What is a Begonia?

Jennifer Fenn

A begonia is a popular plant, prized for its beautiful flowers and leaves, its wide variety of colors, and its ability to thrive easily. Begonias are native to tropical and subtropical climates but are able to grow in many different environments. These flowers are common and can be purchased at just about any gardening store, as well as many grocery stores.

A handful of peat moss, which is good for tuberous begonias.
A handful of peat moss, which is good for tuberous begonias.

A begonia can be identified by its waxy green or brown leaves and its red, white, pink or yellow flowers with yellow centers, called eyes. A begonia grows to a height of between six and nine inches (15 to 23 centimeters) tall and twelve inches (30.5 centimeters) in width. Its petals are round. Begonias can be grown both indoors and outdoors, with the exception of the tuberous begonia, which does not do well indoors. One popular way to display begonias is in hanging baskets.

A pH test. Begonias grow best in soil with a low pH level.
A pH test. Begonias grow best in soil with a low pH level.

Three varieties of begonias exist: tuberous, semperflorens, and the rarer perennials. The most common begonia is the semperfloren. Sub-types of semperflorens include fibrous begonias, wax begonias and everblooming begonias. There are over 1,000 different species of begonia, with as many as 10,000 hybrid varieties.

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Tuberous begonias have flowers that appear more rose-like and have green leaves. They are unique in that they can be removed from the ground in the winter and stored indoors until the weather warms up again. Basements make good storage places for tuberous begonias; they can be kept in paper bags with dry peat moss in any cool, dry space.

Begonias bloom from late spring to the first autumn frost, though some varieties are hardy enough to survive a frost and bloom again despite cold weather. They grow best when the temperature is a constant sixty degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) or higher. Wax begonias are common annuals that flower once a year.

To successfully grow a begonia, many gardeners prefer to start with cuttings rather than seeds as cuttings are easier to transplant to a container or outdoor bed. Begonia seeds are very small and fine and have a similar consistency to dust.

Gardeners need to keep their begonias free of frost; on cold nights, the plants can be moved indoors. These flowers are a great choice to embellish a yard, as they can tolerate full sun or shade. Begonias grow well in potting soil, as opposed to planting mix, as potting soil provides adequate drainage. Soil with a low pH is also essential.

Though begonias need to be watered when the soil they are planted in grows dry, gardeners should take care to make sure that their begonias are not allowed to sit in moisture, as the plants will rot. A good rule of thumb is to water them between once a week and every two weeks. Plants kept indoors may need to be watered more. General purpose fertilizer also helps begonias to thrive. Dead leaves and flowers should be removed from the plant regularly.

Begonias are native to tropical and sub-tropical climates.
Begonias are native to tropical and sub-tropical climates.

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