The combination of separate male and female flowers makes for an interesting and unique flower shape, and the male flowers are the showier ones. Begonia foliage is often luxuriant too. There are 900 species of begonia, distributed in South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia.
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Where to plant begonias
These showy plants with colourful flowers like a cool spot out of midday sun, ideally in temperatures between 15 -20C ( 60-70 F), so they make very useful plants for a semi-shady spot in the garden, whether in a container or in the ground.
All begonias enjoy moist conditions and a subtropical or tropical climate, although those with tuberous roots need good drainage. So if you are using pots, place them on pot feet.
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Growing tuberous begonias
It’s still possible to buy begonia tubers in their dry state and they generally make large plants in their first year.
Once you get the tubers lay them on a flat surface made from three inches of light potting compost placed in a seed tray in March or April in temperatures of 18°C (64°F).
The tubers will chit, or produce a shoot. Pot them up and keep the pots moist.
When the plants have made four or five inches growth they should be transplanted into fresh compost such as John Innes no 2. Once the fear of frost has passed put your begonias outside and feed them every week with a high potash liquid tomato food. Stop feeding and ease off the watering in early September. When watering, always avoid the foliage.
Begonias as bedding plants
Begonias are a favourite for using as bedding plants thanks to their long-lasting colourful displays, which will often last until the first frosts. Look out for collections that feature multiple complimentary colours, such as 'Sahara' (red, white and pink flowers). Whatever your garden's colour scheme is you should be able to find begonias to suit. These can be grown from tubers or bought as low-cost plug plants which can be grown on at home.
Lift begonias before the first frosts.
Dry the tubers off and store them in barely moist soil or sand in a frost-free shed, ideally at 7°C (45°F).
Check the tubers periodically to make sure none are rotting and that no pests have attacked them.
Modern varieties of begonias
Most modern varieties, bred in recent years, are raised from cuttings.
Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’
A traditional-looking variety with large, cascading double blooms in sunshine shades of apricot and lemon from July to October. This will perform whatever the weather, in sun or semi shade, and the trailing habit of Begonia 'Apricot Shades' makes it ideal for hanging baskets, window boxes and flower pouches, even in shady corners. Height: 30cm (12"). Spread: 45cm (18").
Begonia 'Destiny Pink'
Large double pink flowers with a rich dark brown foliage.
Begonia 'Garden Angels Collection'
Grown for foliage and flower, with metallic veined leaves heavily crimped at the edges. The striking foliage is embellished by sprays of small blooms in late summer. In protected gardens with well-draoned soil the 'Garden Angels' Collection’ will die back to the crown in winter and reappear the following spring with a fresh crop of vibrant foliage. These are widely used in tropical planting schemes. Height: 60cm (24"). Spread: 45cm (18").
Begonia 'Apricot Sparkle'
A vibrant orange trailing begonia that's ideal for hanging baskets.
A profusion of orange-red flowers that spill over and curtsey above smaller veined leaves mean that this plant lives up to its name. Perfect in a container. No need to deadhead, this plant is self-cleaning. Height and spread: 30cm (12")
Begonia 'Glowing Embers'
A smaller-flowered begonia that positively smoulders with purple-bronze foliage and luminous-orange blooms. This variety is compact and semi-cascading so it’s an excellent basket plant from baskets and containers. Height and spread: 30cm (12”)
A stunning display of colourful blooms that last all summer long.
Begonia 'Starshine Mixed'
A trailing begonia with blush white or red flowers from early summer through to the first frosts. Height and spread: 30cm (12”)
Begonia 'Love Birds’
This cerise hanging basket variety, also suitable for containers, has powder-puff with a frilly centre to each flower. The long dark-green leaves are also highly attractive and, like all begonias, this top quality variety has an impressive flowering period that continues well into autumn.
Height and spread: 30cm (12").
Begonia 'Amber Delight'
Large double blooms in shades of orange, red, gold and yellow.
Begonia 'Double Stars'
An unusual trailing variety of begonia with star-shaped blooms.
Did you know...?
The first begonia was discovered in Brazil by a Franciscan monk called Charles Plumier in 1690. He was looking for medicinal plants and named the plant after the botanist Michel Begon who was Governor of Haiti. They came to Europe in 1821 when soil was sent from Brazil to Berlin Botanical Gardens. In 1856 orchids were shipped from India to England and among the orchids was a strange plant with interesting patterned leaves. It was a Rex begonia and these house plants are still grown for their foliage.
The garden begonias we grow are mostly bred from seven colourful species found in the Andes Mountains of Peru in the mid-19th century. Richard Pearce (1835 -1868),who was collecting for Veitch Nurseries of Exeter, collected three species and like many plant hunters died young, aged 33, from yellow fever transmitted by a mosquito's bite. Pearce is even more famous for discovering Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.
The seven species collected for Veitch form the foundation of modern, showy varieties listed under Begonia x tuberhybrida. Victor Lemoine, a French nurseryman from Nancy in France, is credited with producing the first yellow begonia in the 1870s, followed by double-flowered forms. Their Andean provenance allows them to tolerate cool summer weather and they’ve been a bedding favourite in this country since 1875.
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