Growing begonias: planting, overwintering & tips for begonia care
Begonias produce splendid flowers when cared for properly. Here you can find out everything about planting and caring for begonias with tips for extra-long flowering.
Surely you have heard of the begonia (Begonia) with its one-of-a-kind crooked leaves. You have likely seen them around or you might have even owned a begonia yourself. Did you know that the genus of begonias is incredibly diverse? It is, in fact, one of the most species-abundant genus in the whole plant kingdom. In this article, we will immerse you in the world of begonias and, hopefully, by the end of it you will become an expert in growing begonias.
Begonias: origin & characteristics
For a long time, begonias were considered old-fashioned and even tacky. In recent years, however, the versatile begonias have been rediscovered and their stylishly patterned leaves now adorn even many a student flat. If you ever happen to be in Stuttgart in Germany, you can experience the immense diversity in the world of begonias in the gardens of Hohenheim Palace. The greenhouses of the University of Stuttgart are home to one of the world’s largest collections of begonias with over 250 different species.
If you take a closer look at a begonia leaf, you will quickly discover the most important distinguishing feature of begonias: the leaf is not symmetrical. The genus Begonia belongs to the family Begoniaceae. The plants of this genus are known for their slanted leaves. Only one other species is a member of this family, so you can be relatively sure that you are looking at a begonia if it is plant with slanted, fleshy leaves and stems.
Begonias originate mainly from the humid rain and mountainous forests of the tropics and subtropics and are particularly common in South America. Unfortunately, for this reason, they are not able to cope with winters in temperate climate zones, even though they are actually perennial. But it is definitely worthwhile to overwinter these warmth-loving beauties, because their flowers are a real splendour even in the second season. The only shortcoming of these interesting plants is that their flowers are rarely ever scented.
Begonia species & varieties
Begonias include well over 1000 different species and new ones are constantly being discovered. Only a tiny fraction of these are grown as ornamental plants, though. Nevertheless, there is a huge range of begonias, from those with particularly impressive foliage to small-flowered begonias and begonias with magnificent, large blossoms.
Winter hardy begonia varieties
Because their countries of origin are on the tropical side, begonias are not used to minus temperatures. If you purchase these types of begonias, make sure to take special precautions in their care.
Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) are a true flowering wonder. Their bright colours appear from April or May and last until the plant freezes to death in winter. If you keep the plant in a pot and overwinter it indoors, it will continue to bloom throughout the winter.
A colourful bunch are the Elatior begonias (Begonia x hiemalis). They are a group of hybrids of different begonia species. They are amazing mainly because of their abundant and long-lasting blossom period. As they quickly become too cold below 16°C, they make perfect houseplants. Additionally, they come in a variety of different colours.
Next, let’s talk about how to plant begonias. Do begonias like sun or shade? As plants of tropical forests, begonias are relatively sensitive to the sun. Wax begonias prefer conditions on the sunnier side. The basic prerequisite for successful planting is therefore that you place the begonia in a suitable location. Some of the plants would rather not be planted outdoors at all but are only suitable as houseplants in temperate climate zones. With most other species, you should bear in mind that they too cannot tolerate frost and must be dug up again to relocate them for the winter.
When planting begonias, use nutrient-rich garden soil, preferably with a good proportion of compost.
The propagation of begonias works quite simply by means of cuttings. Cut off an approximately ten-centimetre-long shoot of the plant. Remove the leaves from the cut shoot in the lower part, so that only two leaves remain at the top of the shoot. Now you can put the cuttings into a flower pot with some garden soil.
The best soil for begonias does not have a pH value above 7 and it is always nice and moist. It should be neutral or slightly acidic. Alternatively, you can also grow the cuttings in a glass with some water and plant them in soil later. In a bright place at room temperatures begonias will root very quickly, usually within a week. The best time to cut begonia cuttings from the mother plant is after flowering. This might be challenging with some species, such as the wax begonias, because they almost always flower. But in principle, cuttings can be grown all year round.
Leaf cuttings can also be taken easily. This works best for species with fleshy leaves. Cut off individual leaves from the mother plant and place them in a prepared planter. It is advisable to put a transparent plastic bag over the plant to increase the humidity.
Expert tip: Large specimens of tuberous begonias (Begonia × tuberhybrida) can also be propagated well by dividing the tuber. Dig it out and, if it is not too small, cut it in half. Now you can pot them again and enjoy your two begonias. Spring is ideal for this technique of propagation, before you plant the tuber outdoors again.
How to propagate begonias in summary:
- After flowering or possible all year round
- Cut approx. 10 cm long shoots (shorter shoots are also possible for small species)
- Remove lower leaves on the cuttings
- Stick the shoot into damp soil or into some water
- In a warm place, the cutting should root within a few days
- Begonia leaf propagation:
- Especially suitable for fleshy species
- Cut off single leaves from the mother plant
- Put the leaf in a container with some damp soil
- Put a transparent plastic bag over it to increase humidity
- Place in a warm place
- Division is possible in tuberous begonias
- After winter, divide the tuber in two
- Plant out tuber parts in separate pots in spring
In this section, we will discuss how to care for begonias properly. Begonia plant care is easy and straight-forward. So, you do not have to put much effort in with these low-maintenance plants. Begonias even remove their own dead leaves by simply dropping them off. For the most part, pruning is therefore unnecessary with begonias. You can slightly prune them back only before overwintering them.
How to water begonias properly
Water the tropical begonias regularly, about twice a week. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right balance between too much and too little water. Especially on hot days, this can be a bit of a challenge, as waterlogging can quickly lead to root rot. Remember that plants also evaporate more water in windy conditions. Watering begonias should decrease significantly in winter. With tuberous begonias, you can even do without watering completely after pruning over the winter.
How to fertilise begonias correctly
To produce many flowers, begonias need energy. From spring onwards, you can regularly apply a liquid begonia fertiliser. However, it is even better for the environment and far less costly to apply manure, compost or organic slow-release fertilisers in spring and early summer. From late summer onwards, you should stop fertilising slowly, as begonias do not require fertiliser during winter.
Despite frequently ending up in compost in autumn, begonias are not annual. Most begonias are actually quite easy to take care of during winter.
Tuberous begonias, for example, only need a cool room without frost – it doesn’t even need to be light. Most indoor begonias, such as Elatior begonias, on the other hand, can easily be kept indoors during the winter. Even wax begonias can overwinter quite well in a bright room at around 16°C.