spot of color.
Prized for their long-lasting coloring, begonias are even more valued for their lovely single and double blossoms, which are abundant when given the right conditions. Choose a variety with a lot of frill or more demure petals.
This tropical plant is found in South and Central America, Africa and parts of Asia, and were first named in the 1700s by French botanist Charles Plumier. The are many varieties of begonias, including cane, shrub, semperflorens and rex cultorum, but when most people think of begonias, they think of tuberous begonias.
You can find these plants in your local nursery, but you can also grow them by purchasing tubers that look like brown, dried mushroom caps. Growth comes from the concave side, so take care when you are planting them (see below).
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Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Begonias
- Gorgeous shade plant in vibrant colors
- Grows from tubers; should be planted in spring after all danger of frost is gone
- Tubers are not winter-hardy in colder climates
- Provide rich soil, regular water and protection from wind
- Pests and diseases include whitefly and various types of fungus
Sunlight: Shade, no full sun
Maturity: 3-4 months from planting to bloom
Height: 6-18 inches
Spacing: 2-3 inches in containers
Choose a shady, protected spot that won’t get too dry. A place with morning sun and light breeze is ideal, since begonias will scorch if they have too much sun or wind.
Whether you’re planting in containers or an outdoor site, choose well-draining soil that’s on the acidic side. Supplement with compost and peat moss if your soil is poor or heavy, or use a container mix that has a high peat moss content.
Like all tropical plants, begonias need warm temperatures, so only plant outdoors once all danger of frost has passed but before hot weather hits. You can start tubers indoors 8 weeks before transplanting so blooms will appear sooner.
Keep soil moist, but overwatering can damage the tuber and encourage mildew.
How to Plant
For containers, get tubers started by filling a pot or window box with a quality mix, then dig holes about 2 inches deep and 2-4 inches apart. Place tubers hollow side up, cover with soil and water. Make sure not to overwater or tubers will rot.
When planting outside, make sure all danger of frost has passed. Dig holes about 8 inches apart (this tool makes it easy) and 2-3 inches deep. Do not plant too deeply. Make sure to plant the tubers with the hollow side up. Cover with soil, water lightly, and wait to see new growth until you begin watering regularly.
Once the plants start blooming, pinch off fading flowers to encourage branching and new growth.
In colder climates, tubers will not survive the winter, so you need to dig them up to preserve them.
Toward the end of the growing season, watch plants carefully. When the lower leaves begin to turn yellow, stop regular watering and let the plant die back a bit. Dig up the entire plant, then set it on newspaper, a rack or a crate to completely dry out for a few weeks.
Next, clean off any remaining plant material or soil from the tubers, discard any tubers that look damaged and pack the healthy ones away in a box between layers of newspaper. Do not use plastic, which encourages mildew. Store them at a cool temperature that stays above freezing. 40-45º F is ideal.
In the spring, you can take them out of storage 8 weeks before the last frost to start them indoors or wait until after the last frost to plant outside.
Insect & Disease Problems
Pests and diseases seem to attack begonias when they are being overwatered, so head off potential problems by watering when soil is dry and providing adequate circulation.
The most common pest is whitefly, which can be treated with natural pesticides or insect predators like ladybugs or whitefly parasites. You may also see botrytis (gray mold), powdery mildew, botrytis, leaf spot, and root, stem and leaf rot. Many types of mildew, leaf spots and blight can be remedied using a liquid copper spray.
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