15 Tips For Growing Beautiful Begonias in Pots or Containers
Are you adding some begonias to pots or containers this season, but aren't quite sure where to start? Begonias can grow amazingly well in both pots and containers, if you provide them with proper care. In this article, certified master gardener Laura Elsner takes you through her top tips for beautiful begonias in containers this season!
Begonias are the perfect plant for growing in shady areas of the garden. Some types of begonias have gorgeous flowers, others have striking foliage. They are quite hardy, and make the perfect container flower, depending on the type of begonia you’ve decided to grow.
Interestingly enough, begonias are often thought of as garden flowers. I envision a large garden bed filled with wax begonias. But as I grew as a gardener and started learning more about the different varieties of begonias, I’ve realized there is way more to them the the small waxy garden flower.
Begonias grow quite beautifully in containers, and many gardeners don’t take advantage of the portability that container gardening allows! So if you are short on space, or if you want to bring their brilliant flowers closer so you can really enjoy their intricacies, here’s some of my top tips for planting your begonias in containers this season!
Pick The Right Container
The container you plan on planting your begonia into makes all the difference. Make sure, make sure, make sure, it has drainage holes in the bottom. If it doesn’t, use a plastic liner pot that has drainage. Begonias do not like being in soggy conditions. They will rot.
A big container mixed with other plants and flowers is great. A small pot that is filled with only a begonia looks great too. Keep in mind that larger pots need less frequent watering than small pots.
The type of pot doesn’t matter. Plastic, terracotta, ceramic, metal, etc. are all fine. Have fun choosing a container, pick what you like. Maybe play with a color of pot that will play off the color of the begonia.
Use Proper Soil
Begonias like light fluffy free draining soil in the garden. This is the same soil they will need in containers. The good news is that potting soil will work great for begonias, no special blends are needed.
Do not buy black earth from the garden center. It is cheaper, but it is meant for in the garden. It is too heavy and does not drain well in containers. You’ll end up with soggy and rotting begonias in your containers.
Water Regularly, But Not Too Much
I actually like begonias because they can handle a bit of drought. Take lobelia for example, if you forget to water it before you go to work there is a good chance it will be brown and crispy when you get home. Begonias won’t go long stretches without water, but if you forget a day, they should be fine.
When watering I like to completely soak the container. If it is a small container I will put it in a plate or tray of water and let it soak up from the bottom. The less water you get on the foliage, the less chance of diseases and pests getting onto them.
Pick The Right Location
When it comes to in ground gardening I usually tell a client to buy a plant or flower you love, then we can find a place to put it. Most gardens have pockets of sun and shade and everything in between.
But when it comes to a container, the location is usually set. Like at the front door for curb appeal. Or on the patio so you can sit and enjoy them. There isn’t much wiggle room for where it makes sense for your container to be.
Begonias like to be in sheltered location. A cover deck, a front porch, and under a pergola are all great places for containers of begonias to be. Begonias do not withstand a lot of wind whipping at them, harsh rain/hail, or harsh sun. So if these are the conditions your containers are in, you may have to rethink your planting plans.
Pick a Variety For Sun or Shade
Begonias are mostly thought of as shade perennials. Which they are. If they are planted in the proper hardiness zone with adequate shade, begonias do come back each year without replanting. However, some varieties can tolerate more sun. Here is a quick break down of begonias and their shade & sun requirements.
A lot of varieties of begonias actually don’t like full shade. This is less than 4 hours of sunlight a day. If this is the condition your containers are in, try rex begonia varieties. These are the begonias that are known for their beautiful intricate foliage colors and designs.
Flowers are what require sun in order to bloom. While rex begonias do flower, they aren’t special and therefore keeping them in shady conditions where they don’t flower isn’t really a problem. They won’t grow very fast, but that isn’t usually a problem in a container either.
This is really the sweet spot for begonias. Tuberous begonias, the ones with the large flowers, like part shade. Too much sun will leave them crispy. Too much shade and they will struggle to bloom. All varieties of begonias will live happily in a part shade/sun containers.
There are actually a few varieties of begonias that will handle full sun. Wax begonias, especially the darker colored foliage ones, will take full sun. Cocktail mix begonias will take full sun, and they look great in a container.
Plant Them Properly
How you plant begonias into containers can make all the difference in their success. Make sure to crack the roots on a begonia before planting them into a container. If the plant is rootbound it is especially important. When the begonia comes out of the container if it has a thick mat or roots make sure to break up the roots before planting. If the roots aren’t broken up the begonia will struggle.
Also, make sure the planting depth is correct. Do not sink them down below the rim of the pot. This leaves them prone to mold and root rot. On the flip side, do not mound them above the rim of the pot. This will lead to their root ball being exposed which they do not like. It will also make watering a container annoying.
The water will run off and leave dirt and mud all over. Also, the water won’t soak in. Plant your begonias in line with the rim of the pot. I will push down the soil around the very edge of the pot to create a little dip so water doesn’t spill over.
