Care of Begonia Plants and Varieties You Should Try

Learn why hardy begonias—with their beautiful blooms and leaves in varying colors, textures, and sizes—work in almost any garden.

Begonias are an easy go-to annual for containers or hanging baskets. Although certain varieties produce blooms in pink, white, red, or orange, these hardy plants are just as often grown for their foliage. The 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." As the name suggests, the leaves look like angel's wings.
  • Rex: Rex begonias are entirely their own class. They're rhizomatous, meaning they typically grow horizontally and with shortened stems. Commonly grown as houseplants for their foliage, they're also known as painted-leaf or fancy-leaf begonias.
  • Rieger: This category of begonia is winter-flowering and requires cool temperatures and short days to bloom.
small pots with variety of begonia plants

Begonia Varieties

The vast variety 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 begonias 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 your garden.

Begonia 'Bellagio Pink'

Planting Begonias

Begonias are annuals, so planting will need to be done every year. The best time to plant them 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 generally have a burst in growth after the summer heat kicks in.

Old-fashioned wax begonias do great when planted in the shade, but the newer varieties of 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 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're so low maintenance. In warm climates, they 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're known to "self-clean," which means that 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 pots can drain excess water. If they're in the ground, stick a finger into the soil to determine how moist it 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 theirs well-diluted. Once blooms appear, begin regular fertilization, but be careful not to fertilize too often. Rex begonias are especially sensitive to excessive fertilizing, 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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