Begonia plants not only bloom for a long time, they are also relatively undemanding and do not require a lot of light. Here’s how to plant and care for these popular balcony flowers.
Begonias (Begonia) is a genus of the Begoniaceae family which includes around 900 different species and varieties. Begonia plants originate from the tropical and sub-tropical areas along the equator and have been bred for around 200 years. Nowadays, depending on the species and variety, simple small or large double-flowers are vibrant in almost all colors - although you won’t find pure blue.
Appearance and Growth
Begonias can grow in very different shapes, depending on the species. There are hanging, upright, shrubby and climbing species which can be divided into seven larger groups: Stem Begonias, Tuberous Begonias, winter flowering Begonias, Shrub Begonias, Begonia Rex Hybrids, Begonia Semperflora hybrids, Rhizome Begonias. Tuberous Begonias are perennial plants, for example, which can also survive in poor weather conditions thanks to their tubers. The group of Tuberous Begonias has become so diverse, that they fulfil almost every design wish.
Even the Wax Begonia (Begonia-Semperflorens hybrids) are now extremely diverse. They only grow to around 9.84 inches tall and tolerate shade, heat, rain, wind and dry periods. And, withered pieces fall off by themselves, so there is no need for pruning. The leaves are either green or bronze colored to brown, which provides an exciting contrast to the pink, white and red flowers. By the way, the name of the Begoniaceae family refers to their brittle leaves and not to their frost resistance. Because if the temperatures drop below zero degrees, the plants that originate from Brazil will freeze to death.
Location and Substrate
Begonias generally prefer a semi-shady to shady location without direct midday sun. There are also some varieties, such as Begonia x Benariensis ‘Big Pink Green Leaf’, which tolerate both, the sun and the shade. Warm, fresh, loose and nutrient-rich soil is ideal.
Sowing and Planting
As wide as the variety of Begonia appearances may be: none of them tolerate waterlogging. They are planted in the middle of May in fresh potting soil and care is needed to ensure good water drainage in the pot. Instead of buying ready grown plants, you can grow Tuberous Begonia in February. They should only be brought outdoors after the winter period is over and frosts are no longer a threat. In balcony boxes they should be planted at a distance of 7.87 inches from one another, as Begonias are strong growers and a too dense an arrangement can easily lead to rotting.
Painted Leaf Begonia such as the Wax Begonia can be easily sown as seeds. The seeds are very fine and should be mixed with sand. This way it can be better spread when sowing. As Wax Begonias are light germinators, the seeds are only covered with a very thin layer of sand. Keep them well pressed with a board and keep them well moist. The shells should be covered with a transparent hood or film to retain the humidity.
Feeding regularly with nutrients through the season encourages Begonias to flower continuously, however they require less fertilizer than most other balcony flowers. It is best to fertilize them every 14 days with a liquid balcony flower fertilizer which is mixed in with the water. After sprouting you should pinch off the young shoots. This does delay the flowering but it makes the plants bushier.
Overwintering or Winter Protection
The green parts of the Begonia are removed in the fall and the bulbs are stored somewhere cool and dark. After overwintering indoors the bulbs are placed in a warm place inside from February. After the last frost, the plants can be brought outside again.
Begonias ensure a sensation, particularly with their garland shape. With their overhanging shoots saturated in sunny yellow, fiery orange and vivacious red, they are a real highlight in hanging baskets and balcony boxes. The selection of the Begonia species and varieties is huge. They differ in leaf and flower shape as well as in their growth. For hanging baskets and high containers, the hanging shapes are perfect, in balcony boxes and smaller pots, the upright growing varieties make a good impression - either solo or in combination with other balcony flowers. Varieties with small, single flowers survive heavy showers best.
But Begonia are not only pretty decorations in pots, plant boxes and hanging baskets. Some species are also suitable as bedding plants. Wax Begonias have been planted in beds, pots or on graves for more than 100 years. The ‘BIG’ Begonias (Begonia x Benariensis) are also something quite special. The grow to around 254 inches tall and look magnificent in containers with a rural charm, such as zinc baths or wicker baskets, as well as in borders. The character of ‘Summerwings’ Begonias comes across particularly well in hanging baskets and on plant columns.
