A Red Flower Seen Through A Green Glass Looks Tuberous Begonias

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Tuberous Begonias

If you appreciate plants that don’t hesitate to boldly announce their presence with large, almost artificially perfect flowers, then tuberous begonias are for you. While some may find it too over the top, even brazen, if you love color and lots of it, with subtlety instead of mandatory, look no further.

Flowering from late spring, when the days are longer than 13 hours, until autumn when the foliage dies, these tuberous perennials have been extensively hybridized and refined where the large-flowered appearance is nothing short of spectacular. For greenhouses or those with very mild winter climates there are varieties that bloom well in winter if not suitable for colder months.

Description and classification and grouping

Begonias are one of those convenient plants where the proper name is also the common name. This genus is found in tropical and subtropical regions, especially in the Americas, and is composed of about 900 species with 130-odd cultivars, from which many cultivars and hybrids have been developed. The nature of this park is divided into 8 main categories. They are:

1. Sugarcane-like, with narrow, straight stems with conspicuous leaf nodes and evergreen leaves.

2. Shrub-like, which are bushy plants with branched stems.

3. Thick-stalked, which resemble sugarcane but with heavier stalks that sometimes form trunks.

4. Semperflorens, which are fibrous-rooted types often considered summer-flowering bedding annuals.

5. Rhizomatous, which may be evergreen or deciduous, and which often grow as long as their leaves as flowers.

6. Rex-cultorum, which are fancy-leaved rex begonias that are often grown as houseplants.

7. Tuberous, which have tuberous roots that thicken and which usually die in winter or, in the case of winter-flowering types, which can be dried at other times.

8. Trailing scandents, which are trailing, ever-flowering plants that often have long internodes and should not be confused with trailing tuberous begonias.

So group seven, although some begonia species have tuberous roots, when we talk about tuberous begonias we usually refer to the fancy-flowered group of plants grown in the garden. Begonia × tuberhybrida. Developed primarily from South American species, it first appeared in Europe in 1867, just three years after the most influential of the early native species was introduced, Begonia Piercei. Thousands of hybrids have been bred since then, and we now have tuberous begonias with a wide variety of flower shapes and styles and growth habits.

There are small-medium- and large-flowered hybrids; They may have single, semi-double or fully rose- or camellia-like double flowers; They can be short and mound-like, trailing or upright about a meter tall. And while the flowers are spectacular, don’t overlook the foliage. Because while tuberous begonias are never grown for their foliage, unlike rex begonias, their velvety, deep green leaves provide a rich luxuriance that’s the perfect foil for flowers, which would surely be diminished without the foliage contrast.


So, tuberous begonias are beautiful. I don’t need to tell you, the pictures speak for themselves, but how do you get the best out of it? Well, as garden plants they are not for everyone and not for every location, although with careful selection and siting you will be surprised at how well they grow outdoors in many parts of New Zealand.

Begonias prefer cool, moist conditions and climates that don’t suffer from summer heat or winter cold. They need bright light to bloom well but should be out of direct sunlight, especially during the heat of the day, and they also need shelter from strong winds or the flowers may turn brown around the edges and the soft foliage may be torn or bent. Tuberous begonias thrive with humus soil, plenty of moisture and regular feeding.

Given those requirements, it’s not surprising that many gardeners choose to grow tuberous begonias indoors as conservatory, shedhouse or cool greenhouse plants. However, if your garden has a south-facing spot or a shady spot on the north side, begonias will thrive outdoors, especially in areas that don’t experience summer drought.

Strong sun and wind, especially hot dry winds, are the main enemies; Light soil that dries out quickly doesn’t help either. But in a lightly shaded, sheltered position with soil fully prepared with plenty of well-rotted compost compost begonias bloom from early summer until the first frost. And all you need to do is tie tall growers to bamboo canes (specialist nursery stock wire frames), remove any spent flowers, keep the soil moist and apply a little liquid fertilizer every week.

If you find that the super-fancy big-flowered forms aren’t tough enough for your garden, don’t give up. Try some small-flowered hybrids instead. Small multiflora varieties, commonly known as flamboyant begonias, are very resilient. Grown in mass bedding or clusters, they usually appear with bright red flowers, which often hide the foliage, but are also found in orange and somewhat faint yellow-flowered forms.

Nonstop begonias are a cross between multiflora and large-flowered types. As you would expect they are of medium height and vigorous. They bloom continuously, even when kept indoors in winter, and are available in a variety of colors. Nonstops are F1 hybrids so there is no point in saving seed and any seed must be removed to keep the plants flowering. Rager begonias are similar to those developed from Begonia × hymalis.

