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The genus Begonia counts about one thousand five hundred species of plants, most numerous hybrids, produced over the decades; they are all perennial plants, originating in Asia, Africa and the American continent; indeed, some varieties of begonia are grown as annuals, because they are very easy to propagate, and therefore it would not be worth keeping them from one year to another, during the cold months.
Among the various species, we find begonias cultivated for their foliage, and others cultivated essentially for flowers; to better describe the begonias, they are generally divided into groups, based on the characteristics of the plants, rather than on other botanical evidences. All begonias, however, are plants that love a fresh and deep soil, and regular watering, so that the soil always remains slightly damp; although there are some species that also love direct sunlight, begonias are usually grown in partial shade, so that the summer sun does not burn the foliage. Another particularity common to all begonias is flowers; begonias are monoecious plants, that is, they produce male flowers and female flowers of different shapes, but both are present on the same plant; the female flowers are less striking, while the male ones are generally larger and more showy.

Growing begoniasBegonia semperflorens

Very grown in Italy, begonie semperflorens are generally used as annuals, to be placed in spring and summer flowerbeds. They produce a slightly fleshy foliage, of small size, with short stems and generally reddish in color; the flowers are small, inconspicuous when taken individually, but small plants can produce them in large quantities, and constantly for many months, from the beginning of spring, to the cold of autumn. In fact the name semperflorens is not the botanical name of these begonias, which belong to different genera, and very often they are horticultural hybrids. They prefer very bright positions, in partial shade or even with a few hours of direct sunlight every day; in areas with a very hot and dry summer climate it is advisable to find a flowerbed in an area that is not too hot, with sunlight in the early morning hours. They love regular watering, even if they manage to survive periods of drought; it is therefore convenient to water when the soil is dry, but avoid leaving the plants in dry soil for a long time. The soil will be a mixture of universal soil, with little sand to improve drainage, and possibly little garden soil; plants do not produce large root systems, and therefore can also find space in small flower beds, or in geraniums. Every 12-15 days, we supply fertilizer for flowering plants, which will stimulate plant development. These begonias are perennial plants, which do not survive the winter cold, and are therefore grown as annuals; if desired it is possible to prune some leaves in autumn from old plants, and use them to create cuttings, to be kept in a hot greenhouse until the following spring.
An adult plant of begonia semperflorens can reach, in late summer, the 40-50 cm of height, maintaining the small leaves and the delicate flowers; in recent years new varieties of begonia have been bred, very similar to semperflorens hybrids, but with larger and more striking foliage; the group of these begonias was called Begonia Dragonwing, and is cultivated like the other hybrids.

Begonia rex

It would be appropriate to call this group begonia rex cultorum: in Asia there is a begonia whose botanical name is begonia rex, but the begonias of this type that we find in the nursery generally have a very distant kinship with the botanical species; in fact the rex begonias have been bred for several decades, and today we find so many varieties. These are rhizomatous root begonias, cultivated for their leaves, since the flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. The foliage of the rex begonias can be found in dozens of shapes, colors and sizes; there are varieties with snail-shaped foliage, and begonias with brown foliage and orange streaks; other very appreciated rex begonias have large leaves with jagged margins, of violet color, with green and red zoning. They are plants grown mainly in the apartment, as very few varieties withstand winter cold; they prefer not excessively large pots, filled with a good fresh soil, which manages to keep a little moisture for a long time, and therefore must contain bits of bark inside. They love shady but very bright positions: on the one hand sunlight would burn the foliage, on the other a very poor brightness would make part of the foliage color lose. Watering must be very regular, but avoiding to leave the soil always soaked with water, we always wait for the substrate to tend to dry before watering again. These begonias need a very humid climate and do not like extreme temperatures, or too hot or too cold; place the pots in a large saucer, filled with a little gravel, where we will always keep a few centimeters of water, which evaporating will increase the ambient humidity and lower the temperature slightly. The begonias rex enter in vegetative rest when the climate becomes excessively dry, or excessively cold, and completely lose the foliage; therefore we will have to try to keep humidity high and keep the plants in the apartment, otherwise we risk having bare stems for most of winter and summer.


