February 27, 2008

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Begonia grandiflora 'Apricot Lace.' (Photo courtesy of Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

Tuberous begonia: Sultry star of the low-light garden

By Sally Ferguson
Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

She's a sultry South American beauty, endowed by nature with the power to delight those who please her. Demanding? She can be. You just need to know how to handle her. She's worth a bit of extra effort. She's the tuberous begonia, a shady superstar who can electrify the low light areas of a summer garden like no other. Shield her from the hot sun, make her bed the way she likes it, give her a few good pinches now and then, and you're in for a good time in the garden!

Tuberous begonias are exciting garden characters that come in a wide variety of heights, bloom sizes and brilliant colors. Their gorgeous, velvety flowers range from big blossoms up to six inches (15cm) in diameter to small, multi-flowered versions. In between there are varieties that range from the camellia-like picotee (with petals edged in white) to ruffled double-flowered types, long-blooming non-stops, and elegant pendant varieties, so popular in hanging baskets.

Best of all, shade-loving begonias offer more color than you've any right to expect in dim or filtered light. Any gardener with areas where shade prevails should prevail upon begonias to lighten things up.

The Begonia's Early Suitors

Begonias bear the name of amateur botanist Michel Bégon (1638-1710), who served as district supervisor of Santa Domingo and later governor of Canada for France's King Louis IV. Bégon did not actually discover the begonia. In fact, it's probable he never even saw one. It was a monk and amateur botanist named Charles Plumier who first flagged the begonia as a new species. He modestly chose to honor his favorite botanist, Bégon.

Curiously it wasn't the begonia's flowers that piqued Plumier's interest. It was the plant's possible pharmaceutical properties. The quest for medicinal plants was a high priority in the early 18th century. Plumier was on an expedition to Peru investigating the sap of the quinine tree as a curative for malaria when he catalogued the first begonias.

Unfortunately Plumier did not survive the trip, and his begonia notes mentioned no particular medicinal properties for the plant. So the world would have to wait another century, until the 1860s, when renowned English plant hunter Richard Pearce rediscovered the tuberous begonia.

The plant was one of the last discoveries Pearce would make, as he too died shortly after coming upon it. But before anyone starts mumbling about the curse of the begonia, let it be said that the 30-year-old Pearce died of yellow fever transmitted by a mosquito's bite. The shady begonia was innocent.

Looking Better, As Time Goes By

Today's tuberous begonias have evolved substantially from the species Plumier and Pearce encountered. Beginning with the first hybrid introduced in London in 1870, hybridizers have worked long and patiently to refine wild begonias into the colorful, big-flowered garden plants we now enjoy. Botanically, today's hybrids are commonly grouped together as Begonia tuberhybrida or hybrid tuberous begonias. Three basic forms are normally found:

  • standard upright, about 10- to 12-inches (25-35 cm) tall.

  • multiflora, shorter but with more flowers, about eight- to 10-inches (20-25 cm) tall,

  • pendant, or hanging type.

The main species are Begonia bertinii (pendulous flower), Begonia crispa (single flower), Begonia double, Begonia pendulous, Begonia fimbriata (ruffled and double flower), Begonia marmorata (double flower) and Begonia multiflora maxima (small flowering).

Begonia leaves are large and dark green. The velvety flowers range from bright reds and oranges to whites, saturated yellows and even deep pinks, rose, apricot, champagne and bi-colors. Picotee forms feature colorful petals outlined in white.

Begonia Basics

Tuberous begonias are excellent choices for containers, garden beds and borders and landscape plantings. Their flowering period mid-summer till frost. They average in height from 10- to 12-inches (25-35 cm). When planting in a garden bed, space plants six-inches (15 cm) apart. Plant tubers close to the surface covered with just a thin layer of soil. They grow best in light shade; direct sunlight can burn flowers and leaves (except in very hot areas, morning sun to 50 percent shade is preferable).

The tubers are tender in USDA zones 3-8. In these zones, plant begonias in the spring after the last threat of frost. To enjoy the longest flowering period, start begonias indoors in pots approximately six weeks prior to moving them outdoors. Begonias will not over-winter outdoors in most part of the country. Many gardeners treat begonias as annuals. Others "lift them" before frost to save their favorite plants for indoor storage over winter and replanting outdoors the following spring. (The tubers should be stored in a dry, cool area over winter). In USDA zone 9, tuberous begonias are winter-hardy, though they should be mulched. In zone 10 they are completely hardy and will easily perennialize.