And if open beds don’t work, consider growing begonias in pots so you have the right space for them. Straight types bloom and grow well but are rather brittle, requiring staking. Trailing types, often Begonia boliviensis hybrids, have more flexible, pendulous stems and are easy-care plants that make excellent displays when grown in hanging baskets. Trailing begonias usually do best in sphagnum-lined wire baskets rather than solid pots, as their roots appreciate cool moist sphagnum.

Disbudding and deadheading

Begonias have separate male and female flowers. Usually one large female flower has two smaller male flowers. Removing the male flowers before they mature allows the female flowers to reach their full size and also prevents the development of seedpods which can reduce the vigor of the plant. Older flowers should be removed after their prime. They close easily, and doing so not only encourages the formation of new flowers, but also helps prevent fungal diseases that develop in rotten petals.

Pests and diseases

Begonias are not particularly susceptible or resistant to insects. Snails and slugs feast on young shoots and mature foliage, various caterpillars can chew leaves, sap-sucking animals such as thrips, aphids and mealy bugs, but with a little attention and regular care, pests can usually be. Stopped before it got out of control.

More problems are fungal diseases, especially soft rot, mildew and botrytis. Damaged stems can quickly become soft, watery, and rotting, causing plants to collapse. Almost inevitably the foliage will develop mildew in late fall—it’s just part of the winter dieback process—but mildew can also occur during the growing season. Good ventilation goes a long way towards controlling the severity of fungal diseases, keeping the leaves and stems properly dry also helps, although spraying with fungicide may also be necessary.

Winter care

As flower production declines from mid-autumn, reduce watering and feeding and allow your begonias to dry out. The leaves should be dry, brown and fall off without too much trouble, but keep an eye out for any fungal diseases that may spread to the tubers.

After the foliage has dried, the tubers can be lifted or removed from their pots for winter storage. This isn’t always necessary in mild winter areas, but it’s a good idea where there is hard frost or prolonged wet weather. Tubers can only be stored in moist sawdust or any other dry, heavy medium, such as moist, shredded newspaper. Replant them in spring as new shoots appear (concave side up). Cover the tubers with a few centimeters of soil, as they also root from the top.

An exception to this process is the winter-flowering Begonia × Hymalis hybrid, which results from crossing Begonia × tuberhybrida with Begonia socotrana, an Indian Ocean island off the coast of Yemen. Widely marketed as rager or “blush” begonias, these plants begin blooming in late summer and remain in leaf and flower well into spring. Naturally completely intolerant of frost, these plants require very mild, mild winters to grow outdoors. However, they are very adaptable to indoor cultivation and are a great alternative to winter-flowering houseplants that can spend the summer outdoors in the garden.


There are several ways to propagate tuberous begonias, the method used varies by plant type.


Purchased sowing seeds for production of F1 hybrids such as Nonstop or for a new crop of vigorous young plants.

Begonia seeds are very fine, in fact like dust. It is so fine that it usually does not come in seed packets, where it gets lost in the folds, but in glass vials that have to be opened before sowing. Although pelleted seeds are very easy to handle, it seems that they are not always readily available.

Seeds need warmth and light to germinate. It should be sown in spring, in open, heated trays. Keep the seeds moist until they germinate. Young plants grow quickly and become large enough to hold a pot. When they are young they are sensitive to drafts and temperature fluctuations and should be covered in early summer until spring is well established.

Build your garden beds with high-quality compost and organic manure and plant when the foliage is tender, not too hot and sunny.


Mature plants have large tubers that divide quickly, and division is a great way to create established, strong plants. Divide the tubers in spring when replanting. They slice easily with a sharp knife but keeping your splits on the large side is difficult as the growing ‘eyes’ are hard to find. To prevent fungal diseases, dust the cut surfaces with sulfur powder and allow them to dry before planting.


Most tuberous begonias are grown from cuttings, and this is a particularly good method of creating a large stock of small-flowered multiflora types for mass bedding. Fresh spring and early summer shoots make the best cuttings and kill very quickly in mildly humid conditions. You can continue to take cuttings through the summer but unless the new plants develop reasonably sized tubers before winter, they won’t last until next spring.

Like many begonia houseplants, Begonia × hymalis is often grown from leaf cuttings. This involves removing the mature leaf, crossing the vein and sticking the leaf to moist soil. A warm humid environment, such as an enclosed propagation tray, is essential. Also, you should start in the spring so that the young plants are well established before winter.

Begonia shows

Public gardens often use tuberous begonias in their displays and are a great way to see a wide variety of flowers.

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