Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension P. O. Box 68 LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068 Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Beautiful Begonias

If you are looking for variety and a constant display of color throughout the season, you'll love begonias.  The begonia family contains more than 1,200 species and hybrids with an infinite selection of sizes, growth habits, foliage, and flowers.

The begonia is of tropical origin. It was first discovered in Santo Domingo in 1690 by Charles Plumier, who named the flower for his patron, Michel Begon.  The popular fibrous rooted or wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens) originated in Brazil. Begonias are essentially classified according to the type of roots they possess: (1) tuberous, (2) fibrous, and (3) rhizomatous.  The tuberous begonias are primarily propagated from tubers, whereas the fibrous rooted begonias possess fibrous roots and are further subdivided into the "cane stemmed" (angel wing begonia), the "hairy stemmed" (hirsute begonia), and the common "bush type" begonias (wax begonia).  The rhizomatous begonias ( Rex begonia) possess thick, root like rhizomes.

Since they bloom profusely, the bushy fibrous begonias are most popular with homeowners.  They are frequently sold as house plants, holiday plants, or bedding plants.  Old non hybrid varieties of fibrous rooted begonias did best in partial shade.  However, recent efforts by plant breeders have resulted in many new varieties displaying a diversity of flower color, foliage color, and growth habit.  Today's wax begonias require little maintenance, making them well adapted for home use.  Few other annuals can beat begonias for hardiness and continuous bloom throughout the summer season.  Today's hybrids are not restricted to partial shade but can be grown in full sun as well.  They perform better, in fact, when planted in full sun.  Under Florida conditions, wax begonias withstand drought and heat better than many annuals.  In addition, begonias will not grow out of bounds and can be planted close together in a relatively small area, such as in a border.

Begonias grow slower than other annuals making them suitable for use in window boxes, flower boxes, and hanging baskets. They are virtually insect free and are resistant to pesticide injury.  Begonias offer many variations in flower and foliage color; green, bronze, and variegated foliage are available with a combination of white, pink, or red flowers.

Begonias grown outdoors in a flower bed where root growth is not restricted should ordinarily be placed 8-12 inches apart for the best effect in the garden.  In flower pots or planters, they usually do not grow quite as large and are planted somewhat closer.  To be most effective in the landscape, wax begonias should be used in mass rather than mixed with other annuals.

For top performance, begonias planted in our sandy Florida soils require some soil amendment.  Begonias thrive on light, slightly acid, well drained organic soil.  To improve the soil structure and increase the water holding capacity, add a generous amount of organic matter such as peat moss, leaf mold, or well rotted manure.  Begonias are not heavy feeders, so fertilizer should be applied sparingly.  If well rotted manure is used to amend the soil, the addition of fertilizer may not be necessary, since manure contains  mineral elements needed for the plants.  The recommended fertilization rate for begonias grown in beds is the same as for other annuals.

Begonias are not attacked by many insects.  The major pests that may infest begonias are snails and slugs, but these can be controlled with an appropriate bait.  There are several diseases which may infest begonias. For more information on fungicides and insecticides that can be used on begonias, contact the  Hendry County Extension Office.  The major ones are the following:

Powdery Mildew: The symptoms are white, powdery spots on upper and lower leaf surfaces.  The disease is most prevalent when temperatures are somewhat cool and plants are grown in heavy shade.

Root and stem rots caused by Pythium sp.: Plants are usually stunted and unthrifty.  Root system is small and discolored (brown); stems become water soaked, discolored, and collapse.  This disease is favored by frequent rain or over watering.

Botrytis blight: Symptoms occur as a soft brown rot of leaves, stem, and flowers.  Woolly, gray fungus spores form on decayed tissues.  Fungus is common on plants weakened by root rot.  Botrytis may also start in powdery mildew spots and sunburned tissues.  Botrytis is favored by high relative humidity and low temperatures.

These colorful thrifty annuals might just have a year round place in your landscape plans.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

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