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Home > Begonian > Volume 67 (January/February 2000, pages 8 - 9)

Growing the Big Begonias for Begonia Kaleidoscopes

Arlene Hoskins Tells Us How She Did It

Winner of best of show, Sweepstakes, and culture awards in numerous categories, Arlene Hoskins can easily be identified as a champion grower But, how does she do it? Here she tells all in an interview with the editor

Q: So many of your plants were huge - B. 'Cathedral Windows'. 'Shadow Box', 'Phil Corwin'. What's your secret for growing them so big?

A: Well, we live inland and have a very hot climate compared to the area around the coast. July and August always sees midday temperatures in the 90's. So plants grow fast and I can use a lot of fertilizers. Every time I water, I use half-strength fertilizer.

I rotate fertilizers too because their labels show that different fertilizers have different micronutrients. I learned to read food labels for health information and the habit just carried over. I noticed the different ingredients in different fertilizers so I rotate between 5 or 6 different ones. Sometimes I discover that a plant really responds to one particular fertilizer - the leaves grow larger and become more luxuriant. When that happens I may stick with that fertilizer for a while.

Also, some plants such as B. 'Cathedral' and B. 'Lenore Olivier' really respond to Epsom salts - they seem to need that magnesium. I might mention that I tried organic fertilizers, but my plants didn't respond. The plants seemed to need more.

Also, it is well to note that all balanced fertilizers are not the same; you have to read the labels. Some don't have sulfur, for example, and that is really important here in California. In past years, the good growers added their own micronutrients and their formulas always involved sulfur. Now we can get those in balanced fertilizers, but you have to check the labels and look for them. Some of the cheap fertilizers, by the way, are not bargains because they don't have any of those micronutrients.

Q. Not only were your plants large, their leaves were just perfect as though they had been grown in terrariums. Where are your plants grown?

A. B. 'Cathedral' was grown outside -it doesn't like the greenhouse I found - and the canes as well. They are on the patio, but grow under a 55% shade cloth. It doesn't rain here in summers and I don't wash off the leaves. I water the pots and don't touch the leaves until time for the show.

Q: Some of those you exhibited such as B. 'Aya' and 'Sinbad' get mildew for most of us. Do you have to worry about mildew?

A: Oh, yes. Again I don't get the leaves wet and I spray with Bayleton. Also, I grow these in the greenhouse which is really on the dry side because I also have cacti there. I don't have a mister, but do have a cooler and run a ceiling fan. I have these growing near the cooler during the summer and they don't get mildew. But now that the cooler is off, I watch for it. I don't spray until I begin to see mildew, but this time of year I often have to.

Q: Do you do anything special to get your plants ready for a show?

A: I start deciding about midsummer which plants have show potential and I am probably more careful in fertilizing and caring for them. Just before the show I wash the leaves with distilled water. The tap water here can spot the leaves.

Q: Do you recommend any plants for beginners?

A: I think it all depends on where you are growing. Here I would recommend B. 'Cathedral' and 'Lenore Olivier' because their thick leaves seem to take anything. B. 'Medora' and 'Lois Burks' are easy too, but you have to watch them because they do get mildew.

Q: Which one would you describe as most difficult?

A: B. 'Sinbad', I think, because it is a most difficult plant to keep beautiful. You have to find just the right spot for it and work with it.

Q: Arlene, do you have a favorite plant?

A: Rexes, I think. I like them because they respond most rapidly to the fertilizers. Those with multiple colors will respond best to what they are fed. B. 'Phil Corwin', for example, wants to revert to green, but the right fertilizers will bring out the colors. I bought this plant, by the way, at the supermarket. Just at Christmas time, right in there among the poinsettias. I was so thrilled to find it. It is about 3 or 4 years old now and it lost all its leaves last winter, but as you saw, it came back. Rexes are really at their peak in August so I had a challenge in having it looking good in September for the show.

Q: Do you repot often?

A: Not really. Unless a plant is ailing, I don't. I do move them up when they need it, but not as often as others would I suspect. B. 'Phil Corwin', for example is really rootbound. I have to water it more often, but it seems to love it. When plants begin to need watering too often, I guess that's when I repot. I learned a lot from Brad Thompson's cultural advice; that made me really begin to observe my plants and learn what they need. That's what it is all about!

Q: Do you have any final tips for readers on producing show winners?

A: Just to study your plants. Observe their leaves and try to learn what they want.

Arlene, you grow them big and beautiful as we saw in the last issue, and we loved them all at the Begonia Kaleidoscopes Show. Congratulations from all of us.

See the photos of her big winners in last issue.

B. 'Aya'

Above, see Arlene Hoskins' B. 'Aya'. This cane is classed as Mallet-Like and comes to us from Shigemi of Japan in 1982. Although it can be difficult, it is also a very fast grower when given the conditions it prefers.

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