Begonias are among the favorite flowers of gardeners and horticulturalists. They are easy to grow and maintain, and look lovely in a variety of settings. Although the natural habitat of begonias are tropical rain forests, they are easily adapted to other climates. Begonias come in a vast array of colors and are prized for their showy leaves and vibrant blooms. Some varieties are grown strictly for their spectacular blooms, while others are cultivated for their flamboyant and colorful leaves.
The begonia is an ornamental plant belonging to the Begoniaceae family. It was first discovered on the island of Santo Domingo in 1690 by Charles Plumier. It was named after Michel Begon, a French naturalist and former governor of the island.
It grows wild in South and Central America, Asia and Africa but has been adapted to other climates as well. Plants growing in the wilds of tropical countries flourish year-round. Those adapted to more temperate climates are usually grown outdoors as annuals or kept indoors as potted houseplants.
Botanists have described more than 1,000 species of begonia from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The species are divided into several types, the three most common being Begnonia X Semperflorens, Tuberous begonias and Rhizomatous begonias.
Begonia X Semperflorens is a perennial shrubs that is generally propagated from seed as annuals. This type of begonia is probably the most popular and is characterized by its ever-blooming flowers and round, waxy-looking leaves.
Tuberous begonias are popular as a bedding plant. It also is commonly used in greenhouses. Tuberous types are generally grown for their flowers, although some varieties possess a very unique leaf structure. The size of the flower can range from 1/2 inch to about a foot. Tuberous begonias go dormant during the short days of fall and winter.
Rhizomatous begonias make up one of the largest groups of begonias. They grow from stems called rhizomes that grow along the surface of the soil. This group is cultivated mostly for their interesting leaves. They do, however, produce a massive display of colorful blooms in the spring.
Considerations When Planting Outdoors
Begonias can be grown from seeds or cuttings. The begonia seed is very small and takes two to three weeks to germinate. The seeds also need plenty of air and light. Therefore, when planting seeds, be careful not to press them too heavily into the soil. Also, do not cover them. Begonia seeds grow best in loose, fertile, well-drained soil. Watering should be done thoroughly but gently to avoid disturbing the delicate seeds.
When working with seedlings or older plants, do not attempt to plant until all danger of frost has passed. Even a slight chill will kill the plants. Begonias prefer a few hours of sun a day. If grown in shady conditions, plants will produce fewer flowers. If conditions are too hot, plants will not flourish. Water plants early in the day to ensure good air circulation. Removing dead flowers and stems will extend the blooming period.
Considerations When Growing Indoors
Begonias grow well on window sills and in any location that receives a fair amount of sunlight. Plants in terrariums may even do well in less favorable lighting conditions. Fluorescent lighting is best to use when growing plants indoors. Soil mixes should be made up of peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite. Do not overpot or overwater. Tuberous types, especially, are susceptible to root rot. Peat mixes are good to use as they drain well. Indoor plants can be misted daily and will benefit from regular fertilizing.
Beware of Pest Infestation
There are a few enemies of the begonia. These pests include aphids, mealybugs, snails, slugs and whiteflies and are not restricted to outdoor plants. Indoor infestations usually occur when infested plant material is brought inside, so check all material before entering. Screens on windows and doors will protect indoor habitations from such flying pests as aphids, moths and fungus gnats. Commercial pesticides can be used to destroy these pests. A good home remedy is mothballs.