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Home > Care > Florida Tips

Springtime in South Florida
by Johanna Kitson

In South Florida around the West Palm Beach area, we have it pretty easy as far as Begonias are concerned. The only time we would have a big problem is in winter if it actually stayed in the low 30's for two or three days. Fortunately, we don't get much below 40 and on the occasion it gets colder into the mid 30 range, it only lasts about 24 hours. The worst that happens at this temperature range is maybe a couple of singed leaves if the wind is blowing. In January and February we remove all the torn and tattered leaves created in our fall and "winter" season so the newly emerging leaves and bloom spikes can grow without anything else in their way. I grow 99% of all my begonias as landscape plants in the ground. Any minor pruning would have been done in the fall perhaps in September through October. We would do major pruning after the spring bloom season and on into the beginning of summer.

2. What soil do you use?
When I create landscape beds, I just pour bags of Fafard 2S, Lambert's Potting soil, or a bale of peat right on top of the sandy substrate we have for soil. I do not mix the peat and perlite mixture into the sand. I just plant the begonias right in this peat mixture, fertilize with Nutricote time release fertilizer, mulch lightly and water it all in. If I have any oak leaves from our tree, I mix some of those into the peat mixture.

3. How and when do you fertilize? How do you know when to water?
Since I fertilize with a time release, I usually only have to apply it a couple times of year as it has an 180 day release rate. I also have been experimenting the last couple of years with palm fertilizer. If applied too heavily it will burn tender begonias so I am very careful to sprinkle it lightly. My plants have become much bigger adding the palm fertilizer because it also contains extra nutrients besides the usual N-P-K. When planting begonias in pots, I mix the time release fertilizer right in the soilless mix.

I water potted begonias once a week, or when the top of a pot is dry or if the plant wilts. If the plant is out in the landscape, it just gets watered once a week when the sprinklers come on. Because they have mulch around them, they very seldom need a second watering.

4. Where do you grow your plants, house, ground, pots?
Because of being able to grow outside all year, I never grow anything inside except for terrarium plants.

5. What months are the best from growing
Every month is a good month to grow begonias, but they seem to perk up and breathe a sigh of relief (like we all do) after the hot and humid summer leaves the first week of October.

6. What kind of begonias do best in your area and which ones don't.
We are dealing with new growers and they just want the basics to get them
started. This should be enough for now.
What grows best for me in the WPB area are many types of rhizomatous, trailing scandent, shrub-like, cane, semperflorens, and thick-stemmed varieties. I easily grow 100 different begonias out in the landscape. No tuberous and no rexes except THE Begonia rex.

Pests--One problem I have had in growing begonias is with powdery mildew in the winter. This has only happened three years out of ten and only on Begonia 'Sinbad.' In two summers out of ten, I have had mealy bugs on two begonia varieties. All I did was trim the two begonias back and threw away the infested stalks. The pest did not return for a year, same two begonias, B. 'Washington State' and B. 'Chuck Jaros'.


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