What’s all the fuss about begonias?

If there’s one type of summer container plant that has the WOW factor in spades it’s the begonia

When it comes to begonias there’s something for everyone. If you want the huge blousy blooms choose the giant flowered types. With flowers as big as a dinner plate you could be forgiven for thinking these are exotic plants with particular needs. But you’d be wrong. Begonias are easy peasy. So easy that you can create a spectacular display with just a handful of dozen plants.

Begonia ‘Rocheart’. Image: Jean Vernon

But there are lots of other different forms; some are grown for their fabulous foliage, with textured leaves in hues of silver, sage, green, white and even pink and mauve. These are the rex or metallica begonias and often adopted as houseplants where they create a dramatic focal point in the room.

Giant flowered begonias

If you want the best bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with the giant flowered begonias. To be honest most of the basket and container begonias have large flamboyant flowers, but the giants are ridiculously large. One flower will sit in a splayed out hand or fill a dinner plate, especially if you keep your plants well-fed. These flowers are simply magnificent. And there are some wonderful strains with frilly edged flowers, bi-coloured or rich, deep intense shades of summer.

Giant begonias have flowers the size of dinner plates

These are tuberous begonias so when you get them they are ready to plant, raring to grow and will give you a head start on any plug plants or seed raised plants you are growing (see below). And with a little TLC you can keep these begonias year to year and they will increase in size and vigor every year.

Copious flowers

Then there are the non-stop begonias that do what it says on the pot, they literally flower non-stop right through the summer. These are fantastic in containers; with so many flowers it can be hard to see the foliage. Keep them well fed so they will bloom their socks off. Choose Richard’s Flower Power – you can feed all of your plants with this amazing formulation and it will turbo charge your plants. It’s ideal for begonias and will boost them into making even more flowers to transform your garden. You can even put the begonias in that shady spot in the garden, begonias are so laid back and easy they really don’t mind.

Trailing begonias

When it comes to hanging baskets you want that eye level wow factor and begonias do that with knobs on. Especially if you choose cascading or trailing varieties. That’s because their stems create a fountain effect, first gushing up skywards and then flowing over the edges, great for the edge of planters too. So three plants in a hanging basket, filled with top quality container compost and fed with either a controlled release, once a season feed like Richard’s Easy Feed or Container Magic, or Flower Power weekly. Actually you can use both but the Easy Feed is perfect as once you’ve mixed it into the planting compost and planted your tubers then all you’ve got to do is keep it watered. The plants will do the rest and your firework display will start gently, until it crescendos into a spectacular summer marvel. And it’s all at eye level so you get the WOW effect at just the right height.

Bedding begonias

You might remember begonias in intricate bedding schemes in parks and gardens, or planted in regimented rows in the gardens of suburbia. These begonias are the bedding begonias, with shiny, glossy foliage contrasting with small but copious flowers. These are perfect for the front of beds and borders, the top of walls or anywhere where you need a compact cushion effect. You can plant them into smaller individual containers to pop into gaps at the front of a display or why not pot a few up into weathered terracotta pots and give them as gifts when visiting friends and family? When choosing your plants consider the contrast between the leaves and the flowers. Some have very dramatic darker leaves and rich coloured flowers. These begonias tend to be fibrous root types and don’t form a tuber for overwintering.

Plants or tubers or seed

Some begonias can be grown from seed, but bear in mind that the seed is like dust and needs warmth to get it going. It’s not especially difficult but it’s not very fast either so you need to sow it early to get the plants growing and flowering for summer. For the instant results that most of us crave, plug plants are a very easy and cost effective way to fill our pots and containers with begonias. But what you might not know is that many of these begonia plants will make tubers, this is how they overwinter, storing their energy inside a swollen mass of fibrous tissue. Begonia tubers are bit like tough skinned potatoes that form at the surface of the compost and throw up the shoots and stems of the plants. If you manage to keep your begonias from year to year the tubers will increase in size and you can even divide them into sections to create additional plants. BUT – Most tuberous begonias are NOT hardy; so you need to overwinter them in dry, frost-free conditions until spring. It’s not too difficult but it’s important that that you keep them dry enough not to rot but not too dry that they die. Here’s some useful tips and advice from our expert Geoff Hodge.










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