So what's so temperamental about begonias? Just a few things, all fairly easily dealt with. As mentioned, they don't like frost so must be planted when this threat has passed. They like cool, partially shaded locations as intense sun or heat will burn the leaves and flowers. Amazingly, tuberous begonias can still produce a fair number of flowers in locations with very deep shade. They are very particular about the soil, preferring moisture-retentive but not soggy soil with a high humus content.

In another way, however, begonias can be tough. Take pinching. They not only don't mind being pinched back, they love it! Pinching back side-stems and buds will promote a more vigorous plant with fewer but bigger flowers.

Those searching for something luscious to grow in the shade will likely find that begonias bring a rich reward for a little loving care.

  Gardening tips

Most sun-loving vegetables — such as tomatoes and peppers — germinate better if given some bottom heat. Try setting your trays on top of the refrigerator for a few days. Once the seed starts to germinate, you can move the trays under lights or to a sunny window.

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

The sweet pea varieties that we remember from our youth seemed to smell more fragrant than the varieties that we grow today. That is because newer varieties have been bred for larger, more colorful blooms and, in the process, lost most of their fragrance. Look for old, open-pollinated varieties if you are interested in fragrance.


  Upcoming garden events

Houston: River Oaks Garden Club will host its 73rd annual Azalea Trail Friday through Sunday, March 7, 8 and 9 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day. Azalea Trail, 2008, will celebrate the 51st anniversary of Miss Ima Hogg's gift of her beautiful home and gardens, Bayou Bend, to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The trail will feature four private houses and gardens, as well as Bayou Bend, Rienzi and the River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics Building and Gardens. Tickets for seven admissions are $15 before March 7 and $20 during the trail. Single admissions are $5. For additional information, call (713) 523-2483 or visit http://www.riveroaksgardenclub.org.

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners will hold their annual Perennial Sale on Saturday, March 8. An overview of plants will be given by Heidi Sheesley, owner of TreeSearch Farms, at 8:30 a.m. The sale will open at 9:30 a.m. and will last until 1 p.m. The sale will be held at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds-Building D, 4310 Highway 36Sm Rosenberg. Visit www.fbmg.com for more information.

Mineola: The Wood County Master Gardeners will present their 6th Annual Gardening Conference, "Gardening from the Ground Up," Saturday, March 8, at the Mineola Civic Center, Live Oak Room, 1150 N. Newsom. Admission is free. Registration begins at 8 a.m. The program will run from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. The featured speakers will be Dr. Bill Knoop, Professor Emeritus, Texas A & M University, speaking on lawn care, and Daniel Duncum, District Urban Forester, Texas Forestry Service, speaking on landscape tree management. Both speakers will be available for questions. Booths, with gardening information, will be staffed by the Wood County Master Gardeners. They will have additional information on local projects including the Wildscape and Sensory Gardens at the Mineola Nature Preserve and the Gov. Hogg Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens being developed in Quitman. Attendees are invited to visit with the vendors who will have plant and garden related items for sale before the program starts and during breaks.

Tomball: The Arbor Gate will host its third annual Rose Festival March 8. More than 100 varieties of old and antique roses will be available, as will guest speakers and informative booths. The Arbor Gate is located at 15635 FM2920, Tomball. For additional information, contact (281) 351-8851 or visit http://www.arborgate.com.

League City: The Kemah Bay Area Garden Club will meet Wednesday, March 12. This will be a tour of Christ Church Cathedral and Gardens. A carpool will leave at 9:15 a.m. from the Amegy Bank parking lot, 303 East Main Street, League City. Plan to purchase lunch on the grounds and listen to a live band perform “Great Songs of the Past.” For additional information, call Nancy Busko, (281) 332-5294.

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association will hold its "Spring Plant Sale" Saturday, March 15, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport. Purchase those much wanted plants that you have been wanting to buy and can't find anywhere. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. This event is open to the public. For more information, contact The Texas AgriLife Extension Service at (361) 790-0103.

Friendswood: The Gulf Coast Gardener’s Forum will meet Wednesday, March 19, 9:30 a.m. at the Marie Workman Garden Center, 112 W. Spreading Oaks. Friendswood. The program will be “Landscape Designs” by Ginia Keen Mattern, Master Gardener, Harris Co. Precinct 2. Light refreshments are served and the public is invited. For additional information, call Nancy Busko, (281) 332-5294.

Burnet: The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the 10th Annual Hill Country Lawn and Garden Show, March 22, from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Burnet Community Center on E. Jackson in downtown Burnet. The show features garden-related vendors, a children's booth, a raffle, and seminars. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://hillcountrylgshow.com or call Paula Montandon, Show Chairman, at (830) 693-0163.

