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Gardening From Southern California

...fibrous begonia
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

April 29, 2007

By this time most flower gardeners have been able to assess the damage done to perennials, and even some annuals, from January‘s cold weather. Many of the flowers we love are gone, and it’s time to consider replacing them.

The cold varied from area to area and in my neighborhood some of the plants that suffered most were fibrous begonias. Where they were planted with a little protection, as under the eaves of the house they survived, but out in the open they died. Some might come back from the roots, but it’s doubtful.

So that means we need to be thinking about replacing those beautiful parts of the flower garden, and I always suggest that started plants are the route to go with fibrous begonias. The seed is tiny, probably the smallest true seed we have, and leaving the growing to a useful size is best left to the experts. While some may look to have enough live foliage to take cuttings, that foliage may not be good enough after all that cold.

By this time good nurseries and garden centers should have plenty of started fibrous begonias on display. One of the best to look for is Dragon Wing. It’s taller than some others, getting up to 15 to 20 inches under good conditions, and it’s a magnificent show with the exotic looking bright scarlet flowers and its wing-shaped leaves. Dragon Wing Begonia is an excellent container plant for the patio and for homes where garden space is limited to outside balconies or a small patio.

For the garden, where you might like to plant in a flower bed, or to use fibrous begonia for a border, look for the Cocktail series, an older series often still found in the nursery, with names of various kinds of liquor, including vodka, gin, brandy, whiskey and rum. These are older varieties, but they have excellent garden performance, and get up to around eight to ten inches tall. The colors are mostly pink and rose, a scarlet, and a white.

Braveheart is also a good one, a little taller than some others, and in a rose bicolor. Braveheart is a good container plant. The Bayou series is adapted well to the garden with some of the biggest flowers in rose, pink and white.

Sadly, you may find started plants of begonia only listed as fibrous begonias, but go ahead and take a chance on them, since all of the fibrous begonias grow well in Southern California.

Plant fibrous begonias where they get a little shade in the hottest part of the day, and if your area is prone to weather like we had last January, a little protection may help. Fibrous begonias don’t take a lot of water, but they do need adequate water to get started. Fertilize sparingly, since this makes for a lot of foliage and fewer blooms.

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