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Ask the Expert: 7 Favorite Begonias and How to Care for Them

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Ask the Expert: 7 Favorite Begonias and How to Care for Them

January 17, 2023

I’ve always loved fancy-leaf begonias. They look good all the time (seemingly without even trying), sporting flashy foliage in a range of colors (dark green, chartreuse, burgundy, even orange), unusual leaf shapes, patterns, and spots. While they do flower, their blooms are almost beside the point.

When I first started growing them many years ago, I admit I didn’t have much success. It wasn’t until I returned from a long trip and saw how well the begonias were doing left alone that I realized that I had been killing them, as they say, with kindness, aka overwatering.

Recently, I spoke with Laurelynn Martin, co-owner of Logee’s greenhouse in Danielson, Connecticut, which offers an incredible array of begonias, about the best way to care for them and some of her favorite varieties. “Begonias need more light than many think,” Martin says. She recommends placing them in an east or west window to give them some direct sunlight during the day. “While they can grow in shadier conditions,” she says. “The vigor and the color of the leaves often will be diminished.” Use a grow light if needed, especially during the winter months. Temperatures should be above 60 degrees.

Plant them in a potting soil that drains well. Clay pots are optimal because the porous material allows the water to evaporate easily. As for watering, wait until “the soil becomes visually dry on the surface” Martin says. It’s okay if the leaves start to droop because they’re thirsty. They’ll bounce back. As I’ve learned, it’s better to underwater than overwater. Feed with organic fertilizer regularly during the growing season, which begins in late winter and continues to fall. I use fish emulsion.

Here are some of Martin’s favorites ranging from easy-to-grow to more of a challenge.

Featured photograph (above) by Leslie Santarina, from Houseplant Help: 5 Tips to Keep Finicky Begonia Rex Alive. All other photos courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home & Garden.

Easy-to-Grow

Begonia ‘Autumn Ember’ is a rhizomatous begonia that Logee’s co-owner Byron Martin hybridized by crossing ‘Marmaduke’ with ‘Angel Glow’. It features vibrant, golden orange foliage that practically glows when the light shines through. In late winter it will produce sprays of pink flowers.
Above: Begonia ‘Autumn Ember’ is a rhizomatous begonia that Logee’s co-owner Byron Martin hybridized by crossing ‘Marmaduke’ with ‘Angel Glow’. It features vibrant, golden orange foliage that practically glows when the light shines through. In late winter it will produce sprays of pink flowers.
Martha Stewart has been collecting begonias for many years, and has amassed a jaw-dropping collection. Logee’s named this vigorous rhizomatous plant (B. ‘Martha Stewart’) in her honor. Easy to grow, the compact cultivar features chartreuse and bronze leaves that spiral around and are edged with small brown markings.
Above: Martha Stewart has been collecting begonias for many years, and has amassed a jaw-dropping collection. Logee’s named this vigorous rhizomatous plant (B. ‘Martha Stewart’) in her honor. Easy to grow, the compact cultivar features chartreuse and bronze leaves that spiral around and are edged with small brown markings.
A tiny rhizomatous cultivar that is just the right size for small apartments or dorm rooms, B. &#8\2\16;Mini Me&#8\2\17; produces a dense mound of patterned lime green and olive leaves that are only \1 to \1 ½ inches long.
Above: A tiny rhizomatous cultivar that is just the right size for small apartments or dorm rooms, B. ‘Mini Me’ produces a dense mound of patterned lime green and olive leaves that are only 1 to 1 ½ inches long.
Another easy-to-grow cultivar, Begonia ‘Tea Rose’ is an upright cane or fibrous type, which flowers freely under bright light all year long. The flowers are fragrant, but the intensity of the scent depends on the amount of sunlight and humidity it receives, says Martin. It is most fragrant when it is grown in bright light with high humidity during the day, where its leaves will also “get very pink.”
Above: Another easy-to-grow cultivar, Begonia ‘Tea Rose’ is an upright cane or fibrous type, which flowers freely under bright light all year long. The flowers are fragrant, but the intensity of the scent depends on the amount of sunlight and humidity it receives, says Martin. It is most fragrant when it is grown in bright light with high humidity during the day, where its leaves will also “get very pink.”
The rare B. jiewhoei was first collected off a limestone cliff in Malaysia. It’s compact, reaching \1\2-\16 inches tall and can be grown in a terrarium. The leaves are asymmetrical leaves and feature white spots.
Above: The rare B. jiewhoei was first collected off a limestone cliff in Malaysia. It’s compact, reaching 12-16 inches tall and can be grown in a terrarium. The leaves are asymmetrical leaves and feature white spots.

Next-level

Rex begonias have a reputation for being fussy. They are susceptible to mildew (Logee’s has an informative video about how to combat it here) and tend to go dormant in winter, which means the leaf color will fade and their leaves will drop. But they’re beauty outshines their challenges. B. ‘Tie Dye’ is one such stunner, bred by Logee’s. It dons burgundy and silvery spiral leaves, reminiscent of tie-dye, thus its name.
Above: Rex begonias have a reputation for being fussy. They are susceptible to mildew (Logee’s has an informative video about how to combat it here) and tend to go dormant in winter, which means the leaf color will fade and their leaves will drop. But they’re beauty outshines their challenges. B. ‘Tie Dye’ is one such stunner, bred by Logee’s. It dons burgundy and silvery spiral leaves, reminiscent of tie-dye, thus its name.

B. dregei ‘Richardsiana’

A semi-tuberous variety from South Africa that was first cultivated in the \1860s, B. dregei ‘Richardsiana’ has miniature maple-like leaves with white flowers that hang down elegantly from spring to fall. As it matures, it will develop a caudex or swollen trunk. Since it comes from It is a dryland plant, it is imperative not to over water it. It is an ideal variety to grow as a bonsai.
Above: A semi-tuberous variety from South Africa that was first cultivated in the 1860s, B. dregei ‘Richardsiana’ has miniature maple-like leaves with white flowers that hang down elegantly from spring to fall. As it matures, it will develop a caudex or swollen trunk. Since it comes from It is a dryland plant, it is imperative not to over water it. It is an ideal variety to grow as a bonsai.

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