By Jen Ransom, for the Redoubt Reporter
I love begonias. They bloom all summer, do well in containers and, most importantly, do well in partial shade — a must for me, as the front of my house faces north. I am not complaining — a backyard facing south is heaven sent for my vegetable garden, and I strategically hang a few full-sun friendly flower baskets in the back so I can wake up to and wash dishes with a blooming arrangement. But as far as the front is concerned, I am limited with the choices I have for a friendly welcome of flowers as one walks up to the front door. So begonias it is.
Started from tubers, begonias can be overwintered and replanted year after year. I sprung for some beauties last spring and had a mild success. It took rather long for the flowers to bloom, but that’s mostly due to human error, rather than shade.
So this week I rustled around in my small gardening section in the otherwise husband-only garage (there is
literally a sign he carved above his tool bench that reads “woman, no touch”) and found the tubers. I had started with eight, but last fall I found myself laid up for several months of pregnancy and had to rely on a wide range of friends and family to get everything from the daily dishes to the digging of potatoes done.
Saving my begonias were rather low on the to-do list, so by the time one of the lovely helpers stopped by with an eye on my decaying flowerpots and beds, a few of the begonias had completely rotted out. The rest seemed healthy, so into the garage they were tossed.
Now, I’ve heard of people storing the tubers in sawdust, occasionally sprinkling them with water and possibly singing to the wintering plants, as well. I did none of the above. So when I brought out the tubers to plant last week they seemed a little, well, dry. Like, almost too dry. As in, I-am-not-sure-if-this-is-really-going-to-work dry.
I brought one of the very dry tubers to a friend’s birthday party to get some sage advice from gardeners more experienced than I. I’ve found that writing, not gardening, is my forte. The gardening is just plain fun for me, even when, perhaps especially when, I feel like I don’t know exactly what I am doing. It’s a good reminder for me to remain humble. So I humbly presented the almost-dry-as-dust tuber to a friend, whose tea shop always looks stunning with summer flowers, and after a quick look, she gave me the thumbs up for planting.
“I’ve planted some pretty dry stuff, too,” she explained, laughing. “It usually works.” (Emphasis on usually.)
So here goes nothing. Begonias it is. Hopefully these grow, and if not, I’ll get a few more at the greenhouse and remember to sing to them next winter.
If you want to try your hand at begonias, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Plant indoors in the early spring, concave side up in 4-inch pots, with the soil just above the rim of each tuber.
Keep warm and wet. Last year, I had the pots on the floor near a south-facing window, but the floor was too chilled at night to get things started. I moved the pots next to the woodstove in an eastern window and they thrived.
Once the tubers have started to shoot up, move them into larger pots. I waited to transplant in my hanging pots until June, and it took awhile for the flowers to come in because I had retarded the growth of the plant by keeping them in a 4-inch pot for two months. Yup, hindsight says don’t do that.
When you do the final transplant, remember that these plants usually have two main shoots — one upright with lots of foliage, the other more spread out with lots of flowers. If you are hanging them against an outside wall, make sure you put the upright side toward the wall. Or, if you are to enjoy the flowers from inside a window, as well, you can put two plants per pot with the foliage sides facing toward one another.
Cascading lobelia or pansies both do well with begonias in a shared pot. Begonias can handle full sun, but you may have to watch them closely and water more often during the warm July weather.
The Green Beet explores environmentally friendly, economical and often quirky ways to enjoy Alaska’s gardening and gathering season, while showcasing columnist and lifelong Alaskan Jen Ransom’s gardening wins and failures as she tries each season to grow a proper green thumb.