June 2013

Today’s begonias are not like our grandmothers’ begonias


Sparks Will Fly begonia. Photo courtesy of Burpee Home Gardens

If your image of begonias is limited to the serviceable (yet pretty) wax-leaf varieties with bronze or green leaves (B. x semperflorens-cultorum), here’s an eye opener.

Begonias have branched out into beautiful, improved specimens that are about as tough as you’d want a plant to be.

First up are the Angel Wing, Baby Wing and Big series of begonias (B. x hybrida, B. benariensis). These are great for in-ground or container plantings. They can pretty much hold their own in full sun to shade.

Next comes the Rieger begonia (B. hiemalis), commonly grown as a winter-blooming houseplant. It now is the perfect plant for spring pots outdoors, where its color intensifies in morning sun. Although the color is subdued, it does perfectly fine in shadier locations. Remove spent flowers to keep the plant tidy.

New on the market is ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ begonia (B. boliviensis), with drooping, bell-shaped, orange-red flowers and dark green leaves. This heat-tolerant, sun-loving plant won the most votes in the 2012 American Garden Award program. New offerings are planted in select public gardens and visitors are invited to vote for their favorite. The 2013 offerings can be found at the Garfield Park Arts Center.

Santa Cruz Sunset begonia. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ from Proven Winners does best in a hanging basket or container because of its cascading habit. It can get up to 24 inches tall, but more likely will be in the 12 to 15 inch range. The flowers are about 2 inches long.

‘Sparks Will Fly’ (B. x hybrida) is 2013 introduction from Burpee Home Gardens. I first saw this last year at a large horticulture show and it stopped many of us in our tracks.

The foliage is deep green with red under sides. Orange star-shaped flowers dot the plant. It will get, dotted with orange, star-shaped flowers. It gets about 15 inches tall and wide and does best in shade.