Bodacious Begonias

08 Jun 2021

Tending to your botanical beauties on the plateau

By Kirk Moore

My move to Highlands 15 years ago accorded me so many gifts. The sweltering summers and Lowcountry sandflies were replaced by coolness, an abundance of new friends and a fresh palette of plants to love.

The top of my botanical bevy are the Rex or fancy-leaf begonias. Perfect to mountain porches, they offer incredible color without the worry of fading blossoms, bright light and constant maintenance.

The large group of Begonia Rex-cultorum started from an Indian species that was adored by the British colonists there. Brought to England in the 1850s this easily transported rhizomatous plant became a pet plant for inquisitive hybridizers who created hundreds of crazy quilt-colored varieties.

One of the early hybrids continues to be a favorite of mine. Called “escargot” because of its spiraled leaf pattern, it is a fast grower on the plateau and loves our cool shady summers.

For the more colorful leaf varieties, they are best grown on porches or in windows with bright but indirect light. For a southern or western exposure, simply set back a few feet from hot direct sun.

Keep begonias evenly moist; under watering is preferred to dousing! I’ve learned the hard way! Do not wet the leaves. I have learned that wet leaves invite powdery mildew. On my porch at Horse Cove, I place all the pots of my begonia specimens in saucers of pea gravel and water, just as I do my finicky maidenhair ferns. It serves as a great source of added humidity and a stopgap to my perhaps forgetting a watering. I’m a proponent of “suspenders and a belt” when dealing with houseplants!

I have experimented with all kinds of fertilizer regimens for my begonia babies over the years but have come to realize and accept that a weak solution of water-soluble fertilizer twice a month from March to October is ideal.

If little bug creatures make an appearance, simply spray with soapy water. For mealybugs, a QTip and rubbing alcohol will do the trick.

Wintering plants here is easy. Put pots in the garage or laundry room! By nature, when light and water are reduced, the plants go dormant. This will result in leaf drop, but never fear. Spring shall come, and with it new growth and hope for another colorful begonia-filled summer.

I always post pictures of my favorite specimens @oakleafstyle and try to keep my favorite varieties in the shop to share. 

Grow Rex begonias! Plant, water, fertilize, enjoy, store, repeat!

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