by BRIAN MINTER
January 31, 2006
For shady garden areas, tuberous begonias are one of the old-time favourites. Unfortunately, most of us fall into the rut of buying the same old camellia-flowered varieties each year. Many other beautiful varieties have been ignored for far too long.
The most easy care variety I have seen is the ‘Non-Stop’ series, which can be started from seed or tuber with equal success. The blossom size is not quite up to par with the camellia-flowered varieties, but their colour range and incredible garden performance far surpasses the older strains. ‘Non-Stops’ will also tolerate a fair amount of sunshine, allowing you to use them in many more areas. At Minter Gardens, they steal the show and quite honestly, we’ve had to pull the blossoms off in November to allow the tubers to dry up. A recent introduction is a stunning red and white double Picottee called ‘Rose Petticoat’. Two amazing seedling strains are the very large and spectacular Pin-Up Series ‘Flame’, a yellow and orange bicolour and ‘Rose‘ , a stunning white with deep rose edgings. These are best picked up later as staked plants.
As for tubers, I’m excited about the ‘Maxima’ series of begonias. They are very similar to ‘Non-Stops’, but they also have single female flowers which can be left on for a most pleasing effect. Europeans tend to prefer these more prolific varieties with smaller blossoms and longer blooming periods. They are also more weather tolerant.
‘Crispa Marginata’ begonias are singles but very much like multi-flowered varieties. Even though they are the most prolific of all begonias, they still look quite similar to the fibrous varieties. They tolerate sun as well as shade, but their real charm lies in their delightful, often black-coloured foliage, which, when contrasted with their intensely coloured flowers, creates a truly knockout effect.
If you are a fan of big flowers, try some ‘California’ varieties. There are many flower forms on the market such as ruffled and camellia, as well as upright and trailing varieties. One of the original breeders in California has renewed my faith in these magnificent old giants. It is not unusual to grow, even in the first year, flowers four to five inches in diameter. You many find them a little more expensive than other varieties, but you won’t mind once you see the results. They come in both upright and trailing varieties.
Use a peat and sand mixture to start all your begonia tubers. Try a ratio of three-quarters peat to one-quarter sand. Your might want to add a little floured bonemeal to this mix as well. Place your tubers in the smallest pot possible, (one just large enough to fit the tuber) being careful not to bury them too deeply. Water the tubers in thoroughly with a fungicide, and cover your pots with a clean dry cleaning bag. Then, place your pots on top of the refrigerator, where it’s warm, to make them sweat. If the tubers are sound, I guarantee you success every time using this method. To enjoy some early blossoms, now’s the best time to get your tubers started. And please, give some of the new varieties a try.
If you just don’t have time to mess with starting tubers, don’t worry. Started plants will be in good supply by late April. Since begonias love warm temperatures, wait until May before setting them outside.