Wax begonias-Trustworthy and old fashioned!

July 7, 2021

The Wax Begonia is trustworthy and old-fashioned. It is a tried and true, mound-forming, tender perennial that most people use as an annual. With interesting foliage, constant blossoms, and both of them often in interesting colors, they are a source of valuable color in the garden. Sometimes we say, oh they are so old-fashioned, but then they come right back.

“A little old fashioned, but that’s all right.”

-Rod Stewart

I don’t think that Rod was talking about the begonia but it sounds appropriate. Hardy in zones 9-11 the plant is found in two sizes. Dwarf versions are only 6-9″ tall and the larger is about 10-12′ in height. The profuse flowers are in varying shades of pinks, whites, and reds and the leaves are in numerous tints of greens and bronzes. They are easy-care, constant color producers.

They have been in our gardens for a long time because they work.

How They Got To Us

Charles Plumier (1646-1702 found them and brought them to Europe). I am writing this at a time when we are not traveling at all due to a virus. This guy was such a committed botanist that he made three hard trips to the West Indies in a wooden ship looking for plants. He found the begonia in Brazil in 1692). We have been enjoying his success since then. He was a Franciscan monk who clearly did not believe in staying in the Cloister! He got himself a nice promotion and was head botanist to King Louis XiV of France. Why Begonia? He named them for another French botanist, Michel Begon.

We now know that the begonia covered a lot of territory itself and appeared in 14th century China and in India and Mexico. It was Charles, however, who got it to us.

Lots To Choose From

If you want a Begonia and can’t find one to suit, you may not be trying! With over 1700 species the begonia is the fifth most diverse class of plants. For more information, you can try Tuberous Begonia in the section on spring-blooming bulbs.

7 Popular Categories Of Wax Begonias For Different purposes

Series NameFeatures to Look For
Ambassador Series
Early flowering, compact form
Cocktail SeriesDwarf, bronze/ maroon foliage. early blooming
Coco Mix SeriesRounded foliage, glossy brown or maroon
Paint Splash Series
Foliage variegated green and cream -showy pale pink flowers
Queen SeriesDouble flowers, green foliage
Super Olympic SeriesEarly flowering with large flowers
Varsity SeriesEarly flowers, large blooms, good in containers

How To Care For Wax Begonias

Planting

Plant in full or part sun, in soil amended with organic matter. Make the hole about twice the width of the pot and as deep. Carefully remove the plant from its pot and plant in a space that will not crush the delicate roots. Use a time-release fertilizer at the bottom of the hole and water well to ensure that there are no air pockets and that the roots make good contact with the soil.

Light Conditions

The plants do best in full sun. In warm climates use a place that provides afternoon shade. We are in South Florida and have just planted some in a full sun area that has afternoon shade from the shadow of a building. We think this will work and I will update this piece.

Water

Provide enough water to produce steadily moist but not soaked soil.

Soil

Use well-drained, amended soil. The plant performs best when the pH is 6-8. These are articles on soil that include a procedure for testing drainage and information on how to test your soil. Testing saves time and money and prevents the overuse of fertilizers.

Fertilizer

A light application of fertilizer on a monthly basis should suffice.

Container Growing

This is a popular plant to grow in containers. Ensure excellent drainage by using light, well-drained potting mix. Here is an article on choosing potting soil. The plants can grow for several years this way.

Can I Bring Them Indoors For The Winter

This works very well and requires some preparation in order to acclimate the new plant and protect your existing house plants from damage. First, check the outdoor plant for any hitchhikers. These might be aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. You can remove the bugs, or remove the leaves they are on, by hand.

Other ways that may be helpful are to wash the plant with water or neem oil. If the plant has grown, you may want to move the plant to a larger pot. If you are reusing a pot ensure that it is washed and rinsed in a bleach solution.

Next, take about two weeks to acclimate the plant indoors. Start about or before the nighttime temperature reaches 50 degrees. Bring the plant indoors at night and back out in the daytime. Gradually increase the time indoors. Keep the plant in bright light and as humid an environment as you can create. indoor plants need less water than outdoor plants, let them dry between watering.

Remove any spent or damaged leaves. Discard the damaged leaves.

Pest And Disease Management

Diseases to be aware of include these:

Bacterial Leaf Spot-This plant requires humidity and moisture to grow, but too much moisture in the soil can lead to root rot. This can be quite damaging. If the leaves of the plant are wet fungus can form on them. Adjust the water level and water the plant from below the leaves. Remove the damaged leaves and any fully damaged plants. Follow the spacing instructions on your new plant, this will avoid this problem. Plant dwarf varieties 6″ apart and the larger varieties 8-10″ apart. This will ensure that when mature the plants will still have some air space.

Botrytis Blight- is caused by a fungus and appears as soft brown rot and then soft fuzzy gray growth. Remove spent flowers and foliage. Spacing will reduce the opportunity for this blight.

Powdery Mildew-this is caused by multiple pathogens and appears as powdery white spots. The pathogens can be spread by wind. Remove any spent materials.

Viruses can appear as chlorotic yellow spots. Only purchase healthy plants and maintain sterile tools.

Fungal rots-this is caused by a Pythium fungus. Look for water-soaked discoloration on stems near the soil line. Fungal spores spread on debris or in soil or water. Do not overwater, remove infected plants promptly, and do not replant in places where diseased plants have been.

Pests- begonias are reasonably resistant to pests. Remove them promptly if found. Use insecticidal soaps if hand removal is not sufficient.

Summary,

Old fashioned or not we like these plants, we enjoy them inside or outside of the house, and growers constantly add new varieties. How much do we like them? Agatha Christie had her famous detective, Hercule Poirot say this in the first mystery of his long career.

“And how do you not know that these fine begonias are not of equal importance?”

-Agatha Christie, “The Mysterious Affair At Styles”

In this famous mystery story, the Begonias are the clue to the whole solution! What do you think?

Bibliography

If you like Begonias of this or any type this is a university article with an in-depth discussion of the Begonia subject. I hope you like it, it is a source I like to use!