Begonias are a crowd favorite, and for good reason. These hardy plants have blooms and leaves with varying colors, textures, and sizes, making them work in any garden setting.

By Jenny Krane

Begonias are an easy go-to annual for filling containers or hanging baskets. Although certain varieties host blooms of pink, white, red, or orange, these hardy plants are often grown for their foliage. Begonia leaves come in almost any color and pattern, and add texture and interest to the garden. Here's what you need to know about these high-impact plants.

Begonia Types

  • Angel wing: Also known as cane begonia, this type has long stems with "joints" on them. As the name suggests, these begonias have leaves that look like angel wings.
  • Rex: Rex begonias are entirely their own class of begonia. They are rhizomatous, meaning they typically grow horizontally and with shortened stems. Commonly grown as a houseplant for its foliage, these begonias are also known as painted-leaf or fancy-leaf begonias.
  • Rieger: This category of begonias is winter-flowering. Rieger begonias require cool temperatures and short days to bloom.

Begonia Varieties

The vast variety of begonias within the three types is what makes these plants so popular. They can be used in almost any garden. Larger varieties are ideal for landscaping and create a dramatic effect when planted en masse. Smaller varieties are well-suited for container gardens and won't crowd out your other plants. Some begonia plants have single flowers with just one row of petals, while others have double blooms with numerous rows of petals. There's a begonia with the right look for any place in the garden.

Planting Begonias

Begonias are annuals, so planting will need to be done every year. The best time to plant begonias is after the chance of frost has passed. Begonias are slow to get going, so don't be disheartened if there aren't blooms right away. They usually have a burst in growth after the summer heat kicks in. 

Old-fashioned wax begonias do great when planted in the shade. Newer varieties of wax begonias are happy from full shade to full sun. Be sure to check the nursery tag to see the recommended light for each variety. At planting time, add compost or topsoil to improve the fertility of the soil and help it retain moisture. If you want to plant begonias in containers or hanging baskets, look for Begonia bolviensis and angel wing types, which cascade.

Begonia Care

Begonias are also popular because they are so low maintenance. In warm climates, begonias may bloom year-round. Pruning is done in the spring in this climate. In cooler climates, they can be brought indoors and treated like houseplants during the winter. Pruning can be done in the fall in more temperate climates. To prune, pinch the stems back to the first or second healthy bud from the tip. This forces the begonia to branch at the pinch point, resulting in more stems, flowers, and leaves. Besides occasional pruning, begonias don't require much more maintenance—they are known to "self-clean," meaning deadheading isn't necessary.

Most types of begonias need consistent watering but also don't like to be left too wet. After a hefty watering, be sure to situate potted begonias so their pot can drain excess water. If planted in the ground, stick a finger into the soil to determine how moist the soil is. If the top is dry but the soil is moist about an inch below the surface, wait another day or two to water. Spraying the plants with water on hotter days will also help them maintain the cool conditions they like.

When it comes to fertilizer, begonias prefer their fertilizer well-diluted. Once blooms appear, begin regular fertilization but be careful not to fertilize too often. Rex begonias are especially sensitive to excess fertilizers, and highly concentrated fertilizers can burn the foliage of begonias like 'Fireworks'. Feed tuberous begonias a weak dose of high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer twice a month from first growth through the end of May. After that, revert to diluted, balanced fertilizer or low-nitrogen fertilizer.


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