“Hanging-basket begonia” means one thing to many people – the summer-flowering tuberous Begonia hybrids with tender, drooping stems, wing-shaped leaves, and gigantic flowers in glowing colors and shapes like the Christmas cactus, camellia, rose.
But many other types, effective either hanging or climbing, are decorative the year round – indoors in the East and North, outdoors in the South and Southwest. There is a large and varied group with long, lax stems, and another type with a creeping rhizome that is picturesque either in baskets or climbing a totem pole.
Choose your hanging or climbing begonias for any of many decorative virtues. They will climb or hang to any length, from three inches to three feet or more. Structural form can be open or dense, the effect bold or delicate.
Foliage comes in all shades of green, and many other colors; eye-catching patterns or variegation are frequent; and leaves may be round, oval, star-shaped, palmlike – their texture rough-hairy, soft-velvety, glossy-smooth.
Use begonias decoratively indoors to blend garden plantings or to act as accent. Display them in window baskets or wall brackets. Move them outdoors in summer, to semisunny spots on the patio or terrace. Try them as specimens or blenders in container gardens.
Hanging and creeping begonias are among the easiest and most adaptable of all tender plants. Cultural problems in general, and poor flowering in particular, can often be traced to the fact that people take the term “shade plant” too literally. In California begonias do need shade and protection against intense heat and dry winds.
But in the Northeast they will not grow or bloom properly in shade. Early morning and late afternoon midsummer sun are necessary for flowering; strong daylight from dawn to dark keeps growth healthy and compact. In Northern winters the extent and intensity of sunlight is seldom enough to injure even delicate varieties, and full sun is needed for good health.
Soil mixture should be light, porous, moderately rich in organic matter, and slightly acid or neutral. It should be neither soggy wet nor very dry. Indoors, most basket begonias will accept average temperatures with average humidity, although some will have livelier leaf texture if the humidity remains above 50%.
Pinch out the tips of long, drooping stems to promote branching and fuller growth. Except for the summer-flowering tuberous types, begonias don’t generally experience full dormancy, although they may take a short siesta in late fall or winter.
Begonia seeds are powder-fine and are not covered with soil in planting. Keep them warm, moist, and protected, preferably over mild heat. Bottom heat also speeds rooting of stem, rhizome, and leaf cuttings. Increase mature plants and tuberous types by root or tuber division. Many hanging-basket varieties propagate easily by layering.
Creeping Rhizomatous Begonias
These begonias have a thick, rooting, top-of-the-ground rhizome that will completely cover the soil in a hanging basket, or climb a totem or other porous support. Most bloom in early spring, with cloudlike clusters of dainty flowers on tall, thin stems high above the foliage.
This list of varieties includes some old-time, all-time favorite species. New Hybrids are always being introduced.
Begonia boweri - Miniature “eyelash begonia” with small, frosty green leaves bristled and stitched on the edge with black; flowers shell pink.
Begonia hispidivillosa – Round, fuzz-covered green leaves with sunken veins; white flowers.
Begonia hydrocotylifolia – Semitemperamental miniature “pond-lily begonia,” a small replica of ‘Erythrophylla.’
Begonia imperialis – Delicate, nubby olive-green leaf trimmed with silver markings. The variety smaragdina is smooth, over-all emerald.
Begonia iron cross (correctly masoniana) – Thickly nubbed gold-green leaves centered with a dark red-brown reproduction of the German symbol.
Begonia liebmanni – Green star leaves dusted with silver splashes. Good in basket or on totem.
Begonia mazae – Small round leaves dark bronzy-green with depressed veins; light-pink flowers lightly spotted with red.
Begonia stitched leaf – Lustrous shamrock-green leaves with black blanket-stitching around the edge.
Begonia sunderbruchi – Favorite star or “finger-leaf” begonia, leaves deeply and sharply cut and variously marked light green on dark; pink flowers.
Begonia vellozoana – A jewel with flat, round taffeta-textured deep-green leaves with iridescent luster, lighter veins; white flowers with pink hairs.
Non-Tuberous Trailing Begonias
In addition to this representative listing of basket varieties, many other types of begonias are eminently suitable for growing in suspended containers or at the edge of a window box or garden. There are the angel-wing begonias with arching stems that drip outrageously large clusters of brilliant flowers at intervals through the year. Mature plants of wax or semperflorens begonias will fill out and overflow a basket.
Innumerable others can be induced to droop attractively by allowing the plant to dry out to the point of wilting; then attach clothespins or some other weights to the stem tips, to hold them down for a day or two after the plant is watered.
Begonia convolvulacea – Climber or drooper with strong stems thickly covered with light-green pointed leaves; white flowers.
Begonia glabra (scandens) – Will dangle or climb a totem. Plentiful small, shiny green leaves; small white flowers.
Begonia limmingheiana – Moderately large green leaves, coral-red flowers in tight clusters.
Begonia macrocarpa (secreta) – Slim, tough, dark leaves with pointed tips; clusters of pale-pink flowers.
Begonia manni (emini) – The “rose begonia,” with roselike leaves and nontypical pink flowers more like a fuchsia than begonia.
Begonia sanguinea – Leathery, waxed, red-lined leaves with a masculine look; white flowers. A handsome basket plant.
Summer Flowering Tuberous Begonias
These hanging-basket begonias are certainly in a class by themselves. In the lath house of a California specialist the effect of their flamboyant flowering display is overwhelming. Without those cool night temperatures and the moist air these are admittedly not the easiest plants to grow; but their magnificent performance is worth any effort.
Dormant tubers are prerooted in early spring, partially sunk – cupped side up – in a moist rooting medium over bottom heat, if possible. When the top growth has two full-sized leaves, the tubers are planted in light, porous soil in flats or pots, or hanging baskets (three to a six-inch basket, for fuller display).
Pinch the young growing tips to encourage branching. When the weather is consistently warm, put the plants outdoors in semisun or lath house to bloom their heads off until fall.
These summer flowering tuberous begonias need good air circulation, but protection against strong wind. They crisp and burn in hot, dry air, but may rot or mildew in long periods of dark, humid weather. Soil should be light and kept constantly moist, but never soggy.
The tubers may be listed or sold as Begonia pendula, or simply as “hanging-basket begonias.” Some suppliers also offer the orange-flowering species, Begonia sutherlandi. Modern hybrids, which breeders are giving bigger and better flowers every year, may be offered under the name of the hybridist or originator, by choice of colors, or according to flower forms like rose or camellia. The new “picotees” are large-flowered camellia types with an edging of contrasting color on each petal.