47 (July 1980)
Shrub-like begonias: some leaves have hairs
A large, diverse group,
the shrub-like begonias offer interesting
foliage, including some velvety leaves, as
well as mostly seasonal flowers in pink,
cream, or white (a few salmon- and
peach-flowering cultivars exist). Some
shrub-like plants are grown for the leaves, a
few for the flowers, and many for both.
These plants range from
about 10 inches tall to B. luxurians,
whose stems may reach 8 feet or more. Some
people have trouble telling them from
cane-like begonias, but there are two usually
reliable differences: shrub-like begonias
branch readily and their stems don't have the
woody, bamboo-like appearance with swollen
joints that cane-like begonias do.
The group is divided
into three classes: those with bare leaves,
those with hairy leaves, and those with
"distinctive foliage." The last
group is subdivided further, into those with
unusual surface or coloring, those similar to B.
listida, and the compact ones.
Many of the 250 or so
plants in this group are grown fairly widely,
so you are likely to run into several hundred
names. Some of the most popular are B.
acida, B. 'Argenteo-guttata', B.
'Catalina', B. 'D'Artagnon', B.
echinosepala, B. foliosa, B.
'Hazel Snodgrass', B. 'Medora', B.
metallica, B. 'Murray Morrison', B.
olsoniae, B. scharffii, B.
species ex Kew, B. 'Thurstonii', and B.
Light is important with
shrub-like begonias but the amount needed
varies among them. Too much will bleach
leaves, but too little will elongate plants
and discourage bloom. As a rule, provide as
much light or sunlight as a plant will take
without showing unhealthy symptoms, but avoid
hottest midday sun. Bare-leaved plants can
take more light and sunlight than hairy-leaved
ones. In an area where the sun is intense and
summer temperatures are consistently hot,
provide broken shade under a tree or a lath
The tallest of these
plants require large containers -- wooden tubs
or big clay pots. Or they can be planted in
the ground in a mild winter climate or where
dug up for winter. The best planting mix is
the usual loose, coarse begonia mix. Smaller
shrub-like begonias can be planted in hanging
baskets (especially if they have lax stems) or
standard-sized pots. They can be displayed
indoors any time of year. A few should be
plantedin terrariums to meet their
Watch your watering.
These begonias need just enough water to keep
the leaves crisp. Too much will rot the leaves
and stems, which often are very succulent. Be
sure the top of the planting mix is dry to the
touch before watering.
The blooming period
varies from plant to plant in this group.
Learn when your particular species or cultivar
blooms, then schedule fertilizing to make the
best of it. During the whole growing season, a
complete fertilizer should be applied
according to label directions -- or at
half-strength twice as often. One month before
bloom is to start, apply a dose of
high-phosphorus (such as 0-10-10) fertilizer
to boost flowering. Continue its use through
the bloom period.
No insects or diseases
are partial to shrub-like begonias other than
those which may infest begonias generally. The
usual rules apply -- diagnose carefully and
use the least toxic remedy that will work.
Always follow label directions exactly. Or, if
you prefer, maintain a frequent-spray
You'll be able to tell
if a plant needs pruning or staking -- when it
starts to become unruly or misshapen. Regular
pinching begun early to encourage branching
will produce a fuller plant with more bloom.
Best propagation is from
tip cuttings, but stem cuttings also work.
olsoniae, a shrub-like species with
ornamental leaves. Photo: Karen
peltata, a felted hairy-leaves
shrub-like begonia, can be grown
upright or in a hanging basket. Photo:
Alfred D. Robinson Collection