Guar­an­teed to dis­play

Hardy be­go­nia wins hearts with dura­bil­ity

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS -

Don’t let fa­mil­iar­ity breed con­tempt. Even the common bed­ding be­go­nia has its uses in the gar­den. Its colour­ful blooms and con­tin­u­ous flow­er­ing lends an un­de­ni­able gai­ety to the sum­mer plot.

Be­go­nia x sem­per­flo­rens, aka bed­ding or wax be­go­nias, pro­vide a pos­i­tively ra­di­ant an­nual dis­play. In ac­tual fact th­ese plants are peren­ni­als, but in cooler ar­eas they grow as an­nu­als. They are non­tuber­ous (not to be con­fused with the larger flow­ered tuber­ous be­go­nias) and frost ten­der, but they grow and flower very well out­doors through­out the spring and sum­mer months.

There are sin­gle or dou­ble flow­ered be­go­nias in white or shades of pink and red, and some with dif­fer­ent coloured mar­gins on their petals, and the rounded leaves are typ­i­cally green or bronze – all with a waxy ap­pear­ance.

The bed­ding, or wax, be­go­nia is prob­a­bly the best-known and most­grown be­go­nia. You’ll of­ten see them mass-planted in pub­lic gar­dens be­cause of their easy-care char­ac­ter­is­tics. They’re not too fussy about soil and will grow in sun or light shade (too much shade though and they will be­come leggy). They’ll grow in the ground or in pots and hang­ing bas­kets, flow­er­ing their socks off in pretty much any sit­u­a­tion. Sem­per­flo­rens, after all, means ‘‘ever flow­er­ing’’.

Un­for­tu­nately, be­go­nias are prone to pow­dery mildew, though you can help to avoid this by wa­ter­ing at the base of plants rather than on the leaves them­selves.

Wa­ter in the morn­ing, too, so that the leaves dry off quickly. If the leaves do be­come af­flicted with pow­dery mildew, use an ap­pro­pri­ate fungi­cide to con­trol its spread, or make up your own spray: 1 tea­spoon of soda bi­car­bon­ate (bak­ing soda) mixed with a litre of wa­ter. Use this spray once a week on your be­go­nias, or after rain.

If plant­ing en masse, space plants at a dis­tance of 20 cen­time­tres. Pinch­ing out the tips will pro­vide bushier plants with more blooms. If you wish to feed your plants to en­sure con­tin­u­ous blooms, use a bal­anced fer­tiliser ev­ery four weeks. Though this is not al­to­gether nec­es­sary, if your gar­den beds were well pre­pared and fer­tilised be­fore plant­ing. Some gar­den­ers still wish to feed though. If you do, on ev­ery third feed­ing, sub­sti­tute with a fer­tiliser that’s high in phos­pho­rus.

Wa­ter mod­er­ately. If in pots, al­low the top cou­ple of cen­time­tres of pot­ting mix to dry out be­fore wa­ter­ing again.

In the ground, bed­ding be­go­nias are fairly drought tol­er­ant once es­tab­lished.

If you grow yours in pots, you could try bring­ing them in­doors over win­ter or into a heated glasshouse. In the gar­den, if light frosts are ex­pected, try cov­er­ing them with straw to in­su­late them against the cold. With luck, they should re­gen­er­ate in spring.

On show: Be­go­nias add a touch of colour to the gar­den.

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