Fabulous Friday: B. ‘Sofia’ Blooms

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The first blooms of the season just appeared on our most stunning cane Begonia, ‘Sophia.’  This Begonia has the largest, most dramatic leaves of all the Begonia‘s we grow.

When I originally ordered it several years ago from Garden Harvest Supply Com., it was advertised as having dark purple leaves, with splashes of silver, that can appear almost black on top. The undersides of the leaves are a beautiful maroon.  Little mention was made of its flowers.  The leaves are the main attraction on this Begonia, and they are lovely year round whether the plant is grown indoors or outside.

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What the catalog description didn’t warn me about was this plant’s size!  It grows enthusiastically, with huge leaves and towering  canes.  When I cut back the canes to prevent the plant from falling over, and put those canes in water, they quickly root.  Which means, that we have a growing collection of pots of this beautiful, but gargantuan, Begonia. 

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A potted B. ‘Sophia’ grows between an oakleaf Hydrangea and Edgeworthia, lit by the early morning sun.

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We enjoy this Begonia in our home from late October through early May.  Once it comes outside, it loses some of its winter leaves, but quickly replaces them with larger, more intense ones.  Now, after nearly three months of brighter light and moist heat, it is ready to cover itself in sprays of small, pink flowers.  Cane Begonias flower generously once they get going!

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B. ‘Sophia’ beginning to bloom.  Its canes look much like bamboo.  New side shoots can grow from each leaf node.  Pinching out the growth tip encourages new side shoots to form.

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This was the last Begonia cultivar we have been waiting for to bloom this year.  It joins our many other varieties filling pots and baskets in the shady areas of our forest garden.  These large plants use a tremendous amount of water each day.  In hot weather, they may need watering every day. Water twice a day if the plants look stressed.

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Another cane Begonia, ‘Arabian Sunset’ blooms continually from May through October.  I originally purchased this variety from a farmer’s market, and gave it to my dad for Father’s Day.  We have kept it going from cuttings for nearly 20 years.  I’ve not seen it offered for sale, since.

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They will have better color and more flowers if you feed them regularly, too, with enriched soil, timed release fertilizer such as Osmocote, and also a boost from a liquid feed from time to time.  I use Neptune’s Harvest in a watering can several times a month during summer for Begonias kept out in the garden.  Begonias kept indoors, or on our deck, get a very diluted drink of a water soluble fertilizer formulated for orchids. It certainly isn’t organic; but it doesn’t have a a strong odor and the plants respond with abundant growth.

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Large cane Begonias give our garden a rich texture.  Grow them in a large pot, and consider underplanting them with miniature Hosta, low growing ferns, ivy, Heuchera, Dichondra,  small Caladiums, or other, lower growing Begonias.  If you don’t cover the soil with a companion planting, then mulch the soil with moss or fine gravel to both conserve moisture and make a more finished presentation.

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Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.

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Just keep in mind, as summer draws to a close, that cane Begonias, like ‘Sophia’ are tropical plants and hate to be cold.  Bring them indoors before night time temperatures drop into the 40s in your garden.

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Another large cane Begonia that I’ve grown for many years, I’ve lost track of the cultivar name for this one.

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But we still have several months to enjoy these fabulous plants out in our garden.

If you’ve not yet tried growing cane Begonias, be confident that you can manage their simple needs.  These are long-lived companion plants which will grow, and multiply, for many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.”
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Pericles
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Begonia “Sophia” blooming in March of 2014

 

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious, Let’s infect one another!

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Winter Houseguests: The Begonias

 

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Our Begonias move inside sometime in late October.  And we entertain them for the wintery half of the year, until they can go back out to the fresh air and sunshine in late April.  We add a few new cultivars every year, and every year it seems the collection grows from cuttings, too.

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They show appreciation with fresh flowers and new growth, glowing in the rare winter sunshine.

Begonias reward their grower with gorgeous foliage whether in bloom, or not.  Their leaves may be plain or spotted, round, curlique, angel wing, shiny or dull.  Some are gargantuan; others remain quite small. You’ll find Begonias with any color leaves from apple green to purply black.

Like Heucheras, some cultivars’ leaves are even orange!

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Although most of our Begonias spend winter camping out in the garage, a few make the cut to live in the house with the cat and the gardeners.  They drop many of their summer leaves in our arid heated home,  but new ones will take their place by early summer.

