Recent genetic tinkering has triggered a tidal wave of new begonias in a breathtaking variety of foliage colours, patterns and shapes that can be enjoyed year-round. Spiral, spiky or angel-winged leaves glow in iridescent silver, rich plum purple, bubblegum pink and vivid red, adding drama to both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Early versions of these fancy-leafed varieties became popular in the parlours of Victorian England, having arrived from the far northeastern corner of India during the golden age of plant hunting in the mid-19th century.
Today, these kings of the begonia clan have been dusted off and given a makeover. The newest introductions can tolerate high summer temperatures and humidity, as well as dry indoor winter conditions.
Indoor care checklist
- Use a porous planting mix, such as peat moss, finely shredded coir or bark, sterilized potting soil, vermiculite and perlite, in a shallow, small-diameter—about 15 to 30 centimetres—pot. (Most begonias are shallow-rooted and do not need an extensive rooting area.)
- Indoors, site in bright, indirect light (for better foliage colour and flowering); turn plants weekly if light comes from only one side.
- Begonias prefer high humidity (above 50 per cent) but will tolerate lower levels.
- Avoid overwatering, but irrigate thoroughly, allowing the surface to almost dry out between applications; water sparingly in winter if plants are dormant.
- From spring through fall, while plants are actively growing, fertilize with 20-20-20 at quarter-strength every two weeks.
- Prune back upright forms to the rhizome when they become top-heavy.
- To propagate, take stem, rhizome or leaf cuttings at any time of the year.
The foliage of modern begonia cultivars is bold, exciting and dramatic, making them terrific plants in our gardens or as houseplants all year long. There are many cultivars available; those listed on the next page are but a sampling.