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 tubular flowers; my favorites are still the selections that produce blooms that are fiery orange.
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.
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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. Assuming that 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 3 to 4 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.
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.