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Growing Begonias – Planting, Care, Propagation, Feeding and more
Last Updated on January 21, 2020 by John
Begonias are wonderful flowers no matter the type of garden you have. You can grow them in a garden bed, put them in a hanging basket, or use them in containers. They will give your garden continuous colour all summer long well into the first frost. The best part is they grow well in partial shade so you don’t have to worry if your garden isn’t full of ample sunlight at all hours and they are relatively drought-tolerant too.
Originally from South and Central America as well as parts of Africa, some types of begonias will grow up to 50cm in warm temperatures with partial shade or sunny spots, so long as you give them adequate water. They need moisture-retentive soil, regular fertilizer to promote more flowering, and adequate protection against some common pests.
Begonias are found in public parks because of the continuous colour they provide and in fact, there are over 900 species. With over 900 species there are certain varieties that can be grown outdoors in the Uk over summer. Begonia flowers range in colour from oranges and yellows too intense reds, pink’s, even white. The colour is actually from the sepals, not from the petals. What’s more, you can find begonias with variegated foliage, verdant foliage, or bronze foliage.
As mentioned there are over 900 types. So, it can be a little overwhelming when you go to a garden centre and you look at the labels with a complex description. When you look at these labels you might see terms like “picotee” which simply means the sepals have edges that stand in contrast to the main colour of the flower. But this is only applied if the colours blend. If it’s thought that the colours don’t blend, the term “marginata” is used to describe the same thing. If you see the term “fimbriata” it simply means that these sepals are fringed. The term “pendula” Is applied to varieties that grow in a trailing fashion, those that are best for hanging baskets.
There are many hybrids and cultivars available because of how easy it is to produce hybrids. That said there are many hybrids that have received an Award of Garden Merit from The Royal Horticultural Society which are a wonderful starting point for anyone looking, to begin with begonias.
Main types of begonias
Begonias semperflorens (Bedding begonias)
Begonia semperflorens are excellent bedding plants that make small compact plants and produce brightly coloured tiny flowers that really stand out from the contrasting foliage which is usually either green, bronze or mixed. They are perfect for flower beds, borders but are also a good choice for patio pots, containers and even wall troughs and hanging baskets. They are usually sold on garden centres in packs of 6 or more in a single tray. There are one of the most affordable types of begonias.
Non-stop begonias (Ideal for containers)
Nonstop begonias are another popular type of begonia that form compact plants with large green or bronze foliage and stunning double flowers from late spring/early summer onwards. They come in a range of flower colours from brilliant white to crimson red, yellow, orange and finally pink. They prefer moist well-drained soil but grow well in sheltered or exposed areas. These are perfect for borders but they are commonly planted in containers where the displays are amazing. This is one of the types of begonias where it well-worth keeping the tubers over winter as they get bigger and bigger every year.
Trailing begonias (Best for hanging baskets)
For a really dramatic display, trailing begonia are amazing begonias like no other. With a broad diversity of colours to suit any garden design and long-lasting flowers, they will flower prolifically until the first frost which is usually around October. Perfect for hanging baskets and window, they will quickly fill out into any space and trailing over the sides. A must for any hanging baskets, worth well-planted alone in a hanging basket or mixed with other plants.
Starting off begonias
Starting off begonias is not as frightening as it might seem. In general, tuberous begonias are best for growing in containers or inside a hanging basket. When you get started with these you buy them as dormant tubers anytime between January and March. The fibrous rooted begonias are those you can plant in containers or directly into the ground and these can be found in the form of seeds or garden ready plants.
Do not plant tubers that are mouldy or damaged
Be dormant tubers will grow quickly into flowering plants and give you very large specimens but if you see any mouldy tubers or damaged tubers they need to be rejected immediately.
Starting begonias before planting outdoors
When you are ready to start planting your begonias outdoors, you should be prepared in March. Dormant tubers need to be placed into individual pots, smaller tubers can be started in 9cm poys while larger tubers are better started in 1 litre or 13cm pots. Each of which should be filled halfway with a mixture of compost that is peat-free, multi-purpose. Place the tuber directly onto the surface setting the hollow side facing up. This will mean the bottom half is covered at which point you want to water it and then place the pot in a propagator or a very bright area in your home like your window sill.
