How To Grow Different Varieties of Begonias
By: Julie Day
Wax begonias make great bedding plants.
If you’ve looked around your local garden center recently, you’ll find that there are so many new varieties of begonias to choose from nowadays! In addition to the little wax begonias that do so well as bedding plants, there are also the lovely dragon-wing begonias, trailing begonias, showy tuberous begonias, rex begonias, and the list goes on!
Here’s what you need to know about growing different types of begonias.
Begonias are tropical perennials, which means that in frost-free climates, they can live (and sometimes bloom) all year round. They like the conditions that appeal to many tropical plants:
- Light: A bright spot with a little sun protection. Morning sun (and a little afternoon shade) is perfect. Wax begonias can tolerate more sun than other types, and the ones with bronze-colored leaves are the most sun-tolerant of all. Tuberous begonias prefer more shade and less heat, so we often see them on display in late summer.
- Soil: Light, rich, humusy soil. Begonias are great for containers because they love the light texture of potting mix. As bedding plants, they’ll appreciate some compost mixed into the soil.
- Water: Begonias like to be moist, but they’ll rot if kept too soggy.
- Fertilizer: Just give begonias a light feeding about once a month using a balanced organic fertilizer.
- Temperature: Begonias will die if exposed to cold temperatures. Bring them indoors when temperatures start dropping into the 50s F overnight.
- General Care: Pinch back leggy stems and deadhead spent flowers to keep your begonias in top shape.
Different Types of Begonias
If you think you know what begonias look like, think again! There are many types of begonias, with different leaf shapes, colors, and growth habits. Some look more like trailing ivy than a begonia, and others will wow you with spectacularly patterned leaves or huge, rose-like blossoms. Begonias are categorized both by their growth habit and their root systems.
Trailing Rex begonia
Various types of begonias are commonly described using terms like:
How to Grow Different Types of Begonias
If you’re planning to grow begonias as an annual (put out in the spring and discard in the fall), there’s not much difference in how you grow them. Some varieties are more sun-tolerant than others, but for the most part you can just pick the one you like best. Give them bright light, a little sun protection in the heat of the day, and regular water, and enjoy!
The differences in begonia types really becomes important if you decide to grow them year-round. It’s quite easy to keep begonias over the winter, but different types need a little different attention:
- Fibrous-Rooted Begonias: These include the semperflorens (or wax begonias), cane-like begonias, dragon-wing, and other varieties. These plants have just a regular root ball, with thin, stringy roots. Most of these plants will continue growing and blooming all year long if you bring them inside before the first frost, put in a bright window, keep moist, and continue feeding.
- Rhizomatous Begonias: If you look at the soil surface, you’ll see the fleshy stems and roots creeping along and peeking out of the soil of rhizomatous begonias. Like fibrous-rooted begonias, these types are easy to keep as houseplants. They’re mostly grown for their foliage, but some varieties will even bloom in the winter.
- Rex Begonias: These varieties are the showiest of all begonias. They are usually rhizomatous and will continue growing indoors in the winter; but they need more humidity, moisture, and fertilizer than other varieties.
- Tuberous Begonias: Here’s where the challenge comes in! Tuberous begonias have a fleshy, round tuberous root – think potato – and bloom in late summer and fall. Tuberous begonias go dormant in the winter, so they won’t stay green as houseplants. Instead, in early fall (before the first frost), dig up the tubers and store them in a cool dry place for the winter. Next spring, after all danger of frost has passed, replant them in pots or outdoors. For more information about overwintering tuberous begonias, check out our article on How To Store Tender Bulbs Over the Winter.
- Hardy Begonias: This variety of tuberous begonia is hardy to zone 6 and is commonly grown as a perennial in southern gardens. You’ll sometimes find hardy begonias at garden centers, but more commonly they’re passed from gardener to gardener. If you’re lucky enough to have this sweet, pink-flowered, shade-loving variety in your garden, all you have to do is watch it take over, and dig up sprouts for all your friends!
Angel Wing begonia
Tuberous begonia in fall
Dragon-wing begonia has dramatic leaves and flowers.
How to Identify Different Types of Begonias
If you don’t know what kind of begonia you have, here’s how to find out:
- Bring your begonia indoors in early fall, and see what happens. Tuberous begonias will start dying back as the days get shorter.
- Gently dig up your begonia and take a look at the roots. Fibrous-rooted begonias will look stringy; rhizomatous will have creeping surface stems and roots; and tuberous begonias have a round, flattened brown tuber that looks, well, a lot like a cow pie!
- Once you know what type you have, either repot them or store the tubers.