Use Fertilizer (Sparingly)
Don’t underestimate the power of fertilizing containers. Garden pots are a contained area, the roots of plants don’t have much area to draw nutrients from like the would in the ground. Feeding them is everything. You don’t have to overthink the fertilizer. An all purpose 20-20-20 fertilizer is fine. Or a bloom boosting 15-30-15 is good too.
I fertilize every two weeks. First water the container, then mix the fertilizer and water with the fertilizer mixture. Never fertilize dry plants, it will burn them. Also, try not to get the diluted fertilizer mixture on the foliage. Aim for the soil.
Don’t Sleep on Basic Maintenance
No plant is maintenance free. Begonias are actually fairly fuss free. But they do require a but of maintenance to keep them looking great in containers. The thing about container plants is that they have a smaller growing space and they are usually planted in areas where you are likely to look at them up close. So putting a bit of time into maintaining them really makes a difference.
Start by removing any yellow leaves and any crispy leaves. Only if they are visible. I don’t spend much time lifting plants to find yellow leaves. I think the risk of damage you can do from lifting and rummaging through a plant is greater than having some yellow leaves hiding in the plant. But definitely clip off any unappealing bits that are in view.
Also, pick off any flowers that are turning brown. I will also trim back plants to keep things in their place. Begonias aren’t really bully plants (ie they don’t take over). But if you have senecio ivy, for example, planted with your begonias it may need to be pruned away from the begonias or it will swallow them up.
Watch For Pests and Diseases
I think the most common pest to affect begonias are spider mites. The best thing you can do to for spider mites (this applies to mealy bugs, scale and aphids too), is to prevent them in the first place. The best way to prevent them is to keep your begonias healthy.
Make sure they are in good potting soil, getting nice even water, and are getting adequate, but not too much sunlight. Also fertilize them to make sure they are healthy and strong.
If you do end up with spider mites, however, the prevention advice doesn’t really help when you’re currently in the throes of an infestation. Spider mites appear on plants as little webs. If you look closely at the wbs networks of tiny gross spider-like bugs (they aren’t actually arachnids) are speeding around through the webs.
Begonias are sensitive to insecticidal soap. Try a horticulture oil (neem oil) spray. I would test this spray on a few leaves to see if it damages the begonia before spraying the entire plant. Don’t spray in the heat of the day when the container is in the sun. Wait until the pot is shaded before spraying.
The most common disease to get container begonias is powdery mildew. Again, prevention is key. Watering your container from the bottom by using a tray filled with water and letting the soil suck up the water is better than spraying the foliage. If your plants do get powdery mildew, which appears as grey powdery dust all over the begonia, purchase a copper fungicide and apply.
If you do get any pests or diseases in your containers make sure to throw out that potting soil and start fresh the next season.
Sometimes if pests or diseases start taking over a container, I will pull it and start the fresh mid-season. Or remove the affected plants and replace them.
Keep in mind that different begonia types, also have different pests and diseases. Reigers have different problems, but all begonia varieties should be monitored regularly.
Troubleshoot When Needed
if your begonias are not thriving in containers it may be an easy fix. I am going to run through some of the common problems begonias have, and what could be going wrong.
This is usually caused by one of two things. Too much sun. Check the sun conditions of your container. If it is getting 6 hours or more of direct sun, it could be too much. It could also be a sign of underwatering. Stick your finger into your container. Make sure it is not bone dry.
It should be moist, but not soggy. In rare instances it could be fertilizer burn. If you think this is the case, flush the pot with water. For all causes, trim off the crispy leaves and then work on solving the problem (watering more, providing shade).
Yellowing leaves is often a sign of over watering. The soil should not feel soggy. Evenly moist like a wrung sponge is best. It can also be a sign that the soil is too heavy. This is actually probably an overwatering problem. Heavy soil doesn’t drain. Make sure your containers have potting soil rather than garden soil.
No flowers on your begonia is often a sign that they are not getting enough sun. Try moving rhe container to a more sunny location if possible. It can also be a sign they need to be fertilized. Especially if they are in a small container with less soil to draw nutrients from.
Overwinter in Cold Climates
The final thing I will discuss for the mechanics of growing container begonias is overwintering. Many people keep begonias in the house as houseplants year round. Angel wing begonias are houseplants with beautiful white flowers, that are quite commonly kept indoors. So it is entirely possible to bring your favorite begonia inside for the winter.
If you have a begonia in a small pot simply bring it into a bright indirect sunny location. Don’t fertilize and ease up on the water in the winter months.
For a container with a begonia in it, you will need to dig up the begonia and place it into a smaller pot. Use fresh potting soil and give it good water. Then place it inside in a bright indirect sunlight location.
Be very careful when deciding to over winter your begonias. Do not bring them in if they, or any plants near them, show any signs of pests and disease. Trust me, it is not worth it bringing them into the house.
