Begonias: You Have to Grow More Than One Kind

Such a wide variety of plants and many that are easy to grow, you’ll keep a few around all year.

Open pink flower with yellow center of wax begonia.
Wax begonia’s pink flowers open to reveal yellow stamens in center. Closed discs of new flowers in middle of photo.

I’m on event time, which for me means explore, learn, have fun and don’t worry about physical comfort until the body says “running out of energy.” Then it’s time for a break while I consider what’s left to discover or do.

After a city bus ride to The Hall of Flowers in San Francisco, this Midwest girl is looking forward to see what the S.F. County Fair and Flower Show looks like compared to county fairs of my childhood.

I’m expecting a hot day because of the sun. And that’s where the similarity to a Midwestern fair ends. No dust, straw, smell of animal fur and manure. No carnival rides, scent of fried funnel cakes or burgers and onions or hot dogs smoking on grills.

Instead, I smell earthy scents of potted plants. Maybe a little whiff of fish or animal fertilizer? No matter.

Profuse flowers catch my eye with their colors of white, pink, purple, red and orange. Clusters of tiny petals and closed discs not ready to bloom compete with showier rosettes and open trumpet flowers.

Leaves that look like small fans complement blooms. Other leaf shapes stand out like angel wings or half an angel wing whorled with color.

Two leaves form angel wings on begonia of the same name.
Two leaves form angel wings on begonia of the same name.

Even leaf colors grab attention: some spotted, some splashed and some look painted on. The plain green ones highlight the blooms.

What are these flowering plants? Begonias – an abundance of all kinds. I‘m immersed in their beauty, dropping old ideas of county fairs. I’m enchanted by this one.

Contrasting dark green veins on cream colored background.
Dark green veins on silver grey background of gryphon leaf begonia.

A begonia flower event – plants in pots on the ground, plants standing on tables where I can touch the leaves, plants hanging every place there is to hang one. Individuals, informal clusters and formal groupings.

I love begonias. My mother had one that grew in a tall wooden pot held together by brass metal rings. The plant was a small open bush of long woody stems arching over from the weight of the pairs of angel wing leaves at their ends.

Growing in the low light of the dining room it flowered sparsely in spring and summer. It seemed more of a sculpture the rest of the time. She had it for years, giving it minimal but consistent attention.

Her mother loved begonias too. Discovering this connection to my grandmother who died before I was born makes me wonder – is begonia love in the DNA and passed along from mother to daughter to granddaughter?

A simple begonia connection to my mother and grandmother is now a full blown passion. Especially since I stumbled on this flower show.  

So, in event time, I take in as much begonia lore, and seemingly infinite varieties as I can. Food and rest can wait. How to care for begonias, ideas for how to display them in earthbound pots or airborne planters are important things to know right now.

I take my time, wander where my eyes and ears and nose take me. I find new ones to grow, make a list of some-day plants, try to decide how many I can buy now and take home on the bus.

Because there’s so many varieties, my focus in this article is the wax begonia.  It’s very common and easy to find at many stores during spring and early summer. It’s also easy to grow.

This is one I remove from the pot at the end of the outdoor growing season and save in a window during winter to repot and grow again next spring.

White flower with seed pod just below of begonia.
White flower of wax begonia just above its seed pod. Hanging in a basket outside it has been pollinated.

Features

Native to:  According to the American Begonia Society many species come from all over the world minus Europe and Australia. Some sites list 1500 species known.

Name refers to: Michael Begon, a French public official. In the late 1600s he sent another Frenchman, botanist Father Charles Plumier to study plants in the French colonies in the West Indies. Father Plumier named the genus to honor Michael Begon.

Zones:  10-11. These are grown as annuals and indoor plants.

Leaves:  Waxy glaze which gives them a little bit of a shine.

Blooms: Single or double flowers in clusters in colors of white, pink, red and bicolor. It blooms May to October outdoors. As an indoor plant it blooms all year depending on how much light it gets. Indoor blooms don’t cover the plant as fully as when grown outdoors.

Height:  Some grow 6-8 inches, others 10-12 inches. Check the label.

Width: 6-12 inches.

Grows from:  Seed or cuttings.

Care

  • Sunlight: Full to part shade. 
  • Soil: Average.
  • Water:  Medium. Water well, then let dry out a bit before the next watering. Too much water causes it to rot. If the leaves are looking like shiny plastic, it’s a little past time to water well.
  • Fertilize: Once a month during growing season or use slow release type when first planting.

Problems/Pests

Too much water and poor air circulation make it susceptible to powdery mildew, stem rot and botrytis.

Insects such as mealy bugs, spider mites and scale can infect plants under poor conditions.

White begonia flowers hanging in a cluster.
Cluster of white flowers from a fuzzy leaf variety of begonia.

Uses

Outdoors: Beds, borders, containers.

Indoors: Specimen plants in separate pots or planted in groups in a trough in a sunny window.

Wax begonias are so uncomplicated to grow that they’re a good plant to start with. Many other begonia varieties aren’t too difficult to grow either. It’s easy to become a fan and keep some indoors for year round enjoyment!

References

Gardenguides.com

Homeguides.sfgate.com

The American Begonia Society

Copyright 2020 Juli Seyfried

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juli

Juli is a writer and serious gardener. She gardens a small yard in an older suburban neighborhood. Lots of problem-solving and fun on a small property. Always something new to try!

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