Palestine: The Anderson County Master Gardeners will hold their annual tree sale on Saturday, March 22, in Old Town on the porch of Maryjean's, a local boutique. The sale takes place during the first weekend of Dogwood Trails, an annual celebration in Anderson County. The sale starts at 9 a.m. and runs through 4 p.m. Most trees are in three to five gallon containers and range in price from $12.00 to $20.00. Varieties include: Summer Red Maple, D.D. Blanchard Magnolia, Sweetbay Magnolia, Nuttall and Live Oak, Crape Myrtles (several varieties) and White Dogwood.

Boerne: The Cibolo Nature Center (www.cibolo.org) sponsors its 18th Annual Mostly Native Plant Sale Saturday, April 5, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Kendall County Fairgrounds. Find native and non-invasive plants that are tried and true for the Hill Country. Enjoy demonstrations and programs on a variety of  subjects related to gardening in this special region of Texas. For more information, contact the Cibolo Nature Center at (830) 249-4616 or nature@cibolo.org.

Rockport: Fourth Annual Rockport Herb Festival presented by the Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group will be held Saturday, April 5, at the Rockport-Fulton High School Commons, 1801 Omohundro, Rockport, 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. The Herb Festival will provide an array of herb programs, herb cooking demonstrations, a food court, herb booths with lots of herb information and products for sale, and a plant sale which will include herbs, roses, orchids and a few other plants. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit www.rockportherbs.com.

Kingsland: The Kingsland Garden Club will hold their Spring Plant Sale on Saturday April 5. The sale will open at 9 a.m. at the Kingsland House of Arts and Craft Spring Show behind Wells Fargo Bank off FM 1431 in Kingsland. A wide variety of plants will be available for sale at reasonable prices so arrive early for the best selection. Master Gardeners will also be there to answer gardening questions.

Nacogdoches: The Stephen F. Austin State University Mast Arboretum will host its annual Garden Gala Day on April 12 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the SFA Intramural Fields on Wilson Drive. The event features the annual spring plant sale fundraiser benefiting the SFA Mast Arboretum, Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, and educational programs hosted at the gardens. All the plants are produced at SFA by the staff, students and volunteers. A wide variety of hard to find, "Texas tough" plants will be available, including a truly eclectic mix of hard to find annuals and tropicals, as well as a tried and true assortment of perennials. Several new coneflower varieties and many floriferous varieties of Chinese lanterns will be available. Hard-to-find leopard plants, variegated tapioca, the unusually heat tolerant 'Summer Beauty' bear's breeches, rare varieties of Angels' trumpets, and a host of butterfly plants including milkweed and passion vine also will be for sale."Gardeners also will find a wide variety of natives, perennials, annuals, tropicals, and shrubs, trees, and vines suitable for southern landscapes. Greg Grant, Pineywoods Native Plant Center research associate, will have several of his introductions available, including 'Pam Puryear' and 'Big Momma' Turk's caps, 'Henry Duelberg' and 'Augusta Duelberg' sages, 'Nacogdoches' yellow rose, and his brand new, 'Peppermint Flare' rose mallow. He also will have several types of hardy bulbs available including the heirloom milk and wine lily, Crinum x gowenii; the very rare iris-flowered Canna x iridiflora 'Ehemanii'; copper lilies; and giant prairie lilies. The native plant center will offer a wide range of East Texas natives, like rattlesnake master, button snake root, red buckeye, prairie phlox, inland sea oats, bee balm, and a number of trees for shade, wildlife forage, and habitat restoration. The public is encouraged to arrive early and bring a wagon. For more information and a list of plants for sale call (936) 468-4404, or visit http://arboretum.sfasu.edu and click on "upcoming events."

Stephenville: A Native and Heirloom Plant Fair will be held at The Stephenville Historical Museum at 525 E Washington Street, Stephenville, April 12 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. There will be several presentations made throughout the day relating to various aspects of gardening. Booth space is available for vendors at no charge. For additional information, contact Russell Pfau at pfau@tarleton.edu.

Victoria: The Victoria County Master Gardeners will hold their Spring Plant Sale at the 4H Activity Center at the Victoria Airport, April 19, from 8 a.m. until sold out. The plants are grown by the Master Gardeners at their homes or at the greenhouse operated by Master Gardeners. While attending the plant sale, also visit the recent addition to the Victoria Educational Gardens next door. A pond, daylily garden, international garden, iris garden, rose garden, and a container garden are just a few of the features.