Some botanical species and horticultural varieties of begonia have the appearance and size of small shrubs, with erect stems, and long internodes, which make them similar to canes, with the tufts of leaves only in the upper portion of the stems. A begonia of this type very common in cultivation in Italy is the Begonia corallina, or even Begonia "Tamaya"; it is also in this case an apartment variety, which can reach quite large dimensions, with large elongated leaves, light green in color, characterized by white or transparent dots; the flowers are pink or red, not excessively large, rarely double.
These begonias are grown like many other houseplants: a hot and humid climate, regular watering, fertilizer every fortnight. If the climate is favorable, the Tamaya begonia remain in bloom throughout the year. Unfortunately, over the years, the erect stems continue to develop, tending to empty in the lower part; to avoid this event, it is advisable to prune the plants every year in spring; from pruning waste we can also obtain propagation material, to prepare new plants. When preparing a begonia-cane stem cutting, remember to plant the cutting very deep in the jar, so that it almost reaches the bottom of the container: in this way the stem will produce many new shoots, and the adult plant will present a dense and compact vegetation .

Tuberous begonias

The tuberous begonias are among the most cultivated and hybridized, in fact they are also known as begonia tuberhybrida, as they are hybridized plants for decades, until obtaining the varieties available today in the nursery; they are tuberous plants, and therefore we generally find them in the nursery in their dormant form: an enlarged, dark tuber, as big as a large potato. They produce flowers of all types and colors, usually stradoppi, often in shades of red and yellow; the foliage may be green, brown, with violet edges; there are upright varieties, but also pendulous varieties, suitable for hanging baskets. Begonia tubers are generally grown in the garden, in pots or in the open ground, in a bright place, with even a few hours of direct sunlight, but only during the coolest hours of the day, as they do not like the muggy summer heat. If we live in an area characterized by very hot summers, we place the tubers in a shady, but bright, and well-ventilated place. They need a cool, loose, and very well drained soil, as excess moisture quickly causes mold and rot of the tubers; the begonia tubers are buried completely, so that the whole tuber is at least a couple of centimeters below the surface, as the roots are also produced in the upper part of the tuber. They are planted in the garden in spring, when the minimum temperatures are above 15 ° C; watering must be very regular, but waiting for the soil to dry between two waterings; every 12-15 days we supply fertilizer for flowering plants. The tuberous begonias bloom until the first cold of autumn, when they begin to fade and lose their foliage; at this point we suspend the watering and wait for the aerial part to dry, to dig up the tuber and keep it in a cool, dry and warm place, until the following spring. The tubers will be placed again at home only when they begin to present the new shoots.

Begonia hiemalis or begonia semi tuberosa

The begonias called "apartment" belong to this group; in this case too it is very often hybrids, which are cultivated for the flowers, usually double or stradoppi, and for the flowering, which is continuous for most of the year. These begonias do not produce a real tuber, nor even a rhizome; they are generally hybrids of botanical species, with varieties of begonia semperflorens. They produce fleshy, very branched stems, which give rise to a roundish, very dense and compact seedling. The flowering continues, from the beginning of spring, until the autumn, when in general the plants go through a short period of vegetative rest, without flowers; when the plants stop flowering and produce new foliage, we can lightly sprinkle them and thin the waterings; as soon as we notice new shoots we start watering and fertilizing again.
They are therefore generally cultivated in pots, in fairly small containers, filled with a good universal soil, rich in humus, and lightened with a little sand, so as to make it more draining; watering must be regular, but the soil must have the possibility of drying between two waterings: excess water in the ground quickly causes the decay of the plants. However, we avoid leaving the soil dry for a long time, because begonias do not like drought, except when the plant is in vegetative rest. During flowering, we supply a fertilizer for flowering plants, every 12-15 days, mixed with the water of the watering.

