Master Gardener Ines Sastre De Jesus: Begonias a versatile choice for sunny or shady gardens


Begonias are useful in gardens because depending on their type they can occupy sunny to shady areas. These tropical and subtropical perennials — from Mexico, West Indies, Central and South America, India and South East Asia — are used as summer annuals in our area. At the end of the season, with minimum effort some can become houseplants.

Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) are bushy, and beautifully symmetrical plants. Those features make them ideal for bedding plants, window boxes and planters. Last year, I bought wax begonias in hanging containers; this type of display was useful to add color to a part-shade porch.

Since wax begonias with light-green leaves prefer morning sun, they did well in this environment. For a sunnier environment, select a dark-leaf wax begonia.

Tuberous begonias are popular for their diversity of colorful flowers and the erect or trailing growth habit. At the stem base it has a tuber, which can be stored for the following season.

For storage, dig it up before frost and then start indoors for an early flower production.


I grew a picotee tuberous begonia, and although it is easy to grow, I had some troubles: some stems rotted, and chipmunks ate their fleshy flowers. With this experience, I learned that begonias should be watered only when potting soil is dry. Also to avoid mildew, it should have good air circulation.

Cane begonias have an upright growth and segmented stems. I used an Angel Wing Begonia (B. coccinea) as a thriller on a large clay pot.

This type of begonia, unlike most other begonias, should get as much light as possible. As a fast growing plant, it takes regular fertilizing. Flowers are large drooping umbels ranging from red, white or pink.

Two popular cultivars, Lucerna and Lucerna Amazon are good houseplants if there is enough room.

Last year, I grew three of the four common Begonia groups in my garden. For this season, I would like to add rhizomatous begonias. This group forms the majority of the 1,800-plus species of Begonia; and it includes Rex begonias (B. rex).

These plants have a thickened stem called rhizome from which leaves and flowers develop. Their spectacular leaves have bold color combinations, shapes, and textured leaf borders.

Begonias are easy to propagate. Propagation by stem cuttings is recommended for cane and tuberous begonias. Get the cuttings from shoots near the plant base and between two nodes.

Rex begonias propagate best from leaf cuttings. Cut a leaf, with the petiole still attached, and plant it; or peg an entire leaf to the potting soil and do cuts across the main vein.


Another method is to cut a leaf into small wedges (1 inch) and insert these vertically to half their depth. Leaf propagation works best with a bottom heat source (65-75 F).

As temperatures, in fall, cool down into the top 40s, begonias can be moved indoors; especially rhizomatous begonias do well if kept away from cold drafts and a radiator.

If you like colorful, large flowers try different tuberous begonias, but if you prefer leaf patterns, go for some exotic Rex begonia. Mix and match plants with contrasting leaf textures, colors and shapes and plant in large containers to accent your garden.

051620.n.wct.MG Picotee tuberous begonia.jpg
A picotee tuberous begonia growing on a planter. Picotee means that petal borders have a different color than the main part of the flower. Photo provided by Inés Sastre-De Jesús

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