Tuberous Begonia

The family Begoniaceae includes only 3 genera. One genus was recently added to this family, and one includes only a single species. It’s the third genus, Begonia, which interests me. Begonia is a genus of more than 1,500 species. All of these species go by the same name, Begonia. Because there are so many, they are loosely grouped by how they grow, and what they look like. One of these groups is Tuberous Begonias.

Tuberous Begonias are a group of species that grow from tubers, and have large showy flowers. Though they are grown in containers frequently, they can also be planted directly in the ground. Flowers come in a wide range of colors from white to red, with shades of pink, orange and yellow. Some are bicolor and some have a darker color around the edges, called picotee. Begonia have both male and female flowers on the same plant. Sources differ on which is which, but one is larger and has a lot of petals, and the others are smaller and single. Apparently, if you remove the small, single flowers, the big, showy ones will be even more impressive, and it will prevent seed pods from forming. Flowers appear from June to October.

Tuberous Begonias can be grown as an annual in all of North America. They are only hardy in Zones 10-11. In all other zones, they must be lifted in the fall and saved during this dormant period to replant again in late winter. They prefer a location with a lot of bright light, but little or no direct sunlight. The soil should be evenly moist, not soggy, and not too dry, and must drain well. If it is too wet, the stems will snap off at the base. Tuberous Begonias also do not tolerate a lot of wind, which dries them out. They should not be placed outdoors until all danger of frost has passed in the spring.

The flowers of Tuberous Begonias are attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. Hummingbirds rarely visit our yard, but I have seen hummingbirds on the Begonias. Spent flowers should be removed regularly. The only disease which will bother Tuberous Begonias is powdery mildew. This can be avoided by providing plenty of air circulation around the plants. If they do become diseased, it will be necessary to spray with a commercial fungicide.

Two years ago, I purchased two hanging baskets of Tuberous Begonias at a farmer’s market. They were beautiful, and bloomed all summer. Last year, I bought tubers from a mail order company, thinking that would be a cheaper alternative. They did grow and bloom, but did not turn out to be nearly as impressive. I was impatient while I waited for them to bloom. The purchased baskets were already grown, and blooming, which is much more satisfying to me.  I did not know I could save the tubers, something I will try to do in the future. Given my underwhelming success at trying to overwinter dahlias, this may, or may not, be a good idea.

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