Begonias: a Classic for Indoors and Out

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Sun, shade, in beds, in containers, indoors, outdoors—gardening presents so many choices. It seems there is a begonia for each situation, and that’s why we love them. 

Dark leaves set off the vivid flowers of Mistral Dark Red Bolivian begonia.

Dark leaves set off the vivid flowers of Mistral Dark Red Bolivian begonia.

Types such as wax begonias have long answered a need for shade-tolerant warm-season annual flowers for beds and containers, while other kinds, like rex begonias, have been treasured as bold foliage plants for the home. In some cases there’s no need to delegate the begonia to just indoors or just outdoors, however; rex begonias and others can move between the two realms, adding to their value and versatility.

Begonias’ light preference varies between type. Generally, foliage begonias prefer more shade, while those grown for their flowers need more sun. They all prefer warm temperatures and should not be outdoors when the air temperature is below 60 degrees (F). Good drainage and even watering are key; allow the soil to dry between waterings. Overwatering will cause problems for begonias. Water should be applied at the soil level as much as possible, to avoid wetting the leaves.

Here are three favorite begonias:

GryphonBegonia

Gryphon begonia

Begonia ‘Gryphon’

This evergreen tender perennial falls under the category of cane-like begonias, which have fibrous roots and somewhat woody stems that support their strongly upright growth habit. ‘Gryphon’ boasts large, maple-like, forest green leaves heavily streaked with silver and colored orange on the reverse. It grows to 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide, although the happiest specimens can become larger.

Growing notes: ‘Gryphon’ begonia does best with bright light but out of direct sun, and it is at its best in a container. It can be kept year-round, moving between the garden and an interior space with the seasons in cooler regions. It prefers moist soil when it is actively growing, although it tolerates lapses in watering better than many begonias. If this begonia becomes gangly or too large, the canes can be cut back in early spring, leaving a length with four or five nodes (swollen joints from which leaves and flowers develop). Stem tips can also be cut back during the summer to keep the height in check and spur new canes to develop at the base. USDA Zones 8–10.

Image credit: Serres Fortier

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BegoniaEscargot

‘Escargot’ rex begonia

B. ‘Escargot’

It’s easy to see how this rex begonia got its name, with its spiraling leaves. This is a type of rhizomatous begonia, meaning that its leaves emerge from one modified stem that lies on the soil, called a rhizome. The rhizome stores water and nutrients, a handy feature for sometimes neglectful gardeners.

Growing notes: Rex begonias, including ‘Escargot’ do best in shallow, porous containers, such as an unglazed terracotta bowl. High humidity and good drainage are key, and these plants prefer to be somewhat rootbound. Bright light should suffice, but if leaf stems become lanky, try moving the plant to where it will receive some gently direct sun. Rex begonias need less water in winter, when they may drop their leaves and go dormant. When growth resumes, increase watering again. Zones 10–11.

Image credit: Leonora Enking

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Mistral Dark Red begonia is to the right of center in the foreground pot.

Mistral Dark Red begonia is to the right of center in the foreground pot.

Mistral Dark Red Bolivian begonia

B. boliviensis Mistral Dark Red

Begonia boliviensis cultivars are good candidates for hanging baskets or tall pots, thanks to their mounded habit and cascading flowers, which are their main attraction. They grow from tubers that can be stored over the winter. This cultivar has red single flowers that resemble those of the original species, which is native to the Andes of Bolivia and Argentina, where it can be found wedged into crevices. Plants in the Mistral series have excellent branching, which shines in containers, and good tolerance of heat. They grow 10 to 12 inches tall and up to 16 inches wide.

Growing notes: Provide dappled light for the best performance and fertilize this begonia regularly to promote the most blooms. Spent flowers will drop away on their own, with no need for the gardener to deadhead. To store the tuber, allow the plant to go dormant in fall, dig the tuber and store it in a dry, cool place. Replant it in late winter or early spring, when growth begins to sprout. Give the plant bright light and regular water until the weather is warm enough to move it outdoors. Zones 10–11.

Image courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company 

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MegawattPinkBegonia

Megawatt Pink bronze-leaf begonia

Begonia xMegawatt Pink

The Megawatt series plants are interspecific begonias—hybrids known for their relatively large size and their vigor. They resemble wax begonias, but they are bigger in form and flower. Like wax begonias, they are grown as flowering annuals and they demand little care. This cultivar has cotton-candy pink flowers held sturdily above its stiff, bronze-green foliage. It can reach two feet tall and wide.

Growing notes: This type of begonia can handle dry spells, heat and humidity. Megawatt Pink, along with other colors in the Megawatt series, does not require deadheading. Full sun will prompt the heaviest bloom, but performance will still be good in part shade. Annual.

Image courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company