Austin: The Travis County Master Gardeners Association (http://www.tcmastergardeners.org/) will host the Inside Austin Gardens, 2008, tour Saturday, April 19, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Inside Austin Gardens is a unique educational tour of seven gardens, including demonstrations, plants for sale, and experts on hand to answer gardening questions. $10 per ticket; children under 12 free. For additional information, visit http://www.insideaustingardens.org.

Galveston: Moody Gardens and the International Oleander Society will host the Earth Day and Oleander Festival at Moody Gardens on Galveston Island April 26-27. The Oleander Festival is an annual event dating back to 1921 that honors the beautiful flower and educates guests about the history of the oleander on Galveston Island and throughout the world. Area plant societies, clubs, and vendors are invited to set up booth space to display and sell their plants. There will be a floral design competition were professional, amateur and child participants can display their work to be judged. Earth Day celebration activities by Moody Gardens and its community partners will include arts and crafts, entertainment and presentations great for the whole family. "We are pleased to bring these two events together here at Moody Gardens in Galveston," said John Zendt, General Manager of Moody Gardens. "We are excited about promoting the environmental conservation missions of both Moody Gardens and the International Oleander Society and inviting the public to have some fun while learning about global and local environmental issues." Admission to the Earth Day and Oleander Festival is free to the public. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673.

Tyler: The Smith County Master Gardeners will hold their 6th Annual Home Garden Tour, rain or shine, on Saturday, May 3 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Five private gardens in Tyler will be showcased on the tour. Tickets will be available April 1 and are $8.00 in advance. They can be purchased from The Smith County AgriLIFE Extension office at 1517 W. Front St., Suite 116, Tyler, TX 75702 or by mail from Andie Rathbone, 13270 Oak Hill Lane, Flint, TX 75762. Tickets will also be available on the day of the tour for $10.00 and can be purchased at any of the gardens on the tour. For more information, visit http://grovesite.com/mg/smg.

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association will hold its annual “Hidden Gardens Tour” Saturday, May 3, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Arrive at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport, and get your tickets and maps for this one-day event. Receive maps to wonderful Hidden Gardens in both Aransas County and San Patricio County. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. This event is open to the public. The cost is $10.00. For pre-registration tickets or for more information, contact The Texas AgriLife Extension Service at (361) 790-0103.

Denton County: The Denton County Master Gardener Association presents the 2008 Walk Through the Gardens Tour of private gardens in Southern Denton County on Saturday, May 10, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. For more information, call (940) 349-2883 or visit http://www.dcmga.com.

Nacogdoches: The Stephen F. Austin State University Pineywoods Native Plant Center will host the 4th Lone Star Regional Native Plant Conference May 28-31 in Nacogdoches. The conference will be held on the beautiful SFA campus, which is home to the Mast Arboretum, the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, as well as the 40-acre Pineywoods Native Plant Center. Join a unique blend of naturalists, horticulturists, nurserymen, landscapers, and gardeners to hear talks ranging from rare plants to conservation and propagation. Complete Conference Package, which includes all meals Thursday-Saturday, Thursday field trip, Friday through Sunday conference, Saturday program/dance; and proceedings — $250 May 7th or before; $300 after May 7th. For additional information, visit http://pnpc.sfasu.edu.

Santa Fe, N.M.: The 12th annual Santa Fe Botanical Garden tours will take place Sunday, June 1, and Sunday, June 8, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Featured gardens include Xeriscape, shade gardening, hearty perennials, roses, great estates and an historic compound. $35 per person per tour; $60 for both tours; under 16, free. Tickets on sale May 1 through the Lensic Box Office, (505) 988-1234

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association will hold a "Fall Plant Sale" Saturday, September 27, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport. Purchase those much-wanted plants that you have been wanting to buy and can't find anywhere. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. This event is open to the public. For additional information, contact The Texas AgriLife Extension Service at (361) 790-0103.


Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at a new eco-farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

Friendswood: The second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Southeast Church of Christ, 2400 W Bay Area Blvd., Friendswood, about 1 mile west of I-45 and Baybrook Mall. For more information visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu or call (281) 991-8437.

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit www.rockportherbs.com.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Houston:  The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thur.) and December (2nd Thur.). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit http://www.npsot.org/Houston.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas Cooperative Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m. For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

Longview: The Northeast Texas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets the third Thursday of each month at St. Mary's Parish Hall in Longview. For more information, call Logan Damewood at (903) 295-1984.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac

Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state — a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.

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  Fiber row cover valuable year-round

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