Guaranteed to display
Hardy begonia wins hearts with durability
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.