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The Beauty of Begonias

Martha’s greenhouse is brimming with a wild display of colors, textures, and shapes. Here’s why she's so smitten with this easy-to-grow houseplant.

One of my real joys in life, other than my family, pets, and job, is my greenhouse and all the plants growing in it. Perhaps my favorites are the fancy-leaved begonias I have been amassing over the last 15 or so years.

Here I am propagating a new plant: All you have to do is cut a leaf and place its stem in moist soil; in a few months, new leaves should appear, and this indicates it has taken root and is ready to be potted.

I clearly remember my maternal grandmother’s sun porch on Huntington Avenue in Buffalo, New York, where she puttered daily, caring for her large assortment of houseplants -- deadheading spent blooms, cutting away withered leaves, and shaping leggy specimens into more manageable forms. She grew begonias, and loved showing me the different varieties of this expansive genus. I became enamored with the incredible textures and colors, and tried hard to remember the characteristics of the various types: tuberous, rex, semperflorens, fibrous, and rhizomatous. The last were my favorites, and remain so today.
 

[LEARN: How to Propogate Begonias]

 

I have an entire bench devoted to begonias in my greenhouse, and grow many rhizomatous cultivars for their spectacular leaves, which range in size from less than an inch across to more than 12 inches wide. The plants themselves are manageable in size and can be housed in shallowish pots (just six to eight inches deep); they thrive in bright indirect sunlight. Rhizomatous varieties are very showy, remarkably pest-free, and easy to care for, requiring watering every five to seven days (be careful not to overwater). Flowers appear once a year, but the blooms are small and insignificant compared to the colorful and vibrant foliage. Small scissors are the only tool necessary; they’re essential for removing a damaged leaf or deadheading a flowering stem.

 

[MAKE: These chic bags are the perfect way to gift a plant]

When properly grown, begonias last for years and add great beauty to your home. Whenever I entertain, I bring in the best ones from the greenhouse to adorn each of my rooms, where they create an exquisite show any time of year. I like to add to my collection whenever I visit botanical gardens, nurseries, and even friends’ gardens; propagation from leaves can be accomplished in just a few simple steps.

I encourage each of you to try growing these delightful plants at home. And once you do, I bet you will start a collection of your own.

 

[LEARN: Non-Toxic Solutions of Get Rid of Pest]

 

 

Foliage in Full

With their striking patterns and rich colors, these sturdy show-offs work the room without a lot of fuss. Here are some of Martha’s favorites.

  • Begonia acetosa
    Begonia acetosa

    This Brazilian native has cupped, velvety green leaves that are vivid red underneath; it grows well on a sunny windowsill.

  • B. ‘Selph’s Mahogany’
    B. ‘Selph’s Mahogany’

    In winter, its large burgundy-green foliage erupts in a spray of delicate pink flowers.

  • B. ‘Madame Queen’
    B. ‘Madame Queen’

    A vigorous grower with large, ruffly leaves that resemble a flouncy skirt, it can reach 14 inches in height.

  • B. soli-mutata
    B. soli-mutata

    Its name means “sun change,” because the color varies depending on the amount of exposure it gets -- the more sun, the lighter the pebbletextured leaves will be.

  • B. ‘Wightii’
    B. ‘Wightii’

    Also known as B. maculata variegata, this angel-wing fibrous type displays large leaves dotted with silver spots, and white flowers that can bloom year-round with ample light.

  • B. ‘Little Brother Montgomery’
    B. ‘Little Brother Montgomery’

    Exploding with starburst-shaped maroon-and-silver foliage, it also features fragrant blooms when mature.

  • B. ‘Marmaduke’
    B. ‘Marmaduke’

    Easy to cultivate, this rhizomatous type flaunts chartreuse maple-like leaves splattered with maroon.

  • B. x ’Fuscomaculata’
    B. x ’Fuscomaculata’

    Spotted orangey-green leaves distinguish this rhizomatous type. Pinch back long stems during the growing season to encourage a more robust plant.

  • B. carolineifolia
    B. carolineifolia

    Native to Mexico and Central America, the species has a woody trunk and glossy foliage that is divided into smaller leaflets at the base.

  • Martha’s Tried-and-True Tips

    Begonias dislike wet feet. Between waterings, let the soil dry out slightly. When the growing season begins in early spring, start feeding the plants with an organic 3-3-3 fertilizer. For the best results, place pots in a warm room with bright indirect light.

    For unusual varieties, go to Logee’s and Glasshouse Works.

  • Begonia acetosa
    Begonia acetosa

    This Brazilian native has cupped, velvety green leaves that are vivid red underneath; it grows well on a sunny windowsill.

  • B. ‘Little Brother Montgomery’
    B. ‘Little Brother Montgomery’

    Exploding with starburst-shaped maroon-and-silver foliage, it also features fragrant blooms when mature.

  • B. ‘Selph’s Mahogany’
    B. ‘Selph’s Mahogany’

    In winter, its large burgundy-green foliage erupts in a spray of delicate pink flowers.

  • B. ‘Marmaduke’
    B. ‘Marmaduke’

    Easy to cultivate, this rhizomatous type flaunts chartreuse maple-like leaves splattered with maroon.

  • B. ‘Madame Queen’
    B. ‘Madame Queen’

    A vigorous grower with large, ruffly leaves that resemble a flouncy skirt, it can reach 14 inches in height.

  • B. x ’Fuscomaculata’
    B. x ’Fuscomaculata’

    Spotted orangey-green leaves distinguish this rhizomatous type. Pinch back long stems during the growing season to encourage a more robust plant.

  • B. soli-mutata
    B. soli-mutata

    Its name means “sun change,” because the color varies depending on the amount of exposure it gets -- the more sun, the lighter the pebbletextured leaves will be.

  • B. carolineifolia
    B. carolineifolia

    Native to Mexico and Central America, the species has a woody trunk and glossy foliage that is divided into smaller leaflets at the base.

  • B. ‘Wightii’
    B. ‘Wightii’

    Also known as B. maculata variegata, this angel-wing fibrous type displays large leaves dotted with silver spots, and white flowers that can bloom year-round with ample light.

  • Martha’s Tried-and-True Tips

    Begonias dislike wet feet. Between waterings, let the soil dry out slightly. When the growing season begins in early spring, start feeding the plants with an organic 3-3-3 fertilizer. For the best results, place pots in a warm room with bright indirect light.

    For unusual varieties, go to Logee’s and Glasshouse Works.