Half Hardy Perennial
1 foot to 18 inches.
Colours various, July to October.
Among the trumpeted “improvements”
which constantly appear and as constantly disappear
from the florists’ catalogues, two or three
times in a life-time, perhaps, there arrives –
and stays – an indutible gift of progress.
Such a gift is the tuberous begonia, which has
taken its place as one of the most satisfactory
and decorative bedding-plants during the last
In range of colour and in general thriftiness
it is vastly superior to the time-honoured geranium.
The flowers vary from pure white to a very dark
crimson, with intermediate shades of yellow, orange,
scarlet, pink of several depths of tint, and that
pretty colour which goes by the name of “salmon”,
and it is to be noted that all these agree perfectly
when massed together, a unity not by any means
found in all floral families.
As regards constitution, the begonia rejoices
in a dripping summer, and sends up its erect flowers,
clear of mud-splashings, long after the geranium
beds are reduced to dismal plots of almost flowerless
greenery. It may be planted out at the end of
May, and will continue in bloom until the first
sharp frost of autumn, which cuts down the foliage.
The tubers may then be taken up, and kept in any
fairly dry and cool place, secure from freezing,
until next spring.
For the amateur who requires not more than a few
dozen plants the least troublesome plan is to
buy growing tubers off the nurseryman, ready for
planting out in May or June. They may be put out
directly into their flowering quarters.
The second plan, suitable for any one with command
of a greenhouse or frame, is to buy “dry”
or “started” tubers in February or
March, plant them close together in rich soil
in boxes about two and a half inches deep, and
grow on with plenty of moisture, in a temperature
ranging between the extremes of 70° and 50°.
In planting begonia tubers, always remember that
the hollow side is the top, and must be uppermost,
just on a level with the surface of the soil;
on no account must the tuber be buried, and care
should be taken in giving water that it does not
lodge in the concave side.
With ordinary care, the plants will grow strong
and stocky, and will be ready for planting out
when the risk of frosts is over. A third way of
raising begonias is from seed; this involves a
good deal of trouble, but is, of course, the cheapest
to the grower’s pocket.
Obtain seed of a really good strain of erect-growing
“singles”, and sow in well-drained
pots in a temperature of 65° at the end of
The surface of the soil should be fine and smooth,
and the seed, which is very minute, must be carefully
sown, and watered very carefully indeed. The seedlings
come up at irregular intervals, and each plant
must be pricked out, when large enough to handle,
into a pot or box; if they are grown on in a steady
warmth, liberally but rationally watered and looked
after in the way of weeding and surface stirring,
they will give some flowers by July or August,
and will form fine tubers for next year.
The beds for begonias should be made very rich,
worked two spades deep and have abundance of half-rotted
manure and leaf-mould dug into them. During the
summer the plants will take almost any amount
of water, and an occasional dose of liquid manure
(a decoction of horse dung in water, diluted to
about the colour of pale sherry) will be an advantage.
The growth of the stems is succulent and rather
brittle, and in windy neighbourhoods may require
the help of small hazel sticks and bast. When
the autumn frosts have turned the foliage to pulp,
fork up the plants, pull or twist the stems carefully
from the tubers, which when cleaned of root-fibres
and adhering mould may be packed away for the
The best storage is in boxes of fairly dry earth,
under the stage of a cold greenhouse, or in a
dry cellar or shed, safe from frost and from drip
or any other form of wet; but with the best of
conditions a few tubers will be found to have
decayed by the spring. Sometimes, without sufficient
visible cause, this loss is very considerable.
Roots that are soft or shrivelled by planting-time
are quite worthless.
After four or five years the tubers become very
large and hollow, and are not to be depended upon
for much longer; it is well to introduce some
new blood every season.
Begonias are excellent pot plants for window or
house decoration. For this purpose they should
be transplanted singly out of the boxes which
they were started in into small pots, potted on
when the roots have filled these, and finally
put in May into six-inch pots in which they will
flower. These must have ample drainage, with a
layer of old manure and flaky leaf-mould over
the crocks, and the rest a rich compost with sand.
There must be no stint of water at any time; and
as the growth indoors is not so sturdy as it is
in the open each plant will probably need two
or three unobtrusive sticks and neat and careful
There is one other way of growing begonias which
is peculiarly suitable for certain positions,
namely, in large tubs. A paraffin-cask sawn in
two, the inside well charred, and the outside
painted and unobtrusive green, will afford tow
tubs of about two feet diameter, which will accommodate
ten or a dozen begonias each. The charring may
be done by standing the tub in some open place,
wetting the inside well with kerosene, lighting
it with a torch of paper, and allowing it to burn
till the surface of the wood is just burnt black.
The conflagration is furious at first, but soon
dies down, and may be extinguished at any time
by turning the tub upside down. The soil for tub-growing
must be as rich as possible, without fresh manure,
and there should be two inches drainage of old
tiles or stones on the bottom, which, of course,
must have about a dozen holes of one and a half
inch diameter bored through it.
Watering must be copious and regular, except in
rainy times, and about August a good top-dressing
of fairly fresh horse manure may be spread in
an almost unnoticeable manner among the plants.
Tubs thus furnished will stand in all sorts of
corners where otherwise flowers would be lacking;
on paved courtyards and terraces, gravel paths,
steps, etc., provided that a fair amount of sun
reached the site; and in spring they may be filled
with several sorts of early flowering plants,
amongst which Wallflowers do particularly well.
A name given to the tuberous Begonias of garden
origin that have been derived from such species
as Begonia boliviensis, Begonia clarkei, Begonia davisii, Begonia
pearcei, Begonia rosiflora, Begonia veitchii and others
from the tropics that are used for outdoor planting
The exotic double forms are best suited for greenhouse
culture owing to their flowers becoming weighed
down by rain and spoiled.
The single forms, however, with both plain and
crisped petals are useful and colourful subjects
for summer bedding, and comprise a very wide range
of colours from white and shades of yellow to
pink, salmon, orange, scarlet, crimson.
The tubers may be potted in March, using a rich
compost containing leafmould, old manure, coarse
sand and loam. These are grown on in a cool greenhouse
where frost can be excluded and are planted out-of-doors
in early June.
The soil should have been well enriched by the
previous incorporation of old manure and the position
should enjoy full sun. Perfect drainage is essential.
Propagation is by means of seed or cuttings.
The flowering season is in summer.