Pests and diseases

In general, pests and fungal diseases affecting begonias are linked to non-ideal cultivation conditions; the moist soil, often turns out to be very wet, and rapidly causes the development of roots or tubers, which are very harmful to the entire plant; the problem becomes very serious, especially in the case of tuberous begonias, as a tuber attacked by rot can hardly be saved. Before having to resort to a systemic fungicide, it is important to prevent the development of the disease, by watering the plants correctly, and always avoiding that the soil remains soaked, with stagnant water.
Another fungus that often strikes begonias, especially those grown in the garden, is oidium, which develops above all in the months with fresh nocturnal minimums and a humid climate; also in this case, plants placed in well-ventilated areas, and watered by wetting the soil and not the leaves, tend to show the problem less often; if powdery mildew occurs, we use a special fungicide to eradicate it.
Other problems are always linked to high humidity, which if associated also with poor ventilation, excessive watering, and too thick plants, leads to the development of gray mold between the stems; a good ventilation and watering provided correctly solve the problem quickly, as these molds survive only in poorly ventilated and very wet environments.

Propagate the begonia

Begonias produce fleshy stems and thick, almost succulent leaves; as with most succulents, even the stems and leaves of the begonias root with great ease; the thick stems, rich in water, are perfect for preparing cuttings, since the water inside them allows the cuttings to survive for a long time, before they start rooting.
Since most of the begonias we cultivate are hybrids, it is much more convenient to propagate them vegetatively, rather than sowing them; first of all because not all produce fertile seeds, secondly because the seeds obtained from a hybrid plant do not always give rise to plants identical to the mother plant; so, if we want to have the begonia we saw at a friend's house, we can simply ask to give us a single leaf.
We prepare a substratum by mixing universal soil with sand in equal parts, use it to fill a tray with drain holes, and water it thoroughly; take a healthy and well-developed leaf, possibly young, recently formed; we also predict the petiole, and cut the outer areas of the leaf, shortening each grain by about a third, and place the leaf on the prepared soil; we cover the tray with plastic wrap, which will keep the wet surface, and we place everything in a cool area, very bright and sheltered from the cold. We avoid direct sunlight, because the heat it emits is excessive, and it would make the temperature of the leaves rise too much. We can also use portions of leaves for this type of cuttings, but each portion must contain a small part of the veins of the leaf, otherwise with the passing of the days it will simply dissect, without rooting.
Some begonias tend not to root from leaf cuttings, for these it is necessary to use a stem cutting, taking possibly a cutting from a stem that has never bloomed, as the flowering stems tend not to produce further shoots. The begonia stems tend to root better and more quickly if instead of being immediately buried, they are placed in clean water, until we see the first rootlets.

Plants and humidity

Often in the nursery, when we buy a new plant, we are advised to water it regularly; once at home, the plant perishes, turns yellow and dies within a few weeks. This happens because it is not so simple to be able to understand how much a plant has "thirst", and when it is good to water it. Generally speaking, when a plant loves high humidity, we refer not only to the soil, but also to the ground; it is therefore useless to water a plant every day, in July, when the outdoor climate is extremely dry and hot. In addition to watering regularly, therefore, we must remember to increase the humidity around the foliage, vaporizing with demineralized water, or leaving containers full of water near the plant. The typical method is to have large pots, full of clay or gravel, with at least a few centimeters of water still inside, which will continue to evaporate.
Watering regularly generally means trying to keep the soil moist; to do this it is useful to supply water quite often with watering, but before doing so we will have to check with our hands if the soil is already dry, and in this case postpone watering for at least one day.
If the plants are in the house, remember that heating and air conditioning tend to dry the air very much, and also the soil of the plants; therefore, in addition to checking the soil conditions more often, we can also simply remember to keep all our houseplants nearby, so that the water supplied humidifies the air of all the plants.
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