Important Species and Varieties
The double-flowered blooms of variants from the Gumdrop series are reminiscent of Mini Roses. The strong Tuberous Begonias (Begonia x Tuberhybrida) are versatile, continuous bloomers. The colorful varieties are the descendants of plants which were introduced from the Andes in Peru and Bolivia in 1865. Their advantage: They have a preference for shady locations.
In addition to the traditional Wax and Tuberous Begonia, there are new, abundantly flowering varieties for all locations: Nowadays, variants of the ‘Summerwings’ Begonia are drawing attention to themselves. They are the result of crossing the undemanding Begonia Boliviensis. Whether in ‘Apricot Improved’, ‘Deep Red’, ‘Vanilla’ or ‘White’: The well-branched, predominantly orange-red and cream-coloured hanging forms flower reliably in the sun as well as in the shade. In hanging baskets and on planting columns their expressive growth form is particularly well shown. The varieties of the ‘Bellaconia’ series also flower abundantly and are happy in semi-shade. They bear half double-flowers reminiscent of Peonies on short, hanging shoots. The painted leaf Begonia and Polkadot Begonia are extravagant indoor plants.
Begonia are best propagated through pruning and dividing the tubers. For the propagation of cuttings, strong shoots with two to three leaves are used and placed in moist, nutrient-poor growing soil. You can cut the leaves in half if they take up too much space in the growing box. The cuttings will form roots very quickly at 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit on a light, off-sunny window ledge. However, root formation is also quite easy in a water glass.
Propagation through leaf cuttings is also productive: Simply remove a strong leaf from the mother plant and cut the protruding leaf veins on the underside with a sharp knife - but each vein only at one point. Then place the leaf upside down on the moist growing soil and weigh it down with a few small stones so that the cuttings have good contact with the substrate everywhere. Then cover the leaf with foil and keep the soil moist. New little plants will grow from the cuts after a few weeks, which can then be separated from the mother plant and pricked into individual pots.
Division of the bulbs is a simple method to propagate Tuberous Begonias. This has the advantage of creating stronger plants straight away, however, this type of propagation is not particularly productive. You cut the tubers into several pieces with a sharp knife when planting in the spring, whereby each piece should have at least one eye. The cut surface is rubbed in charcoal powder to protect it against rotting. Then place the tuber pieces in individual pots and water well.
Diseases and pests
The most common fungal disease is Powdery Mildew. This mainly occurs in Painted Leaf Begonias. Regularly remove wilting flowers and leaves to prevent fungal infections.
All species are occasionally attacked by rot fungi, all of which can be traced back to a substrate that is too moist in combination with too narrow planting and a too hot location. As a precaution, infested plants should be disposed of immediately before the fungi can infect other plants.
Begonias are occasionally infected by aphids or thunderbugs. A diffuse pattern of damage on leaves, shoots and flowers indicates soft-bodied mites . Occasionally, leaf damage can also occur from black vine weevils, which can be identified from the striking feeding damage along the leaf margins. The nocturnal beetles can be located and collected in the dark with a flashlight.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a Begonia look like?
Climbing, hanging, upright, sprawling or even shrub like: Begonias can grow very differently, depending on the species. The flower colors range from white to yellow or orange, to various pink and red tones. They are double or single-flowered, depending on the species. Tuberous Begonias have double-flowers, whereas Wax Begonias are single-flowered.
How tall do begonias grow?
The height a Begonia can reach depends on the species and variety. Wax Begonias do not grow taller than 10 inches. However, Tuberous Begonias can reach up to 16 inches tall.
When can Begonias be planted?
Begonias can be planted from mid-May in fresh potting soil. If you want grown plants from the garden center, you can plant Tuberous Begonias from February, for example.
Can begonias be pruned?
Begonias generally do not require pruning. However, young shoots should be sharpened immediately after budding to make the plant more bushy. You can also take leaf cuttings to propagate begonias.