The Q&A Archives: How to care for Begonias

Question: I recently purchased Begonias that were rich in color and now they're losing their color. I have them in my kitchen window with some sun. Could that be why? Can you infom me to how much to water them and if they prefer moist soil. Thank you!

Answer: There are so many different begonia types and each has specific requirements.
Cane begonias, better known as " wing," can be found in the summer months as outdoor hanging baskets. They are popular for their long, graceful leaves and colorful flowers in shades of white, pink, red and orange.

Begonia semperflorens, better known as " begonia," has an abundance of dainty flowers in shades of pink, red or white. These begonias are more tolerant of sun and are frequently used as bedding plants or for color in a hanging basket or windowbox. As the term semperflorens implies, you can expect them to flower throughout the summer.

Rhizomatous begonias are typified by the old-fashioned " cross" begonias. These plants will send down roots along their stems, making them easy to propagate by cuttings. Breeders are developing newer and flashier hybrids of this old favorite.

Rex begonias are the queens of color. The striking foliage is complex in pattern, texture and color, and includes deep, intense greens edged with bright reds and sparkled with silver. They can be trickier than most other begonias - try to maintain them at an evenly warm temperature, let the soil dry slightly between waterings and increase the humidity, if possible.

Summer-blooming tuberous begonias will fill a patio container with large flowers (up to four inches across) in shades of red, pink, yellow, orange, white and bi-colors. Their green leaves are the perfect backdrop to set off their showy flowers. Tuberous begonias like to go dormant in the winter. Store the tubers in dry vermiculite or peat and pot them up again in the spring.

You might have to experiment with your begonias to find which plants grow in which windows. If you find that the plants are stretching, they need more light and if they are stunted and burning then they need to be farther from the window or moved to a window with less light. A good share of begonias will grow in a south window and most will grow in either an eastern or western exposure.

How your plants are potted and what soil mix you use will have a lot to do with how successful you are. Begonias hate to be over-potted or over-watered. It is hard to kill an under-potted begonia, but they can die pretty fast if over-potted. Don't move begonias to a larger pot until roots have filled the current pot. If you find that a certain plant never seems to dry out, it is probably in too large of a pot. Move it down to a size that fits the rootball after you've removed all the soggy wet mix.

For growing indoors you should always use a soil-less mix. Nearly all soil-less mixes are mostly composed of peat moss with additions of perlite and/or vermiculite. You can also make your own by mixing two thirds peat moss or a peat based mix with a third part perlite. A couple of commonly available peat based mixes are Sunshine and Fafard. If you use plain peat moss you should premoisten it before using because it can sometimes be hard to wet in the first place. When I use peat, I wet it with boiling water to get it slightly damp and then use it after it cools. I wouldn't recommend using any amendments you would commonly use outdoors such as leaf mold or manure, or even garden soil. These will cause your mix to stay too wet indoors and also invite diseases. A peat mix is the perfect mix for indoors since it drains well, but holds the perfect amount of moisture for the plant without staying too wet.

Allow the surface of the mix to dry out slightly and then water thoroughly till water runs out the bottom when using conventional pots. Don't use saucers unless you fill them with pebbles so that the plant doesn't sit in water. You can use bottom watering, but empty the water out of the saucer after a couple of hours. Most begonias will also grow well using wick watering such as the self-watering containers used for African violets and gesneriads.

Best wishes with your begonias!

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