One of my favorite plants are begonias. I say plants because there are many different types of begonias. There are a couple I can’t be bothered with (like fiberous bedding begonias) but for the rest of them… Bring them on. Starting in early summer and stretching into the first frost you can’t beat the luscious texture and color of the flowers. Carefree except for a random slug they continue to be stunning for months. There are several ways to collect begonias and also several ways to keep them over the winter to bloom again next year.
Here are a few of my favorites…
Begonia ‘Sparks will fly’ and Begonia b.’Bonfire’ (boliviensis)
These are cultivars of begonia boliviensis. This was originally found in the Andes mountains of Bolivia (hence the name boliviensis) and used to hybridize many of the tuberous begonias we have today. The bright flower and contrast of red leaf and heavy veining on ‘Sparks will Fly’ leaves makes for a powerful combination. Mine stayed in a black metal pot on the walkway all summer with very little additional water. I occasionally watered the pot but it mostly received moisture from a sprinkler that was watering the rest of the beds nearby. I also love Begonia b. ‘Glowing Embers’ with a darker foliage and apricot flowers. Begonia b. ‘Bonfire’ glows in the shade with solid green leaves and bright red orange flowers held well above the foliage.
This begonia should be kept in a container for the winter. I remove them from the outdoor pot after a light frost and divide them back into grower’s pots. At this point you can either keep them in the greenhouse (heated) for the winter and enjoy the flower and foliage as a houseplant or help them into dormancy for the winter. If you want to keep them dormant you should start withholding water and cut them back. They may die back after the first frost naturally. You will see a little bit of a tuber in the soil. This little tuber should stay firm in a dark place in the garage or cool dry space with only occasional water to keep it from shriveling. It is important for it not to let it freeze and to bring it back into light in the spring to begin to grow again. Water it more frequently but not soaking while it begins to grow. When there are a couple of leaves you can add a little weak fertilizer to the water and it should start really producing leaves. Harden off in a protected area and move into good warm place with good sun.
Begonia ‘Sensation Apricot, ‘Sensation Red’, and ‘Illumination Orange’
Begonia x tuberhybrida. These are hanging tuberous begonias. Hanging baskets are way too hard for me to keep up on watering so I put these guys into tall containers and let them spill over the edges. They used to be a yearly purchase until I found out how easy they were to grow and overwinter. They have a hairy potato like tuber.
These are super simple too. Again, after the first frost is the time to dig them up. Note not the first freeze, the first frost. If you wait for them to freeze they will die. These will not overwinter in the ground in my zone 7 garden. Cut the tops back to about 1 inch above the tuber. Brush excess dirt off with your fingers and place on newspaper or shredded paper on a plant tray to dry out. Place them in a cool DRY place while they continue to go dormant. Don’t stack them and don’t let them touch. Check them every week and when they are very dry take off the dried stalk and brush soil off more vigorously. Make sure there is no soil in the hollow of the tuber. Store in a cool dry place until spring. At this point you can place them in a box with shredded newspaper left open or with air holes punched in it. Do not let this freeze either. The garage is the best place if it doesn’t freeze.
Begonia – ‘Non Stop Red’ Begonia ‘Mocca Orange’ Begonia x tuberhybrida
These are amazing upright begonias. The ‘Mocca’ Series have amazing dark foliage that really offset the flowers. A true designer plant!
The same as the hanging begonia sensation series above.
A hardy denizen of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, this exotic-looking tuberous Begonia sends up jagged-edged bright green foliage beneath a lovely cascade of clear orange flowers supported by pale red stems. After seeing this plant in Thomas Hobbs’ gardening book, Shocking Beauty, I had to have it. I found it several years ago and it has lived happily in a container for all this time. They are small tubers that stay in the soil and are hardy to zone 6b. They look like their fussy cousins but are anything but. Usually the pot looks empty when it dies back throughout the winter, but comes back as soon as it starts to warm up. I keep it outside the greenhouse. This year I put a big clump into the ground under the apple tree. This developed nicely into a larger clump and proved untouched by creeping marauders like slugs and snails. No overwintering necessary except to move container to shelter from freezing winds.