I remember the day we all walked into Benary seed’s plant trials in California and saw the BIG begonia for the first time. We knew immediately this plant was something special. My thoughts were centered mostly on whether I could capture a photographic image that would tell the story.
I pretty much failed that day for a couple of reasons. First I was in a crowd that was enamored with the begonia and rightfully so. This innovative breeding of an angel wing and a fibrous begonia had given us the dawn of a new day in begonias for the landscape. But I also failed to capture an image that would tell the story because in a long hot summer this begonia is even better than what we were looking at that day.
Botanically speaking, the nomenclature is Begonia x benariensis and this breeding from Benary gave us the BIG and also gave us the Whopper. If you haven’t grown BIG it is as the name suggest, absolutely HUGE. The plants reach 24 inches plus in height with a spread of 24 inches. There are scads of reports where they have grown even larger, but this will give you a starting point.
BIG Begonias now come in 5 colors, three with green leaf and two with bronze leaf. The newest in the lineup is BIG Rose with green leaf. The bronzed leafed varieties can tolerate full sun but I can tell you in Savannah, GA where we have a lot of dappled or shifting sun during the day it’s absolutely perfect for all of the BIG begonia series.
Whether you choose to grow in full sun or partial-sun, the soil should be fertile, organic rich and well drained. Work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, turning the soil to a depth of about 8 inches. While tilling, add two pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer with minor nutrients per 100 square feet of bed space.
Space BIG begonia plants 12 to 15 inches apart in the landscape. Keep them well watered and feed monthly with light applications of the fertilizer. In containers and baskets, use controlled-release granules or dilute water soluble 20-20-20. Apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture, deter weeds and keep the soil temperatures moderate.
These plants are ever-blooming with dark bronze or green leaves that have the ability to form an almost dwarf shrub-like appearance. They lend themselves to stunning landscape performance when planted en masse. Use them as a filler plant in large mixed containers or as a monoculture in decorative pots and they will simply dazzle on the front porch or patio.
BIG begonias have the ability to make partial shaded beds look like Martinique or the volcanic island paradise of Saba when combined with plants like bananas, cannas, elephant ears, fatsia, gingers, or hostas. If you grow the giant leopard plant or farfugium a cluster of BIG begonias may be just what you need for companionship.
Begonias have long been the standout performers of the summer landscape. You certainly have choices now from those that are short and diminutive to those that are BIG.