Begonias by Any Name

Monday, July 21, 2014
Call them angel wings or dragon wings for their leaf shape, this group of begonias has my heart. They grow from cane-like, jointed stems that usually start out upright. Some stay that way; others develop a pleasant arch when weighed down with leaves. It’s the leaf shape which is flat on one side and curved on the other, like a fanciful creature’s wing. Some are straight edged, others have scalloped or toothed borders. Dots, painted veins, blotches, reverse colors – you name it, there’s a begonia for that. Here’s a few things I know. Some of this may sound familiar if you were a MS Gardener magazine reader back in 2004! Dragon Wing ™ Red has won numerous awards for its beauty and garden performance in the Southeast. To reach the pinnacle in this region, an annual must hold up to heat and humidity, flower prolifically for months, and rebound quickly from pounding thunderstorms. Honors include Mississippi Medallion, University of Georgia Gold Medal, and North Carolina’s Leader of the Pack awards. Developed by PanAmerican Seed, the dragons are gaining popularity worldwide wherever spring is shorter than summer if measured by the temperatures. For begonia lovers and shade gardeners, the dragon’s flowers are the thing. Clusters of flowerbuds are suspended from the leaf axils on threads so thin it seems they could not possibly hold on. Yet they do, and pop open with classic begonia-shaped blossoms, finally revealing tiny yellow true flowers inside. The dragons bloom nonstop, then drop their flowers neatly and so do not require deadheading. Should the shade be so dense as to cause leggy growth, the entire plant can be cut back several times during the season to thicken it and promote more flowers. These begonias flourish in dappled shade and places where the morning sun shines on them but is gone by afternoon. Prepare the soil for them by adding organic matter and garden fertilizer to the native soil or potting soil. Choose a large container with good drainage for the dragon wings, and don’t bother to use the prettiest one since it will soon be invisible under the plant. Two big pots at opposite ends of a porch, flanking the front door, or framing the patio will draw plenty of attention, but demand little. Caring for Dragon Wing begonias means regular applications of water and fertilizer to sustain their rapid growth. Fertilizer in the soil will sustain the plants, regular additions of flower-boosting formulas will keep them going. Without it, leaves will pale and flowers will be few and small. Few, if any, pests are attracted to the dragon wings. Mulch lightly to keep soil moisture conditions moderated and to prevent weeds as the plants spread to grow together. I’ll be creating a new semi-indoor space for the begonia collection to spend next winter. Stay tuned!
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