Annuals · Container Gardening

2016 is named Year of the Begonia.

Begonia 'Angelwing My Special Angel'

Each year the National Garden Bureau chooses a bulb, perennial, vegetable and an annual as a crop of the year. They’ve chosen begonias as their annual crop of the year for 2016.

That’s quite a pick. Begonias are a diverse group of plants with more than 1,700 different species. Types often grown in our gardens include Begonia boliviensis, Rex begonias, tuberous begonias, wax begonias and hybrid begonias.

Begonia 'Mistral Dark Red'
Begonia ‘Mistral Dark Red’

Begonia boliviensis are perfect for hanging baskets or to trail over the edges of very large containers. Heavily branched, cascading plants present attractive, deeply serrated leaves. An abundance of pink, orange, red or yellow flowers resembling slender bells bloom continuously all summer.

Begonia 'Sparkler Rose Improved'
Begonia ‘Sparkler Rose Improved’

Plant these begonias with tropical flair in morning sun or dappled light all day in well-drained soil. They cannot endure wet roots. Feed plants with slow-release fertilizer when planting or water soluble fertilizer once a month.

Rex begonias are grown for their fanciful leaves of bold colors and unique streaked and speckled patterns. Their flowers tend to be small and secondary to their eye-catching foliage.

Begonia 'Jurasic Green Stripe'
Begonia ‘Jurasic Green Stripe’

To better control their cultural requirements, grow Rex begonias in containers or amend soil in the garden very heavily with organic matter so it is free draining. Site them in bright, but indirect light. Fertilize in spring with a slow-release fertilizer or once a month with diluted liquid fertilizer.

This container with a rex begonia surrounded by a ZZ plant, Caladium caught my eye last summer.
This container featuring a rex begonia caught my eye last summer at Cantigny Gardens.

Rex begonias are flashy enough to go it alone in a container but also provide texture and contrast to fine-textured partners like ferns or small grasses.

Tuberous begonias are prized for their voluptuous waxy-petaled flowers in a wide range of colors. Male flowers are double; female blooms are single.

Begonia Elatior 'Batik'
Begonia Elatior ‘Batik’

Prima donnas of the family, they are a bit fussy about their growing conditions. Plant them in a partly shaded spot protected from the wind. Tuberous begonias do not tolerate drought and will suffer in soggy soil, so plant them in very well-drained soil but don’t let them dry out. These heavy feeders need fertilizer every couple weeks for best flowering.

Begonia Elatior 'Netia'
Begonia Elatior ‘Netia’

Give tuberous begonias what they desire and they will reward you with knock-your-socks-off blooms in the shade garden or in containers all summer long.

Wax begonias have risen in popularity since downy mildew attacked our beloved Impatiens walleriana. Although they are not as flashy, wax begonias bloom continuously in shades of white, pink or red from May through October. Their flowers are nestled in waxy, deep green or bronze foliage.

Begonia 'Bada Bing Rose'
Begonia ‘Bada Bing Rose’

Grow wax begonias in moist, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Bronze-leaved varieties are said to be more sun tolerant than varieties with green foliage. They can also grow in deep shade, but flowering is reduced.

Begonia 'Prelude Pink'
Begonia ‘Prelude Pink’

Wax begonias perform best with consistent moisture, but can tolerate short bouts of drought.

In the landscape, wax begonias are delightful and durable bedding plants. They are ideal for edging perennial borders or beds of annuals. In containers and window boxes, their bold foliage is a lovely textural contrast to shade-loving perennials like ferns, sedges and ivies.

Hybrid begonias are created by plant breeders crossing two different types of begonias. Two popular examples include the Dragon Wing and Whopper series. They are both tough as nails, bloom from late spring to frost, are drought tolerant, perform in sun or light shade, and are rarely bothered by pests or disease.

Windowbox with Dragonwing Begonia & Rex Begonias
A Dragon Wing Begonia, ferns and rex begonias are beautiful in this window box.

I wouldn’t go a summer without Dragon wing begonias. Tall, arching stems display large, glossy, wing-shaped leaves and white, pink or red flowers. Grow them solo in containers; their stature enchants. Or plant them with chartreuse sweet potato vines and coleus.

Dragon Wing Begonia
Dragon Wing begonias can carry a container all by themselves.

The Whopper series are begonias on steroids. Plants are more robust and upright, have increased flowering, and boast larger blooms. Flowers are red, rose or pink; waxy foliage is green or bronze.

Begonia 'Whopper Red with Bronze Leaf'
Begonia ‘Whopper Red with Bronze Leaf’

Easy to grow in sun or shade, they are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. They will dazzle you planted in mass in garden beds and delight you in containers on your deck or patio.

No matter what type of garden you grow – sun or shade, border or container – or what kind of gardener you are – green or brown-thumbed – there are begonias at your local garden center perfect for you. Celebrate the Year of the Begonia and garden with me!

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