Begonias prefer to dry out a little between waterings.  Even so, I try to check them and top them off several times a week.  I offer well-diluted Orchid food a few times a month to those in the house, to keep them growing and encourage them to bloom.

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This Begonia blooms almost continually. A tall Angel Wing type, its stems will grow to 6" or more if you don't prune them back.

This Begonia blooms almost continually in bright light. A tall Angel Wing type, its stems will grow to 6″ or more if you don’t prune them back.

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Late winter is a great time to find B. Rex, and other small Begonia cuttings growing in tiny pots.  I picked up two new cultivars last weekend at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  Neither was named, but one was sold as a ‘dwarf Begonia‘ and has the tiniest leaves I’ve found on a Begonia, yet.  I am looking forward to learning what this one does over time.

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The 'dwarf' Begonia I found at the Great Big Greenhouse last weekend. These are the tiniest Begonia leaves I've ever seen!

The ‘dwarf’ Begonia I found at the Great Big Greenhouse last weekend. These are the tiniest Begonia leaves I’ve ever seen!

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The other is an Angel Wing type, and likely will make a good hanging basket plant.  Small and inexpensive now, I can find a little place  for  these grow indoors over the next few months.  Each new Begonia will grow  large enough to look good in a pot or hanging basket basket by the time it is warm enough to move them out for the summer.

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Although a tiny rooted cutting now, this will likely grow into a standard sized Begonia by early summer.

Although a tiny rooted cutting now, this will likely grow into a standard sized Begonia by early summer.

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If your gardener’s fingers are itching to grow, but it is still too cold to work outside, please consider adopting a Begonia.

It will prove a rewarding companion so long as you can provide bright, indirect light and temperatures of 50F or above.  These beautiful plants want to live.  Even if you make a mistake or two along the way, most will recover and come back strong.

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When you need to prune them back, the cuttings will root well in water.   In just a few weeks, your rooted cutting will be ready for a pot of its own.   A few rooted cuttings planted in a basket in April will grow into a gorgeous  display by July.

 

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This is a second rooted cutting I picked up last weekend of the same Begonia cultivar. This two piece pot has a reservoir to keep the soil evenly moist. How cute!

This is a second rooted cutting I picked up last weekend of the same Begonia cultivar. This two piece pot has a reservoir to keep the soil evenly moist. How cute!

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 Long lived and companionable, Begonias make agreeable winter house guests, freshening the air and filling one’s home with beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Begonias: The Ultimate House Plant

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Whether choosing a pet or a house plant, most of us have criteria.

We think about shedding and noise, ease of care, how much space we have, and the general appearance of our new companion.

Long hair or short?  Leggy or compact?  And how much will I need to feed it?

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Many of us treat our indoor plants a little like pets.  We offer fresh water and food.  We groom them, probably talk to them; and we clean up behind them.

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Having kept everything from ferns to Ficus trees over the years, I have developed some preferences and prejudices.

I like interesting foliage, first of all.  I want something eye-catching and unusual.  And I want to see growth and change.

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I grew up in the era when my mother kept ‘dish gardens’ in the living room.  These florist made concoctions were uniformly boring and rarely grew at all.

Nearly all included a ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue,’ otherwise known as ‘Snakeplant.’  They thrive on total neglect.

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For my money, rhizomatous Begonias remain the best ‘house plants’ of all.

Their leaves unfold like colorful mosaics or textured silk.  Even though they produce flowers from time to time, the flowers are almost an afterthought; and nearly always tiny.

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The leaves, streaked and mottled in shades of silver, green, black, red, pink, brown, white and purple, are more colorful and interesting than any flower, with the possible exception of orchids.

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You probably know rhizomatous Begonias as ‘Rex’ Begonias.  ‘Rex’ of course is Latin for ‘king.’  All Rex Begonias are rhizomatous, but all rhizomatous Begonias are not classed as ‘Rex.’

The original species of B. Rex was found in the forests of northern India.  Since, the species has been hybridized with other rhizomatous Begonias to create the many many cultivars available around the world today.

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Rhizomatous Begonias thrive in the warm, shady environment most homes can offer.  They remain relatively small and rarely shed so much as a petal or leaf.  While these Begonias hate soggy soil, they appreciate humid air.  In areas with low humidity the will perform better when grown on a tray of moist gravel, or near other plants where humidity remains fairly high.

