How to grow and care for begonias

Begonia comes in many different varieties. They can brighten up both your indoor and outdoor gardens. Here is how to grow them.

Begonia comes in many different varieties. Some varieties are suitable for bedding plants and some are striking specimen plants. They can brighten up both your indoor and outdoor gardens. Here is how to grow them.

The main two types of begonias grown in the home are tuberous and sempiflorens, or wax begonias. The sempiflorens begonias are commonly used as bedding plants. They have rounded leaves and small flowers that can either be single or double. Some of the newer varieties have flowers up to three inches wide. Wax begonias are grown outside as annuals in most parts of the country. However, if you live in an areas that does not get frost in the winter, you may grow them outdoors year-round.

Plant your wax begonias in a garden bed that is a mixture of good garden soil, sand, and peat moss. Be sure that the soil drains well, as begonias will rot if kept too moist. Put them in an area that gets good sun, but shade them from the hottest and most intense sun if your climate is hot and dry. Plant them after all danger of frost is past. Water enough to keep the soil from drying out completely between waterings. The surface of the soil should be dry to the touch when it is time to water again. Fertilize occasionally with a balanced fertilizer. They require little care once established, and will bloom continuously until killed by frost in the fall or winter. Pinch back the plants for bushier growth and more flowers.

You can also grow wax begonias in pots. Do not use pots without drainage holes, as the soil will not drain well and the plant might rot. Use the same type of soil as you would in garden beds. Water only when the surface of the soil is dry. Bring them inside before the first frost. They will not bloom during the winter, but you can put them outside in the spring and get a head start on summer flowers.

Tuberous begonias are popular all over the world. Not only do they have attractive flowers, but their foliage can be quite interesting, too. They are grown from tubers, as their name indicates.

The tubers should be started in the spring. You may start them in a flat indoors. Use a loose well-drained soil mix that drains well. No type of fertilizer, including manure, should be in the soil mix. If you start them outside, the ground should be loose and well drained. It should be moist but not soggy. Do not plant them outside until all danger of frost is past.

Place the tubers in the soil mix with the hollow side up. Make sure that the top of the tuber is level with the soil surface. Water lightly. Once the bulbs have started sprouting and growing, water enough to keep the soil moist. If you are growing them in flats, transplant outdoors after the begonias have grown 4 or 5 inches. Mulch around the begonias with 2 inches of compost or wood chips.

The tuberous begonias will bloom from June or July until frost. Plants started indoors will bloom several weeks earlier than those started outside. They do not require much care once established. Water enough to keep the soil from drying out entirely.

Do not leave the tubers in the ground over the winter if you are in an area that freezes in the winter. Dig them up after the first frost has killed back the foliage. Remove all loose dirt from the roots. Cut out any rotten spots with a knife. Let them rest in a warm place for a few days until the roots and the remains of the foliage dry up. Gently pull the roots and the rest of the leaves and stems from the tuber. If you cannot remove them easily, the tuber is not dry enough and should be left to dry for a few more days. Once the tubers are dry, place them in individual paper bags, and put the bags in a cardboard box. Store the box in a dry place that is cool but not cold. Check the tubers periodically to make sure that they are not rotting.

If you are in an area that does not freeze, you may leave your tubers in the ground over the winter. Make sure that they stay dry. If you are in an area with rainy winters, dig up the tubers and store them as you would in a northern climate.

Tubers grown in pots can be stored in the pot in a dry place. There is no need to dig them up. Put them back outside in the spring for an early start on your flowers.

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