A houseplant for some, a bedding plant for others, the versatile begonia comes in several different forms and tolerates a variety of conditions.
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With their showstopping leaf colors and textures and lovely blooms, begonias offer a lot to the landscape. In most climates, they're generally considered annuals and are commonly used in ornamental beds, hanging baskets, wreath frames or planters. They also make excellent houseplants.
Make a hanging begonia basket
To make your own hanging begonia basket, you'll need quality potting soil, pre-moistened sphagnum moss, a wire frame and lots of begonias.
First, use pre-moistened sphagnum moss to create the basket's lining. If it has been soaking, wring out excess moisture. Insert enough moss against the frame to cover the bottom of the basket. Add about three cups of soil on top of the moss.
Next plant the first row. Here wax begonias were chosen for this container. Tease the roots a bit and slide each plant through the wire so that the rootball lays on top of the soil. Evenly space several plants along this rung of the basket. Add more moss along the sides of the basket and follow that up with a layer of soil.
For the next row of begonias, stagger the plants from the first row's planting. That gives a much fuller look to the basket. To finish the basket, add a top layer of moss, followed by more soil. Finish planting on top of the basket. Give the completed basket a good drink of water.
Baskets can dry out quickly so be sure to check them daily. If the soil is dry, water thoroughly. Some gardeners have a tendency to overwater. Begonias actually like to be on the dry side, so let the soil dry lightly to the touch between watering.
Begonias are easy to propagate. For example, cane-type begonias are very easy to propagate. This type of begonia has long canes that grow typically four to five feet in length, with some varieties reaching up to 12 feet tall.
To propagate via stem cuttings, cut a section of the stem that has a leaf node. This is the point where a new leaf forms. Pinch off the mature leaf, and then make a clean cut a half-inch below the leaf node with a sharp knife.
If you'd like to propagate begonias from leaf cuttings, here's how. This rex begonia has several veins on the underside of the leaf. Cut the leaf into several pieces, making sure each piece has at least one of the main veins. Take each of the cut sections and lightly dip the edges (where the leaf node was) in root hormone.
Then stick the cutting into rooting medium about halfway. Here, pre-moistened perlite was used as the rooting medium.
When all the cuttings are placed in the perlite, put the pot into a plastic bag, water gently and close the bag. Place it in bright but indirect sunlight. When roots have formed, transplant each rooted cutting into a separate container.
Don't forget about your begonias in the fall. Frost will nip them in the bud, so make sure those outdoor planters and baskets are brought indoors before the mercury in the thermometers starts heading south for the winter.
Master gardener Paul James fields questions on tree surgery, tree ferns, Sambucus, weeping dogwood and more.