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Rex Begonias Provide Colorful Indoor Foliage
by Jennifer Schultz Nelson
December 27, 2009

Consider using plants with colorful variegated foliage indoors this winter.

“Variegated plants generally need more light than plants with solid green leaves,” Jennifer Schultz Nelson said. This additional light is required for the variegation to develop. Even though they need more light, typically they need far less light than most flowering plants do.”

One group of plants with an incredible level of diversity in foliage color and pattern is the Rex Begonia. These plants are grown specifically for their foliage. They do flower, but the flowers are usually not very showy.

“Though they may lack showy flowers, Rex Begonias make up for it several times over with their gorgeous leaves,” Nelson said. “They may be bumpy or smooth, streaked with colors such as white, pink, yellow, or purple, and come in as many shapes as you can imagine.”

Many articles classify Rex Begonias as “difficult” or “fussy” plants, but don’t let this scare you from trying to grow them. Their colorful displays make the extra care worthwhile and the extra attention will likely benefit your other plants.

“The big ‘extra’ that Rex Begonias need is humidity,” Nelson said. “Crispy brown edges on the leaves are usually a sign that the humidity is too low. Generally, Rex Begonias need in excess of 50 percent relative humidity. This can be hard to achieve in homes during the winter.

“One way to increase humidity is by placing your begonias on trays filled with water and pebbles, without the water actually touching the pots. Running a humidifier in the room is another option, one that will probably benefit your other houseplants as well as the human residents of your home,” she added.

While they thrive in high humidity, begonias will not tolerate wetness. If kept wet too long, they will probably succumb to mildew and botrytis, which are fungal diseases related to excessive moisture that turn your plant into a mushy, rotten mess.

“Two ways to counteract overwatering are to make sure there is good air circulation around your plants and to use a potting mix with excellent drainage,” Nelson said. “Also strive to avoid “calendar watering”-- watering on a strict schedule. Learn to inspect your plants and assess whether they need water, no matter what the calendar says. In general, the top of a Rex Begonia’s soil should just begin to dry out before watering again.”

Rex Begonias need bright, indirect light. Direct, hot sunlight will bleach out their brilliant colors. Morning or late afternoon filtered sunlight is acceptable.

Rex Begonias also require temperatures higher than 60 degrees. They thrive at temperatures around 70 degrees during the day. These plants are relatively slow growers that benefit from using a balanced fertilizer during the growing season to maximize color development in the foliage.

“With a little effort, Rex Begonias will brighten even the dreariest winter day,” Nelson said. “Most people find it hard to stop at owning just one Rex Begonia when they realize how many beautiful choices are available.”

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