We love to grow begonias at Sun Harvest and sometimes it is difficult to pick our favourite when there are so many types and to choose from. Begonia is part of the Begoniaceae genus( plant family) which contains over 1700 different plant species – wow that would be a large reunion- and it is safe to say that some pretty exciting plant breeding efforts are revealing some fantastic varieties that are unrivalled as far as performance in containers and the garden. Even in a hot , dry summer like 2016, begonias of different types were still some of the stellar plants in our container trials.
Here at Sun Harvest we talk about non stop begonias, Dragon wing begonias, and Solenia begonias, but how do you as the home gardener use them to enjoy them the most during the growing season? Well because we DO want to see everyone experience a begonia of some type every growing season, the purpose of this blog is to break down the different begonias to better understand the best application for these showy annuals!
First of all it is important to note that overall, begonias perform best in light shade or part sun, that is 4-6 hours of morning sun and will do well in deeper shade, especially the tuberous Non-Stops and the flashy foliage types such as Rex begonias. However with improved hybridization, we now have begonias that can tolerate full sun such as the Dragon wing type or the boliviensis types such as Santa Cruz or Unstoppable Upright Fire.
Begonias are often divided based on their root system – tuberous ( fleshy tubers ) versus fibrous ( seed propagated) varieties. Many of you will appreciate the bright , bold yellows , oranges , reds and pinks of the ‘Non-stop” series which are a favourite in part shade , as well as the cascading Illumination begonias for fantastic hanging baskets which are both true tuberous begonias.
We are trying some new tuberous varieities this year that are touted to have some of the largest blooms- the Americana OnTop series with their picotee flowers, or the Ruffled series which boast fluffy double blooms up to 5 inches – a plant worthy of any prize!
Begonia semperflorens is the botanical name for the longstanding popular wax begonia which thrives in both sun and shade. Many gardeners have chosen to mass plant these begonias in landscapes where shade impatiens were always used , but now are not able to, due to the downy mildew problems that have been experienced in recent years with shade impatiens.
New varieties of fibrous begonias are taller plants in the landscape with larger leaves, well, they are really wax begonias on steroids, such as BIG series or Whopper and the new MegaWatt series. Those with bronze leaves grow so well in full sun too – like the BIG Rose begonia with bronze leaf.
Solenia begonias are a super begonia that we grow in a 6inch pot that features their gorgeous rosette type flowers on clean, glossy green foliage. Solenias are an improvement in begonia breeding as this cross between a wax and a tuberous begonia is powdery mildew resistant and can take full sun!
Another hybrid wax/ tuberous type is the hiemalis begonia, whose blooms resemble camellias and are fabulous indoor begonias – often referred to as the winter begonia. Just keep them to shade if planting outside, they do not like direct sun.
The Bullet proof Dragon Wing begonias are a landscaper’s dream because they are just that – fantastic form and flower power in the garden and containers, however only available in red and pink. Again a hybrid begonia from seed whose versatility in application is a benefit of plant breeding.
New introductions of the tuberous types include some varieties that we are so excited about at Sun Harvest – the boliviensis species. These begonias originated in the Eastern Andes mountains of Bolivia and much breeding efforts have yielded some spectacular varieities that you have seen and will continue to see grown at Sun Harvest. ‘Santa Cruz’ is our new favourite trailing boliviensis type and it has surpassed ‘Million kisses’ , in our opinion. Its bright orange ,slender fluted flowers are so striking on their arching , flexible stems that even sunny spots never tire of their endless show! Mistral and Beauvillia types feature red ,pink ,white and some even double blooms. Also an upright boliviensis, ‘Upright Fire’ has proven to be the best orange in containers.. If you are crushing for orange ,then never will you have to deadhead an orange geranium again for a sunny container, just ask for Upright Fire!
Of course we would be remiss if we did not flaunt the appeal of foliage begonias, for example the REX series. We will be featuring some varieities such as Watermelon, Escargot, which are truly an artist’s begonia for injecting texture and drama to mixed containers , with their striking colours and combinations. But keep them in the shade please , as that is where they are happiest!
WHEW!! That took some time, but hope it was well worth it as begonias are a must have for your containers or the garden. If you have never tried growing a begonia, do not worry, as it is not hard, just look for one of the sunny staff members at the greenhouse to help review your choices and look forward to a show like no other for this season!