Within a few weeks, you should see buds emerging and once you see shoots spanning 3cm you can rub away all but the strongest three. At that point, gradually top off the pot with more compost out of just one centimetre at a time until the compost has filled just below the top of the pot. Once you see the pot is full it’s time to add some liquid tomato fertilizer and water to give them the best start.
Planting begonias outdoors
Once you reach this stage and all danger of frost is over which is usually around May for most parts of the Uk, you can place your tubers, your nursery bought plants, or your plugs outside into containers or into the ground. Space them 20-30cm apart if you are growing them in your garden.
Growing begonias in pots
If you are growing begonias in pots, you would use the same starting off process as mentioned above and once the tubers reach the appropriate size you simply transplant them to their final pot with that same mixture of compost. Top it off with water and fertilizer the same as you would a begonia in the ground.
Most begonia varieties need light shade but there are a few that tolerate sunshine and a few that thrive in the shadiest of conditions. It’s important to know which variety you have so that you know where to place your pots, you’re hanging baskets, or where to grow them in the ground.
Water early morning or evening only to prevent burning the leaves
In terms of watering, begonias are quite thirsty and during dry weather, you will need to water daily especially if your plants are in containers or baskets. You should water either in the early morning or in the early evening. Try to avoid getting water on the leaves as you can easily burn the leaves. If you are growing your begonias in a border in your garden, water them frequently but don’t overwater and try to avoid wetting the foliage. Never water them in direct sunshine as this will result in scorched leaves; any drop of water that’s left on the leaves works effectively as a magnifying glass and allows the sun to damage the leaves severely. This is actually one of the biggest problems with begonias which is why it’s better to water early morning or evening so the leaves have time to dry before the sun really gets up in the afternoon.
Begonias need rich, well-drained soil that is never constantly wet but also never dried completely. To that end, you want to reduce the frequency and intensity of your watering once September hits.
Feeding begonias for a better display of flowers
If you have begonias in containers or hanging baskets give them a weekly watering of liquid tomato fertilizer to help promote better flowering. Stop the feeding come September. If you are growing begonias directly in the ground you can also regularly apply fertiliser to promote more flowering when feeding other plants around your garden.
Repotting begonias in pots
Growing your begonias in containers might result in a situation where a given plant has outgrown its available space. If this happens you might need to repot your begonia into a slightly larger container. Make sure that any container you have has generously proportioned drainage holes and high-quality compost with extra grit for improved drainage.
Begonias are perennials even though many people treat them as half-hardy annuals. That means you can overwinter them but most people don’t take the time to do so. In order to do this you have to lift the tubers out of the ground before the first frost, but before you can do that you have to stop watering weeks in advance, and once they are removed you have to clean them, dry them, and store them at a regularly maintained at a temperature around 7 degrees Celsius but they usually survive if left in a cold greenhouse with some insulation.
How to store tubers over winter
Again this is an easy habit to form and once you’ve done it the first time it’s not nearly as challenging. When you store the dry tubers you need to leave them a long flat pan like a cooking tray in barely moist sand and keep them in a frost-free area. You should occasionally moisten the sand so that the tubers do not shrivel.
Deadheading and pruning begonias
Begonias do not typically need regular pruning. However like all flowers if you see that stems have been damaged by the wind or are otherwise dead, you should remove them. There are certain varieties that will flower for a significantly longer length of time if you regularly deadhead. To do this you simply remove any spent flowers directly underneath the flower bud as you would any other bedding plant so that your begonias can allocate energy elsewhere.
You can propagate begonias using cuttings or division. However, not all specimens will respond well especially if they have been grown in baskets. Tuberous begonias are easily propagated by division. The tubers begin in a normal State and eventually shoots up here and you can cut these tubers into sections so that each section has one bud and some of the roots. If you do this you will have to overwinter tubers in order for them to become flowering plants the following summer.
