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Begonias: Queen of the Shade Garden

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Beautiful Gardens of Doon-57

The begonia is an amazing plant…it just keeps going along and blooming, and when cut back, it starts up again.
– Gladys Taber

By Sunita Vijay
Begonias are traditional house plants, easy growing and the most enduring. There are hundreds of varieties available, primarily liked for their foliage and flowers, with only a few types that are difficult to manage. They come in beautiful names – rex begonia, vex begonia, angel wing begonias, dragon wing begonias and so many more, all bestowing befitting performance as per their name.

Foliage begonias are liked for their fancy, colourful leaves, highlighted by unusual patterns, spots and swirls. They have the appeal to make a sensational statement and they look classy when grown in small pots.

Flowering begonias, on the other hand, are usually grown as annuals. They are non-stop bloomers to be an apt choice for shady lawns.

Most begonias grow best in partly-shaded spots needing about 4 to 6 hours of sun. A couple of hours of morning sun and filtered sun during the day or full shade with diffused light is good enough for them. More shade will produce less flowers. They like the soil to be moist but not soggy.

Begonia care tips
1. They prefer relatively neutral to slightly acidic soil.
2. They look best in small pots with not much depth. The plant should be able to cover the soil with its foliage, this should be the aim.
3. Indoor Begonias do well in well-lighted east or west side window sills. In case fluorescent light is used, keep it one foot above the plant with lights on for more than ten hours in a day. Artificially lighted pots of begonia require more watering.
4. Water your plants on demand basis when the soil feels dry to touch. Overwatering is hazardous to their health. Water them either in the morning or during the day. Avoid watering in the evening as it will attract fungus related issues.
5. Begonias love misting. Mist the leaves but the water should not be very cold during winters. Use mild lukewarm water for misting.
6. Begonias have to be fertilized during winters preferably with liquid/water soluble fertiliser, when the plants are blooming- phosphorous-rich and nitrogen-free. Begonias grown for foliage require nitrogen fertilizer. Do not fertilise at all when the growth of the plant stops in winter and during fall. Special soil mix and fertilisers are available online for begonias.
7. Peat moss, rotted compost and leaf mould with little neem cake mixed together is the best mix.
8. Groom your begonias by regularly removing dead flowers, broken stems and dry leaves. It will lend a fresh look and aid in growth, and good quality of flowers.
9. Begonias do well in hanging baskets as the wind dries the soil more frequently. Keep a check on the soil. Baskets require frequent watering before it dries.

Diseases Begonias are prone to
1. Begonias are susceptible to powdery mildew, mites, mealy bugs, thrips, and whitefly. Overwatering can rot the stems and rhizome.
2. If you find your begonia being attacked by mildew, mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with one litre of water and spray on the leaves. This will eliminate mould growth. Put the plant in a sunny spot where it receives morning sun and good air circulation to dry its soil.
3. For mildew, blend two cloves of garlic and add two drops of detergent in it in a mug of water. Strain and spray on the leaves.
4. Neem oil, mint oil, canola oil sprays do help effectively.
5. Minute, scattered, circular blister-like lesions appearing on the underside of older leaves close to the margins is the sign of bacterial growth. On diagnosing the disease quarantine the plant in some other place. Remove the diseased leaves and burn them. Disinfect the tools used for cutting the stem of the same plant to curb further spread.

Toxicity
Begonias are toxic to pets, with the tubers being the most poisonous part. It is advisable to grow them in baskets or be kept on a higher platform, out of reach of pets. They are not toxic to humans, but may cause allergic reactions.

Propagation
Begonias are easier to propagate from cuttings
1. Pick appropriate stem about 4 inches in length.
2. Take off all the lower leaves leaving a few at the top.
3. Place the cutting in a water with several cuttings in the same glass. Roots appear in a month, ready to be potted. On turning two inches long, pot them in soil.
It is advisable to go for hardy variety of begonias. The delicate ones will only disappoint with their tantrums.

Pictures courtesy Captain Ruchi Datta and Rashmi Chopra