Begonias have become one of my favorite workhorse annuals for the garden.
They provide great blooms and/or foliage and perform well in sun or shade. There are many different types of begonias with unique features, making it easy to find just the right plant for your situation.
Most gardeners start with the classic wax begonia, usually sold in flats of 36 or 48 plants. Rounded, waxy leaves are almost succulent, making the plants tolerant of both dry and moist soils. Foliage may be green or deep bronze, and prolific flowers in shades of pink, red and white. They typically grow about a foot tall and work well at garden’s edge or in containers.
In recent years hybridizers have developed super-size varieties with enormous 3-inch blooms and plants that reach 30 inches tall. With names like Big, Megawatt, Surefire and Whopper, they are great as a low, seasonal hedge and fill space with fewer plants. Even when plants are stunted by tough conditions, they outshine the standard size version.
Dragon Wing begonias are excellent garden plants, with shiny green, wing-shaped leaves and flowers held upright in large pendulous clusters. Available with red or pink blooms, plants grow 12-15 inches tall and become very full and bushy. A single plant will fill a large container, and when planted in the ground they fill in quickly. Plants are best in partial shade and are tolerant of heat and dry soils.
Tuberous begonias have big, showy flowers in a huge range of colors, shades of yellow and peach, orange, red, white and myriad shades of pink.
NonStop is the single most popular series, offering the full range of colors on plants with green or burgundy leaves. Plants grow about ten inches tall and prefer full sun to partial shade. There are also pendulous types that cascade from a container, perfect for hanging baskets.
Rieger begonias look quite like the tuberous/NonStop types, with similar color range and plant sizes. Generally, they are not as tolerant of heat and strong sun as the other types we’ve discussed. They are lovely in containers on a protected patio or deck, and are good houseplants in bright, indirect light.
Riegers have become more widely sold with spring annual assortments in recent years, in part because of hybrids like the Solenia series that are a bit more durable. Solenia begonias perform best in four hours of sunlight, come in more than a dozen bright colors and provide an abundance of large, fully double, self-cleaning flowers.
I’ve also been impressed with the bolivensis type begonias. These have interesting foliage, green blushed bronze, and a great abundance of split, bell-shaped flowers.
The orange-flowered original, Bonfire, has been joined by a plethora of others, in myriad shades of pink, coral, white and red. They are at their very best in hanging baskets or raised planters where they can provide cascades of color.
For shade, consider Gryphon begonia. This is a foliage plant, with rich, bronzed green leaves patterned in silver. A hybrid cane-type begonia, the leaf shape is like those of a maple, held umbrella-like on 12 to 24-inch stems. Plants look great in the center of a mixed container or as a stand-alone in a pot or in the garden. Drought tolerant and very low maintenance. Pastel pink flowers are nice but not the reason you’d grow it.
Rex begonias have stunning leaves, patterned in silver, blood red, burgundy and pink. Like Gryphon and other cane-type begonias, the flowers are a bonus. They grow well in partial to full shade and form tidy mounds 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Ideal for containers as they also make good houseplants if brought indoors before the frost.