If you choose to propagate with cuttings, you can take stem cuttings 10 centimetres in length and remove the heel of the tuber. These will become a fully developed plant if planted around April and grown on. You can grow stem cuttings inside a sandy, rooting compost if you have a heating mat underneath that maintains a temperature around twenty degrees Celsius.
Growing begonias from seed
Certain varieties can be purchased as seeds. Semperflorens begonias which are bedding begonias can be planted directly into the ground in February or March but it is best to propagate them indoors in a covered tray or pot until germination occurs. Once that happens you can move them to slightly larger pots or bedding trays as they outgrow that you can move them again into pots that are 13 centimetres, before moving them to their final home.
Begonias typically have problems that result from overly wet conditions or from exposure to far too much direct sunlight which burns the leaves if they get wet. In terms of pests, they can occasionally suffer from things like mites, aphids, or caterpillars but they are fairly slug resistant which is the good news.
These can be removed by spraying the plant down with a stream of water, by letting loose natural predators such as ladybugs, or by using a pesticide which you can buy from most good garden centres or nurseries. In terms of diseases begonias can suffer from leaf spot, root rot, or powdery mildew all three of which are negated buy proper drainage and the correct amount of watering. The lesson here is to be careful not to overwater, it’s better they dry out a little between watering than being too wet.
Some of our favourite begonias
If you want unique leaves that are green with orange margins, look at the illumination series. These come in a range of colours that are great for hanging baskets. You can enjoy semi-double flowers like the illumination orange which are dark orange with red stems.
If you want flowers all year round, the begonia non-stop series refers to a set of hybrids that bloom all year round. These grow in a compact size is no more than 20cm and flower continuously from June all the way through October. You can find almost any colour you want. The non-stop white variety, for example, has beautiful white flowers that reach up to 7 centimetres in diameter each and stand juxtaposed by the rich green foliage. These are great for containers, pots, and window boxes.
The Ambassador series refers to a set of begonias that are free-flowering and can reach up to 20 centimeters in size. These are known for the yellow stamens, pink flowers, and red edged foliage.
The begonia million kisses have a semi-trailing design making them perfect for large containers or hanging baskets. They will reach up to 45cm in size and flower all summer well into October with pale pink or bright red pendulous flowers that appear a long pink stem. If you are quite busy in the summer and don’t have time for deadheading, these particular plants do not require regular deadheading and therefore is a superb solution.
Begonia Tiger paws offers rounded leaves that have large markings on them. This is a difficult variety to grow and is not something you should tackle your first year because it has to be grown under glass for the majority of the year, however if you have a greenhouse and you are up for the challenge, rest assured that come summertime you can move the tiger paws outside and enjoy sprays of light pink flowers.
Begonia munchkin is one that prefers the hotter of temperatures, around 20 degrees Celsius but it can be grown as a bushy perennial in the warmest part of Summer. They take on a bronze shade with green veins and produce clusters of small pink flowers.
Begonia Orange rubra is better for window boxes or hanging baskets. It will grow up to 75cm and the foliage is bright green with bright orange flowers. This is actually the best option for shady areas because it will not do well in direct sunlight.
If you are looking for a begonia to grow inside, you can choose the Ricky Minter begonia which has deeply frilled leaves in a rich olive green marked by yellow veins and red underbellies. This begonia produces smaller richly pink flowers.
Another popular option is the Mikado, a begonia that is very tender but perfectly suited for summertime. It is known for having variegated leaves which take on deep red, purple, and dark green colours. This Evergreen begonia produces small pink flowers in the spring and summer.
Burle Marx is a cultivar that is best known because of the variegated dark green leaves it has with brown highlights. The flowers are either white or light pink and grow in a beautiful cluster. This whole plant reaches no more than 30 centimetres in height at full maturity.
The begonia Marmaduke is a bushier plant intended or smaller gardens reaching only 50cm in height. It has yellowish-green leaves that are an oval-shape, spotted with red and brown. At the end of spring, you will see collections of smaller, pink flowers.
Begonia Irene Nuss is an evergreen perennial with erect stems. The leaves take on a green bronze shade on top with a red shade underneath. It will grow up to 1.5 m in total with pink flowers that take on bell-shaped clusters.