By Naomi Mathews
Copyright Naomi Mathews, All Rights Reserved
Tis the season to plant exotic hanging baskets filled with tuberous begonias! When in full bloom, this versatile variety of tuberous begonias (B. tuberhybrida 'Pendula') can transform most any shady area of your deck, patio, balcony, or gazebo into a bewitching palette of brilliant colors. Their waxy, eyecatching flowers will bloom in glorious masses for you during summer and early fall with a bit of special attention.
Whether you decide to have only a single container brimful of your favorite begonias, or a half dozen hanging begonia baskets in a variety of colors, the choice is yours. Either way, you will be delighted!
Tuberous begonias are available in a great array of colors, and all are simply stunning when their trailing blossoms spill over the edges of hanging baskets. Some gorgeous non-fading solid colors that begonias are available in include pink, red, yellow, orange, white, scarlet, and soft rose. Other striking varieties feature apricot, scarlet, or coral blossoms framed with lacy white or creamy edges. The sizes and shapes of tuberous begonias vary from small to large, single to double, or frilly to tight centered blossoms.
Asymmetric heart-shaped or angular leaves with serrated edges embellish tuberous begonias. Depending on variety, their leaves are either deep green or bronze colored. Their dissimilar foliage colors and textures offer a splendid contrast to their brilliant, waxy flowers.
Planting and Care Tips for Healthy Hanging Begonias
Selecting suspended containers is a personal choice and fortunately there are many varieties available these days. Care should be taken to select containers that will hold sufficient soil and provide adequate drainage. Avoid purchasing containers that are too ornate or that will be too heavy to safely hang once they're filled with soil. Good choices for suspended containers are those made of plastic or other non-porous material, or perhaps deep galvanized wire baskets lined with sphagnum moss or coconut liners. Let your creative imagination take over when shopping for containers!
In recent years great strides have been made in the formulation of commercial potting mixes. A very popular mix for many container plants is the "soilless" mix, and this is an excellent potting medium for tuberous begonias. Soilless mixes provide good drainage and aeration and also retain water for longer periods -- a big plus for any container grown plant. In addition, all commercial mixes are free of noxious insects, diseases, and weed seeds. Never use your garden soil for hanging containers, no matter how great you think it is. You never know what might be lurking in garden soil that will adversely affect your begonias!
Transplanting Already-Potted Begonias
Many people prefer to create hanging tuberous begonia baskets by purchasing already-potted begonias at their local nursery. This is great if you're not into planting your own begonias from tubers. Many varieties of nursery-grown begonias are available in mid to late spring and early summer. At the nursery you can observe and then select different varieties and colors of your choice, then transplant them into your own containers. Or, you may wish to purchase baskets already planted to the brim with spectacular begonias ready to hang. Again, the choice is yours.
For those who prefer to leave tuber planting to more ambitious gardeners or nurseries, let's talk about transplanting nursery-grown begonias in containers.
Transplanting begonias must be done very carefully, as their delicate stems and leaves are easily bent or broken. If you selected a container with drain holes in the bottom, place several pieces of broken pottery over the holes before adding the soil. Then fill the container about two-thirds full of the soilless potting mix. Next, arrange your begonia plants evenly around the inside edges of your container, placing at least one or two in the center. Carve out a hole for each plant that is deep enough to cover its entire tuberous root system. Gently ease each plant out of its nursery container, keeping as much soil as possible with it. This will help give your begonias a great jump start in their new home.
After you get them all planted, add more soilless mix up to an inch or two from the top of the container. Finally, you can add a top-dressing of fine mulch if you like. This gives hanging baskets a great finished look and helps them to retain water. Water each container lightly at the base of the plants, being careful not to get water on the leaves or blossoms. This could invite powdery mildew or other types of fungus to grow on your plants.
Location and Hanging Tips
Since tuberous begonias are tender succulents, they need to be hung in shady or partial-shady locations. Avoid hanging them in direct sunlight as their tender leaves and blossoms will soon sunburn and die. In areas having very hot summers, a location with a northern or northeastern exposure is a good choice. You can also hang them in areas with an eastern exposure that offers some filtered shade, such as in a gazebo or on a partially covered deck, patio, porch or balcony. Early to midmorning sunlight isn't as blistering as mid to late afternoon sun, especially in hotter climates. Hanging begonias should also be protected from strong winds as much as possible.
Tuberous begonias of all varieties are usually only hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11. If you live in colder winter zones and want to overwinter your hanging begonias, you will need provide them with some winter protection. Or, you can just grow them as annuals and enjoy their beauty for a season. The choice is yours!
Watering and Feeding
Begonias need sufficient moisture for optimum growth, but they hate soggy soil as it will rot their tubers. You may need to water your begonias twice a day during the hottest days of summer. However, always check the soil first to see if it's still moist. You can do this by simply sticking your finger into the soil. If it's still damp, hold off watering for another day. Never let the soil completely dry out because this may stress your begonias to the point of wilting or dying.
Feed begonias with a bulb fertilizer. Timed- release fertilizers are also appropriate for hanging begonias. Always follow the label directions of the fertilizer you choose. Since nutrients wash out of the soil due to frequent watering, they need to be replaced regularly, especially during the plants' flowering season.
Pinching Out Small Blooms
Begonia blossoms love to grow in pairs, producing small single blooms just behind each large double bloom. To encourage larger growth of the biggest blossoms, pinch out the smaller blossoms regularly. This will enhance the total appearance of your begonia basket. Also be sure to regularly deadhead all spent blossoms, as this encourages continuous blooming.
With proper planting, location, and a generous amount of TLC, your bewitching baskets of begonias will provide you with masses of color throughout the summer. Enjoy them while you can -- for summer often has a way of sneaking by quickly when we don't take time to smell the flowers!