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Most of our Begonias spend the summer out of doors in the shade.  They love our high coastal humidity.    Once outside, the leaves become more vibrantly colored as they respond to increased levels of light.

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This is the Begonia pictured above, as it looked near the end of February.  We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2" pot about three weeks earlier.  Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

This is the same Begonia pictured 2 photos above, as it looked near the end of February. We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2″ pot about three weeks earlier. Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

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Rhizomatous Begonias send up individual leaves, on long petioles, from a special stem called a rhizome, which creeps along the surface of the soil.  This means that as these plants grow larger, they can be divided by cutting the rhizome into pieces.  Each piece should have some roots and some leaves attached so it can grow on in its new pot.

I top dress the soil with fine gravel, often aquarium gravel, to make the pot look nicer and to protect the plants’ fragile leaves.

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A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia purchased in February.

A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia.

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Believe it or not, many rhizomatous Begonias are sold along with other ‘tropical’ plants in big box stores like Lowes and Walmart.

I scan their tropical plant displays for the distinctively beautiful leaves of Begonias.  They often come in tiny pots, 3″ or less, for just a few dollars.

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I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

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Once cleaned up, potted up, and fed; these little guys respond quickly.  Like a stray adopted from the pound, they respond to love and care to grow into beautiful companion plants!

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Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

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But unlike a stray Lab or Tom cat, these beauties will not grow out of bounds.  They are extremely well behaved and tolerant of the ways of humans.  They will never reach for the ceiling like a cane Begonia, or drop vivid petals everywhere  as the tuberous Begonias will.

These are the most refined and polite Begonias of the genus.

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This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later.  Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later. Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

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If you’ve not yet lived with one of these lovely Begonias, you might consider adopting one soon.

They will become your faithful companions for year after year if you will simply give them light, warmth, humidity, a drink when they need it (soil dry to the touch) and a light meal from time to time.

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The difficult part of the relationship is choosing a favorite from so many tempting cultivars.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Mystery Begonia

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Do you know her name?

I would love to know, although she is wonderful whether named or not.

I found this lovely Begonia in a farmer’s market plant stall nearly 10 years ago, and bought her on sight… as a gift for my dad.

He loved her, and kept her over winter in his solarium.  He gave me cuttings, and he and I have both grown those cuttings on and taken more ever since.

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We both grow this lovely Begonia now,  and I’ve passed on cuttings to many Begonia loving friends over the years.

This cane Begonia can grow fairly tall; to at least 3′.    Both stems and leaves are sumptuous red, and the generous bracts of  flowers rose pink.  She blooms year round, taking short breaks between outbreaks of loveliness.

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I keep this cane Begonia watered but not wet, and feed with dilute fertilizer monthly.  Cane Begonias have harder, waxier stems than the tuberous Begonias, and so don’t rot easily at the soil line when the soil is too wet.  These are sturdy, forgiving plants.

I  also sprinkle Osmocote on the soil two or three times each year, and trim back long canes from time to time when they get too lanky.   I always plop those pruned canes into a jar of water to allow them to root.

Cane Begonias prefer partial shade, but appreciate time out of doors in the summer.  When we first move them out, they often lose leaves for a few weeks.  These are quickly replaced with sturdier, brighter leaves ready to process the stronger light available in summer.

They don’t like cold or drafts and so come back inside before the weather turns cold.

Deer normally leave cane Begonias alone.  However, they will nibble leaves from time to time when especially hungry.  We’ve had deer somehow sneaking into our garden too frequently in recent weeks.  And they have grazed some of our cane Begonias.  Such a waste….

The remedy is to throw a few whole cloves of garlic into each pot.  Deer hate the aroma of garlic.  Although unsightly, the garlic will protect the plants from grazing.

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This is one of my favorite Begonias from cuttings.  I bought one plant a decade ago, and continue to start new ones from it.  I've given cuttings from this special Begonia to many friends.

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My father asked me to re-pot his red Begonia last weekend.  I think it might be the original plant…

We moved her up to a 14″ coir lined basket, gave her some fresh soil and a sprinkle of Osmocote; and hung her back in her shady summer spot.

Oh, the joy of a basket of cane Begonias in the summer.

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She will cover herself in flowers through all of the warm months to come.

Do you know her name?  After many attempts to find this plant online, I’m finally asking for help.  Surely someone else has grown her, too, and can add a bit of information to aid my quest.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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