Gardeners looking for the perfect hanging-basket plant this spring and summer will be thrilled with a new begonia series with parentage that goes back to the Bolivian Andes Mountains where the first ones were discovered in the 1800s.
Botanically speaking, they are known as Begonia boliviensis with the common name Bolivian begonia. They have been a favorite of mine for about 10 years; I first started growing one called Bonfire and then one slightly bell shaped called Bellfire. New this year in many parts of the country will be the Bossa Nova series, which has a perfect name for a plant from South America.
Some tuberous begonias have presented challenges to gardeners in the hot, humid South, but this species has proven to be a cakewalk even for the novice. What you will notice is that they produce hundreds of tubular flowers; my favorites are still the selections that produce fiery orange blooms.
Some tuberous begonias have presented challenges to gardeners in the hot, humid South, but this species has proven to be a cakewalk even for the novice.
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The abundance of flowers can take your breath away, but they also have attractive foliage. The leaves on long, arching stems are deeply serrated and most with margins giving a hint of red. To me the plants look lush and tropical and perfect for the porch or patio where bananas are growing nearby.
I’ve grown them in full west sun in an old world style piece of clay pottery. The success was beyond my wildest dreams. I would urge you to go with morning sun and afternoon shade for the best performance and a look that is sure to bring out the camera.
The habit of this plant screams for it to be in a basket, window box or mixed container. If this is what you have in mind, select a container large enough to let the plant achieve its full potential. Choose a light potting mix sold by the cubic foot. Do not buy a brand sold by the pound and almost too heavy to carry.
If you plant yours in the landscape, work the soil properly to ensure good drainage and aeration. If you have tight, heavy, compacted clay, you should either work in three to four inches of organic matter like peat or compost to help loosen the soil or plant in raised beds in a prepared landscape mix.
This species will go dormant in the winter and in zones 7-10 may very well return in May, provided the winter drainage was good. They have returned for me in mixed containers with the arrival of warm spring weather. Very little water, if any, will be needed during the dormant season.
Hanging in a basket, the Bossa Nova series of begonias will attract hummingbirds.
They are fairly drought-tolerant once established, but keep the soil moist during the long bloom season to keep the flowers coming. Feed your plants once dormancy breaks in late spring and then again in midsummer. In containers, feed as recommended with controlled-release granules or with a diluted water-soluble fertilizer.
Hummingbird lovers will rejoice because these baskets with their bounty of flowers cascading downward are just the perfect delicacy to keep those ruby-throated visitors flying in to feed. The plants have the ability to be stand alone in a monoculture basket or container and look dazzling. I have also grown them in mixed containers with scaevola, SunPatiens, creeping Jenny and Japanese sweet flag.
This spring when you see Bossa Nova begonias or any of the other varieties of Begonia boliviensis like Bonfire, Bellfire or Mandalay Mandarin for sale, take advantage of the opportunity, they will be in demand
Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”