Also, I don’t talk much about potting soil quality for outdoor containers. But for indoor plants, I recommend getting a higher quality indoor potting mix (high quality=more expensive). I cheaped out one year and my whole house was infested with little annoying fungus gnats.
Make Design a Priority
Now that all the mechanics on how to grow begonias in containers has been covered, let’s move on to the fun part, design.
A great container has 3 components. A thriller, which is a large center price that our eye is immediately drawn to. The filler, which is the bulk of a container, this is the fun part where you can play with combinations of textures, colors, shapes, and sizes. Then the spiller. This is the plant that overflows out the side of the container.
Begonias can fit into all of those rolls in a container. Though most often it will be used as a filler plant. The section below on choosing a variety will get into which begonias can fill which position in a thriller, filler, spiller container.
This is probably my favorite, and most versatile begonia. I’m always humming Scarlet Begonias when I’m planting them. It is a tuberous variety of begonia. They have large rose-like flowers of an intense red color. They are the perfect choice for a filler plant in a container design.
T-Rex Painter’s Palette
This is a variety of rex begonia known for its gorgeous foliage. It has swirls of deep burgundy, pink, and white. This is another begonia that makes a statement as a filler plant, or it can be a stand alone in a pot.
The Amstel Blitz begonia is a bright yellow rieger variety. Rieger begonias are a hybrid of a wax and tuberous begonia. It features the soft fleshy leaves of a wax begonia, but the larger size of a tuberous begonia. These make great filler plants as well. But since their flowers are on top of the plant they could also act as a thriller in a pot, with some lower growing plants tucked in underneath.
Belleconia Soft Orange
This is a hanging variety of begonia. Belleconia Soft Orange has delicate peach colored flowers that hang gracefully like ballerina tutus. They look great in hanging baskets, or as a spiller in a container. I often use them as a spiller in a container in place of fuschias. I find they are hardier and easier to grow than fuchsias, but give the same look.
The ambassador white begonia is a classic wax variety. They are small and low-growing fleshy plants covered with white flowers with bright yellow eyes. They make a wonderful filler plant. I love doing a pure green and white pot. Try planting a tall emerald cedar with ambassador white begonias underneath finished off with some simple ivy to spill out.
Pick Your Colors Wisely
This is really the fun part when it comes to designing perfect container arrangements.
Think of the design elements in your home. For instance, do you have a bright yellow front door? Then consider making that pop by adding nonstop yellow begonias into your front container arrangement.
Think of the color or main feature of your thriller plant. A silver queen sansevieria would look great with a silvery swirled escargot rex begonia for a monochromatic look. Or match or contrast to the other filler plants. I love the classic look of blue lobelia paired with nonstop red begonias.
Think of the color of your pot. A turquoise colored pot filled with nonstop deep rose begonias would really stand out.
Now that I’ve given you some ideas, you can also throw out all those rules and just buy what you like and put them together and make a tropical punch. Have fun and create something that catches your eye.
Plant Complimentary Companions
While I do love a small terracotta pot overflowing with a single begonia plant, I more often plant begonias as part of a container design. There are some plants that work great with begonias. Here is an example of a few of my favorites. But there are many, many more possibilities and combinations.
I love majesty palms that can be purchased at almost any hardware store or garden center. They are usually fairly inexpensive. I love using them as a thriller plant and planting begonias underneath.
Elephant Ear Alocasia
Elephant ears are similar to palms in that they make a great thriller plant. They are beautiful large arrow shaped leaves. Plant begonias underneath for a tropical container design.
Coleus and begonias are the best of friends. The intense and unique color patterns on some coleus really blend and pop when combined with begonias. Coleus is also very easy to grow.
Try mixing Wizard Rose coleus together with Ontop Fandango begonias for a fabulous pink and white color combination. Add a palm or an alocasia as the thriller, and golden lysimachia to spill out and you have a gorgeous container.
This has to be one of my favorite spiller plants. It has bright golden foliage and spills beautifully out of containers. Tuck it underneath begonias for a professionally finished pot.
Get Creative With Hanging Baskets
Begonias are ideal candidates for hanging baskets.
Of course the hanging varieties of begonias are the no brainer choice. These varieties have flowers that drape downwards. Some varieties include, Dragon Wing Red, Angelique, and Bossa Nova Rose.
Tubberous begonias also fill out and look great in a hanging basket. They have large rosettes of flowers that have an impact from afar.
Wax begonias also make great hanging baskets. Grab a wire-hanging basket and a coconut coir liner. Then fill it with soil. Gently snip little holes through the bottom of the coconut coir and push in the wax begonias. Then fill the top of the container with more wax begonias. It will grow and fill into a beautiful compact ball of hanging begonias.
Begonias are one of my all time favorite container flowers. There are almost infinite varieties and they all seem to thrive in a container environment. So if you are limited to shade conditions containers, you are not really limited at all. Play with all the varieties of begonias and pair them with other shade loving plants for a container design that is sure to turn heads.