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Begonias - On angel’s wings

Be ready to fall in love with the easy-care and colourful flowering displays of angel wing begonias.

Hailing from the rainforests of Brazil, the hardy tree begonia, affectionately known as angel wing begonia (B. coccinea), is winning the hearts of many gardeners. Its glorious, richly coloured and abundant ‘angel wing’ flowers appear throughout the year, borne on stems 1-2m tall. When not in bloom, the striking patterned leaves offer year-round interest. Best of all, angel wing begonias thrive in dappled shade, making them the perfect understorey plant.
 

HOW TO GROW

Our collection is protected overhead by a huge deciduous magnolia and ginkgo trees. Despite the over-arching canopy, they do receive 2-3 hours of afternoon sun which helps intensify the flower colours – more shade produces paler flowers.

Angel wing begonias are shallow rooting, so we’ve found them useful growing under trees where root competition is high and soil depth is limited. They are sensitive to frost and strong winds, so require protection from exposure to extremes of climate.

While they are shade lovers, they’re also suitable for a south-easterly to northerly aspect, with bright light to deepen flower colours. Like all begonias, thses fleshy, succulent plants don’t like drying out. Conversely, wet soils will encourage root rot, so good drainage is essential.
Tree begonias are excellent specimens for the rear of a border and for large pots in a garden or courtyard. Always use a quality potting mix and repot every two years. Begonias will grow indoors but need bright light to look good. The leaves are possibly their best feature; dark burgundy to lime green or spotted white with ornate serrated margins.

Once buds start to develop in spring, apply any controlled slow release or organic-based fertiliser. Apply this every few months until autumn. In the garden, we use Sudden Impact for Roses. For potted specimens, feed with Plant Power, Garden Gold or Tim’s Fast Food. Prune in spring, removing thin, weak stems and shortening older canes by two-thirds. This will encourage fresh new growth from the base, helping to keep plants bushy and in flower for longer. Tidying up of spent flowers and discoloured leaves during the year keeps plants healthy and disease free. It is common for cane begonias to lose their lower leaves.

We constantly strike cuttings to share with visitors who are impressed at the flower and foliage display. Cuttings should be 10-15cm long and have at least 3-4 nodes. Remove the lower leaves, keeping only one pair of leaves at the top. They will readily strike in a beaker of water or when placed into a small pot. 

Below is a collection of our hardy begonias. The sweet 'angel wing' flowers appear throughout the year, but when not in bloom, the foliage is a true highlight in the garden:


Image: unkown hybrid                                                 Image: 'White Cascade'     


Image: 'Undulata'                                                         Image: 'Irene Nuss'

About this article

Author: WORDS AND IMAGES: GRAHAM ROSS