George says: Grow fabulous begonias for rainbows of colour

The picture on the left shows my Aunt Flo (on the left) and my Uncle Bill, who was the founding president of the East of Scotland Begonia Society. I went to school in Fife, where they still live, and I can tell you that if you live in the east of Scotland, where in winter the wind whistles straight over the North Sea from northern Europe and Siberia, you need every bit of summer colour and cheerfulness that you can find. Flo's full name is Florence, but my nickname for her is Auntie Flora. It seems appropriate, because she judges exhibition begonias. I would never dare show her any begonia I have ever grown, but I do like begonias of all kinds. They are often treated in the UK as annuals, but they are actually tender perennials, and will come back year after year. Let George explain how to do this. The picture at the top of the page is one of his begonias, and I'm sure even Auntie Flora would approve.

Begonias are some of the most versatile plants around. There’s a variety for practically everyone, and whether you garden indoors or out, or have sun or shade, begonias can enhance your lounge or garden.
There are various types of begonias. There are the exhibition types grown from named tubers, also the same with basket varieties. Then there are the garden species of Non-Stop, Illuminations, Orange and Apricot shades, plus the Semperflorens bedding variety, and or course the indoor type, Begonia Rex.
Semperflorens are called wax begonias, because the leaves are stiff and glossy. They come in shades of red, white and pink, and when planted in the garden will give colour through the summer. They are also suitable for containers as frontal plants.
Tuberous varieties come in different categories. There are the exhibition type named varieties which can produce flowers the size of soup plates if grown with special care. Tubers grown commercially in Belgium make ideal bedding out plants and give an array of colour.

The indoor varieties are Begonia Rex, which have brightly coloured foliage and make super house plants.
Dead heading is important. This keeps the plants flowering, and if left, some types can go to seed which robs the soil of nutrients.
In hot weather. begonias can droop, so be careful when watering. Too much water and the plant may collapse and the corm rot.
If you are growing begonias individually in pots you will need to have a finished pot size of around 9 inches (25 cms). The reason being that by this stage, the growth of the plant will be substantial, and you need to allow it to be free standing without falling over. Plus, if successful, you may have many big blooms which can add to the weight factor.

Nature will take its course on watering if the begonias are outside, but there will be times when you need to top up, in which case be careful not to over-water.
Feeding is also required, but only once the root growth is well established. A high nitrogen-based feed should be applied when watering.
For best results, use a general peat-based compost mixture with good water retention.
At the end of the summer, if you are growing the tuber varieties, first cut down the foliage to about a foot high. Remove all flowers, dig up from the garden or remove from the container leaving some soil on.
Lay the plants on the floor of your garage or shed and allow them to dry off. Around the end of November, clean up by removing any roots and dead foliage from the corm, and store in a wicker basket in the garage away from the frost. In March/April your tuber should sprout again for another year.
Begonias are found in sub-tropical and tropical regions throughout the world. The ones we grow for summer bedding originate in South America, but there are hundreds of native species in China, where they have been used in Chinese medicine since the 14th century.
The begonia was classified in 1690 by Charles Plumier, a Franciscan monk and one of France's most distinguished plant hunters - he was appointed botanist to Louis XIV, the Sun King.
Plumier named it after Michel Begon, then governor of the Windward Islands, and another keen botanist.


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