Begonias: expert tips on planting and care

Sarah
Sarah
Sarah
Sarah

For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

Begonias produce splendid flowers when cared for properly. Read about planting and caring for begonias with tips for extra-long flowering.

colourful begonia flowers
Begonias come in numerous colours [Photo: Foo Aggieband/ Shutterstock.com]

You probably have heard a lot about begonias (Begonia) and their special leaves. You have likely seen them around or you might have even owned a begonia yourself. Did you know that the genus is incredibly diverse? It is, in fact, one of the most species-abundant genus in the whole plant kingdom. In this article, we will dive into the world of begonias and, hopefully, by the end of it you will become an expert in growing them yourself.

Begonias: origin and characteristics

For a long time, begonias were considered old-fashioned, even tacky. In recent years, however, the flowers were rediscovered and their stylishly patterned leaves now even adorn many student flats. If you ever happen to be in Stuttgart in Germany, you can experience the immense diversity in the world of begonias in the gardens of Hohenheim Palace. The greenhouses of the University of Stuttgart are home to one of the world’s largest collections of begonias with over 250 different species.

If you take a closer look at a begonia leaf, you will quickly discover the most important feature: the leaf is not symmetrical. The genus Begonia belongs to the family Begoniaceae. The plants of this genus are known for their slanted leaves. There is only one other species in that family, so you can be sure you are looking at a begonia if it has slanted, fleshy leaves and stems.

Begonias originate from humid rain forests and mountainous forests in the tropics and subtropics and are particularly common in South America. That is why they can, unfortunately, not cope with winters in temperate climates, even though they are actually perennial. But it is definitely worthwhile to overwinter them. The only shortcoming of these interesting plants is that their flowers are hardly scented.

begonia leaves growing on rock
Begonias from tropical forests. They grow on branches and rocks close to the water [Photo: Jantana Phattha/ Shutterstock.com]

Begonia species and varieties

Begonias include well over 1000 different species and new ones are constantly being discovered. Only a tiny fraction of these are grown as ornamental plants, though. Nevertheless, there is a huge range of begonias, including species with impressive foliage, small-flowered begonias and ones with magnificent, large blossoms. Keep on reading for a list with the most beautiful begonia species and varieties.

Winter hardy begonia varieties

Because their countries of origin are on the tropical side, begonias are not used to temperatures below freezing. Only a few varieties such as the hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) can stand the cold season in our latitudes. For more info read our article on hardy begonia varieties.

hardy begonia variety
The hardy begonia which originates from Japan is one of the few varieties able to survive winter in our country [Photo: EQRoy/ Shutterstock.com]

Wax begonias

Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) are a firework of flowers. Their bright colours appear in April or May and last until the plant freezes to death in winter. If you keep the plant in a pot and overwinter it indoors, it will continue to blossom throughout winter.

Elatior begonias

Elatior begonias (Begonia x hiemalis) make a beautiful heap of colourful flowers. They are a group of hybrids of different begonia species. They are amazing mainly because of their abundant and long-lasting blossom period. As they are very sensitive to cold, meaning temperatures below 16 °C, they make perfect houseplants. Additionally, they come in a variety of different colours.

Planting begonias

Next, let’s talk about how to plant begonias. Do they like sun or shade? As plants of tropical forests, begonias are sensitive to sun. Wax begonias on the other hand prefer conditions on the sunnier side. Some of them are not suitable for growing outdoors at all. Therefore, location is key for successfully growing begonias. In general you should bear in mind that the flowers are not frost tolerant and must be dug up again for relocation in winter.

When planting begonias, use nutrient-rich garden soil, preferably with a good proportion of compost.

sea of colourful begonia flowers
Begonias make colourful carpets for borders and gardens [Photo: jack_photo/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating begonias

The propagation is quite simple, just use cuttings. Cut off a shoot of about ten-centimetres. Remove the leaves on the lower end, so that only two leaves remain at the top of the shoot. Now you can plant the cuttings in a flower pot.

The best soil for begonias does not exceed a pH value of 7 and is always nice and moist. It should be neutral or slightly acidic. Alternatively, you can place the cuttings in a glass of water and plant them later on. In a bright place at room temperature begonias will root very quickly, usually within a week. The best time to cut begonia shoots from the mother plant is after flowering. This might be challenging with some species, such as wax begonias, because they almost always flower. But in general, cuttings can be grown all year round.

You can also use leaf cuttings. This works best for species with fleshy leaves. Cut off individual leaves from the mother plant and place them in a prepared planter. It is advisable to plant with a transparent plastic bag to increase humidity.

Expert tip: Large specimens of tuberous begonias (Begonia × tuberhybrida) can also be propagated by dividing the tuber. Dig it out and, if it is not too small, cut it in half. Now you can plant them both and enjoy your two begonias. Spring is ideal for this technique of propagation, so before planting them outdoors after winter break.

Summary: How to propagate begonias

1. Cuttings:

  • After flowering or all year round
  • Cut approx. 10 cm long shoots (shorter shoots are also possible for small species)
  • Remove lower leaves on the cuttings
  • Stick the shoot into damp soil or into some water
  • Set in a warm place, the cutting should root within a few days

2. Begonia leaf propagation:

  • Especially suitable for fleshy species
  • Cut off single leaves from the mother plant
  • Put the leaf in a container with some damp soil
  • Cover with a transparent plastic bag to increase humidity
  • Set in a warm place

3. Division:

  • Division is possible with tuberous begonias
  • After winter, divide the tuber in two
  • Plant out tuber parts in separate pots in spring
freshly planted begonia cuttings
With the help of leaf or shoot cuttings begonias can be easily propagated [Photo: Richard Griffin/ Shutterstock.com]

Begonia care

In this section, we will discuss how to properly care for begonias. Begonia plant care is easy and straight-forward. So, you do not have to put much effort into them. Begonias even remove their dead leaves on their own, simply dropping them off. For the most part, that makes pruning unnecessary. You can slightly prune them before overwintering them.

How to water begonias properly

Water the plants regularly, about twice a week. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right balance between too much and too little water. Especially on hot days, this can be a bit of a challenge, as waterlogging can quickly lead to root rot. Remember that plants also evaporate more water in windy conditions. You can decrease watering significantly in winter. With tuberous begonias, you can even do without watering in winter after pruning.

flowering begonias in pot
Of course, begonias should not be watered in the blazing sun if you want to avoid burns. It hose them off early in the morning or in the evening [Photo: Maria Dryfhout/ Shutterstock.com]

How to fertilise

To produce many flowers, begonias need energy. From spring onwards, you can regularly apply a liquid begonia fertiliser. However, it is better for the environment and much cheaper to apply manure, compost or slow-release fertilisers in spring and early summer. This is where our Plantura Flower Food comes in handy. From late summer onwards, you slowly decrease fertilising, as begonias do not require feeding in winter.

Flower Food, 1.5kg
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Overwintering begonias

Despite frequently ending up on the compost in autumn, begonias are not annual. Most of them are actually quite easy to take care of during winter. Tuberous begonias, for example, only need a cool room without frost – it doesn’t even need to be light. Most indoor begonias, such as Elatior begonias, can easily be kept indoors during the winter. Even wax begonias can overwinter quite well in a bright room at around 16 °C. More details on how to successfully overwinter your begonia can be found here.

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