Growing Begonias

growing begonias

Growing begonias-why do so many of my clients feel that no matter how much they love the gorgeous blooms and foliage, prove unwilling to plant them?  Who knows where the idea came from that large flowered begonias like shade, and lots of water.  Herein lies the difficulty.  Popular direction can be anything but accurate. Begonias actually like some light.  A fairly decent amount of light.  And they like a watering regimen that runs on the dry side. 

yellow begonias

The needs of most plants are quite simple.  Plants that thrive in your zone, that is.  Unless you are trying to grow meconopsis, which only thrives in the Himalayans or England- in Michigan-  or if you are trying to grow rhododendrons in the impossibly clay and alkaline soil of the midwest, when what they want is an acidic and instantly draining forest floor type eastern US compost.  Plants happy to live in our midwestern yard to begin with have simple needs.  Are you hoping to make your gardening life more simple?  Learn what those appropriate plants that you so love need, and give.  Plants that do not like your conditions-let someone else grow them.   

apple blossom begonia

Plants not suited to the zone in which you garden will always struggle.  Be prepared to fight a battle you cannot win.  You may take the lead early on, but what plants want will win in the end.   Beginning gardeners place a plant where they want it.  It takes experience and acute observation to realize that plants have a specific environment they like.  Should they not get what makes them prosper, they will pout, then languish, and finally die. Beginning gardeners either understand this and grow, or they give up gardening.      


The journey which could best be described as my gardening education is littered with dead plants.  Dead yews, dead clematis, dead rhododendron, dead begonias-the list is long.  I would be embarrassed to have to own up to the plants I have killed.  It could be that I should be sent to that jail especially reserved for people who have committed horticultural transgressions.  There have been times when I deserved to have my license to plant, grow, and garden- revoked.  But I have made it my business to learn from those dead plants.   As for begonias, they have very large, juicy, and succulent stems.  This I observe – over water them today, those stems will rot off tomorrow.

The tropical plants we treat as annuals only need one season of thoughtful care.  No doubt begonias are not native to my zone.  That said and acknowledged, I so love begonias-all of them.  I like the leaves.  I more than like the flowers.  In late August, our nights can be cool.  Water evaporates more slowly when the temperatures cool off.  I am even more careful to keep my begonias on the dry side now.

My advice is simple.  Give them morning light.  If you need to grow them on the north side, as I do, grow them very dry.  Those thick juicy stems are loaded with water.  They have a water reserve they can draw on, should you be late getting to them with the hose.  Too much water can be deadly.

These silver leaved begonias-I have no idea of their name or origin.  I chose to grow them for their leaf color.  Like any other begonia I grow, I made it my business to check the water in the soil with my finger.  Too much water when it is very hot is an invitation for fungus to move in.

cultivating begonias

I am always putting my finger in the dirt  .  This means I put a finger to the rootball of a yew, a dogwood, a begonia – barely moist soil makes most plants happy.  Should your finger in the soil result in sticky soil-don’t water.  Wait.  If you put your finger down deep in the soil only to have that soil slide off your finger-water.  Hoping to grow great begonias? Learn what they like.  Pass by those plants that you will not be able to make happy under any circumstances.  Most of all, monitor the water. 


A Celebration

I am hard pressed to remember the last time it was my pleasure to live through such a benign August, but I have no plans to look this gift horse in the mouth.  Tomorrow is Buck’s birthday; this terrace will my contribution to the celebration.  They have to be the best they have ever been-although Buck says I tell him this every year.

aug-22-056I like the fireworks going-on feeling of my terrace pots this year.  Most of that has to do with how they have grown.  I picked the colors and plants yes, but nature has proved unusually cooperative.  We have had cool temperatures all summer, and now, regular rain. The usual bugs and disease must be at someone else’s house.

aug-22-0601The Mital terra cotta gargoyle pots on their pedestals have never looked so rowdy and profuse.  I grow nicotiana mutabilis every year for exactly the reason you see here. The showy oregano in this pot gave up and died, but I hardly notice.  Besides, this pair of pots started out mismatched-I like that they will end up mismatched.

Variegated licorice has thick felty leaves and stiff stems, but it will dance through a pot in a lively way. It is a welcome contrast to the mounds of begonias and purple oxalis.  Plant habit can be as important a part of design as color and shape.

aug-22-071These two licorice plants have made a flared skirt of themselves.  The shape is especially attractive with the garland pattern on the pot.  Did I plan this part-absolutely not.  Anyone who gardens gets to enjoy the unexpected.

aug-22-081The New Guinea impatiens this year are unbelievably gaudy-what fun.  Even my million bells, which usually sulk as I have very alkaline water, are cooperating.   My dahlias do not have mites or mildew.  The cool weather has slowed the flower production on the cannas, but the foliage alone is well worth having.


Thriving and saucy-this is how I would describe my pots.  As Buck  has to cook his own birthday dinner, I am glad these pots look how they do.  It is a whomping lot of work to look after all this every day, but every day I am glad to get home and see what’s doing.  I like being ready for a party, every day.


This Fourth of July feeling suits me just fine.