Begonias- The King of Shade

Our yards go through the cycle of life just like the rest of our lives. When we moved into our 8 year old home 13 years ago there were few trees and what trees were there were small. But when we moved in we completely refurbished the yard including planting over a dozen trees. Well, fast forward 13 years and I find myself in the position of having numerous spots in my flower beds that are too shady for most flowers to grow and bloom well. So, in those areas I have to be very selective about what I plant.

Wax Begonia
Wax Begonia

Some of the annual flowers I’ve tried in my shady areas that have done well include impatiens, coleus, pansies, and salvia. But for the shadiest areas the king of them all is the begonia. But there are all kinds of begonias.There are begonias with lots of small flowers, begonias with huge double flowers, and begonias with no flowers at all.  Some begonias have tiny leaves while others have leaves as big as your hand.

Courtesy White Flower Farm
Courtesy White Flower Farm

There are Begonias with colorful leaves that steal the show from the flowers it produces.   Some begonias are perennials in very cold climates, while others survive only in a warm terrarium in your home.  There are species that survive the desert and others that require a rainforest.  Over 1500 species of begonias have been recorded. 

The types of begonias that I have successfully tried in my yard include wax begonias that prefer partial shade, tuberous begonias that have the largest, brightest blossoms of any shade plant, and my personal favorite for the shadiest areas of my garden- Rex begonias.

Rex begonias are planted for their fabulous foliage. Their flowers are rather insignificant, but with foliage like this, who cares? And because you don’t have to wait for them to bloom to enjoy their colors they will give you a show from the moment you plant them right on through until frost. (Which reminds me, they are extremely frost tender so don’t plant too early.)

 

Begonia 'Shadow King Moonlight' on my porch
Begonia ‘Shadow King Moonlight’ on my porch

Rex begonias are exceptional when grown in containers on a shady porch, but they are equally spectacular in flower beds beneath trees. A particularly troublesome area in my yard is near my entry. Our house faces northeast and we have a large flowering plum tree that also shades our entry and the nearby flower bed. So the only sun this area gets is a couple of hours in the morning. But since Rex begonias prefer shaded, humid conditions and rich soil, it’s perfect for them. I worried the lack of humidity in the summertime in our area might be a problem, but I’ve found that they thrive in this dark corner of my yard.

Rex Begonias, Coleus, and Caladium
Rex Begonias, Coleus, and Caladium

A couple of things I’ve learned. Don’t over water. Soggy soil and wet leaves and stems can lead to disease and death in begonias. Also, be careful when feeding begonias. Because of their leaf structure fertilizer granules can remain on the leaves and then if you sprinkle with water (or Mother Nature does) the fertilizer can burn the leaves. My favorite fertilizer to use on my begonias is Dr. Jimz Save-a-Tree. I know, sounds crazy, but its liquid organic formula works extremely well without ever burning.

A tremendous amount of breeding has been done over the years with Rex begonias, but in my totally unbiased opinion none are better than those bred by my brother Gary, a begonia breeder and owner of Plantsmith Nursery in Oregon. He has a knack for knowing which mommas and papas to put together to produce some amazing kids.

Some of my favorites include Aurora and Ideal Blush.

Aurora
The silvery leaves of Aurora will brighten the darkest shady areas in your yard. Absolutely stunning!  Medium size leaves, rapid uniform growth and compact habit make Aurora a winner.

Begonia 'Aurora'
Begonia ‘Aurora’

 Ideal Blush

The light green and blush red colors in ‘Ideal Blush’ are a beautiful combination.

Begonia 'Ideal Blush'
Begonia ‘Ideal Blush’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t let the exotic look of begonias scare you out of trying them. If you have shade, you need begonias. Once you try them, you will be hooked.

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