July 24, 2006

Growing luscious begonias

Tuberous begonias are a great friend to shade gardeners who want a splash of bright colour in the shade all summer long. In spite of the fact the tubers have to be stored overwinter, I just can't resist trying to grow them. Over the years I've managed to make just about every mistake in the book with these babies, so I was flattered no end when Blackswamp_Girl asked me for my secret for growing them so large and healthy. Flattery will get you everywhere with me...

First, at the risk of appearing obvious, buy good tubers. Grocery store stock does not qualify. I got mine this year from Botanus, which is a great source but only available to Canadians. They probably deserve most of the credit for my success this year.

Second, good soil. I mix a plain Jane potting mix (mostly peat) with bagged manure to provide extra nutrients.

Third, start them early for longer colour. March isn't too early in my opinion. They start well and easily inside with no extra lighting needed in a northeast window and then they are just about ready to bloom when they go outside.

Sick begoniaFourth, don't overwater! My non-gardening son who tended my plants while I was gone was so afraid of things dying in the heat that he was overgenerous with the water. The begonias suffered visibly from this excess of love as you can see in this photo, although most of the potted plants didn't much mind. Earlier in the season identical begonias in identical pots were growing quite differently, with the ones under the eaves doing better in their dryer location.

Fifth, don't attempt winter storage in a hot location. Mine come through the winter just fine in the pots I grew them in outside, but last winter the heat of the furnace room killed them. Normal room temperature or a little cooler has always worked well for me, but excessive heat is obviously a no-no.

Why is it that the path to successful gardening is littered with so many unsuccessful attempts? You know the saying: "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." I'm offering the results of my bad judgment in the hopes that they might provide you with a short-cut in the process. And because Blackswamp_Girl is deft with her flattery.

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Blackswamp_Girl said...

THANK YOU Janet! I have taken notes, and have already figured out a few things I've done wrong--like overwatering, for example. I never would have guessed that keeping them a bit on the dry side would be good.

If I can manage to follow directions well, I just may have some good pictures of mine to show next year. :)

Janet said...

The overwatering was a bit of a revelation to me too, but it truly does make a difference.