Wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens) in bloom.
Photo by: zikkin / Pixabay.com

Typically used as houseplants and in shaded summer beds, begonias have tropical and subtropical origins. Some are grown for their asymmetrical, patterned and variegated foliage, and others to add color to shady garden areas with their bright blooms. Although typically on the smaller side, begonia plants pack a big punch of color and interest.

On this page: Basics | Common Begonia Types | Planting | Begonia Care | Growing Begonias as Houseplants | Begonia Varieties | Design Ideas for Begonias | Frequently Asked Questions

BASICS

Zones:

Most varieties 9-11, but commonly grown as an annual or houseplant.

Height/Spread:

Varieties differ, from 6- to 12-inch houseplants to bushy plants 5 feet tall or more.

Exposure:

Sun to shade, depending on variety.

Bloom Time:

Varies, with the most common types, wax and tuberous begonias, blooming from early summer until frost. Bloom times may also vary if grown indoors and some types bloom all year.

Color and characteristics of popular types:


  • Wax begonias have succulent stems; shiny, rounded, green or reddish-brown leaves and grow in a mounded habit. They bloom with 1-1/2-inch single or double flowers in shades of red, pink, or white.
  • Tuberous begonias come in two forms, either upright or trailing, and have green or burgundy leaves. Their single, double or ruffled flowers bloom in shades of pink, yellow, orange, red, or white.
  • Angel wing begonias have attractive year-round foliage with speckles or streaks on dark green leaves. The underside of the leaves is usually deep red.

Toxicity:

Begonias are toxic to pets, with the tubers being the most poisonous part. They are not toxic to humans, although may cause allergic reactions.

COMMON BEGONIA TYPES

Wax begonias:

The most common are Begonia semperflorens varieties, also called wax, annual, or bedding begonias. These shade-loving plants bring mounds of color when planted under trees or tucked in planters, hanging baskets, or window boxes. Wax begonias are typically grown as annuals, reaching 6 to 12 inches tall and wide.

Tuberous begonias:

Another popular type, tuberous begonias have spectacular colorful flowers, and are particularly showy in hanging baskets or containers. They also have a larger growth habit than wax begonias, growing 12 to 18 inches tall as houseplants and up to 3 feet or more in outdoor containers.

Cane begonias:

With an upright growth habit and segmented stems, cane types have beautiful foliage and bloom in a wide array of colors. Angel wing begonias, named for their wing-shaped leaves, also belong to this group. They are popular and well-suited as houseplants, but can also be grown outside. Their size varies with growing conditions, from 6- to 12-inch houseplants to bushy plants up to 5 feet.

Rhizomatous begonias:

The largest class, rhizomatous begonias are distinguished by relatively thick stems, or rhizomes, that grow horizontally near the soil surface and sprout new roots and leaves. They also have some of the most interesting leaves and stems and are often grown as houseplants. Sizes vary from just a few inches to large plants up to 3 feet tall and wide.

Rex begonias:

A subgroup of rhizomatous, Rex begonias (Begonia rex), are widely available, sold by florists and garden centers year-round, and generally reach 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Their distinct foliage makes them a popular houseplant, but they can be finicky. They're wonderful in summer flower beds or containers, especially when combined with ferns and other semi-shade companions.

PLANTING

When to plant:

Transplant after all threat of frost has passed, as they are extremely frost tender and even temperatures below 50 degrees can cause damage.

Where to plant:

Select a location that gets partial shade or filtered sunlight; with morning sun and afternoon shade being the best, especially where it is exceptionally hot. For sunnier locations, try a dark-leaved variety or one that specifies improved sun tolerance, like Surefire® Rose. Plant in a location where they will have good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew.

How to plant:

Plant wax begonia transplants 6 to 8 inches apart and others according to their mature size. Tubers can be started indoors by placing the tubers, hollow side up, 1 inch apart in a shallow tray with moist potting mix. Place the tray in a dark room and water just enough to keep the potting mix moist, but not soggy. Tubers should sprout in about 4 weeks and be moved to an area with bright light once the sprouts are about an inch tall. Only plant outdoors when there is no longer a threat of frost.

BEGONIA CARE

Tuberous begonias will naturally die back each year. Start decreasing water in late summer to early fall and trim back foliage when it starts to yellow. Dig up the tubers at the first threat of frost. Clean any remaining dirt from the tubers and dry them on newspaper in a sunny location for about a week. To prevent powdery mildew, lightly dust them with sulfur powder and store individually in paper bags or wrapped in newspaper.

Rhizomatous and wax types don’t die back and are usually pinched or lightly pruned each year to keep them healthy and encourage full, but compact growth. In warmer climates, this is best done in spring. In cooler climates, you can do this in fall as a clean-up before bringing them inside for the winter. In addition to cutting them back, check for signs of pests or disease before moving them indoors. Slowly acclimate them to their new inside location by first placing in a bright window and gradually decreasing the amount of light. This will to help prevent stress, which causes the leaves to drop. Once warmer temperatures return, reverse the process and move them back outside. See below for information on growing as houseplants.

For all types, deadheading spent begonia flowers keeps plants clean and healthy, as well as promotes more blooms.

Soil:

All begonias like evenly moist, well-draining soil with some added organic matter.

Amendments and fertilizer:

For general growing purposes, apply a balanced water-soluble fertilizer once a month in the growing season. For plants grown strictly for their foliage, like angel wings, use a fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen.

Watering:

Regular watering is important for healthy plants. The soil should remain moist at all times, but not too wet, as this can cause rot. Water at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry and prevent leaf spot and fungal diseases.

Diseases and pests:

Susceptible to powdery mildew, mealy bugs, mites, thrips, and whitefly. Stem rot and rhizome rot can be caused by overwatering and soggy soil.

Deer:

Begonias are deer resistant.

GROWING BEGONIAS AS HOUSEPLANTS

How To Baby Those Begonias--Indoors!

Although there can be some challenges, many will do quite well indoors.

Water and humidity:

Probably the quickest way to kill a begonia is too much water. Let them dry out slightly between waterings. If they are kept cool, you may notice they can tolerate a longer time without water. Give them a boost of humidity by setting the pots in a pebble tray (a low tray or saucer filled with pebbles and water, with the pot sitting on top of the pebbles and not directly in the water).

Location:

East-, west-, or south-facing windows are best. If any burning occurs when grown in a south-facing window, move the plant farther from the window. As an alternative, they grow well under grow lights. Place where dry air from heater vents won’t blow directly on them.

Potting:

Potted begonias prefer to be slightly root-bound rather than given too much room. Only repot when necessary, and preferably in spring before plants are moved outside and start actively growing.

BEGONIA VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners

Pegasus® Buy now from Proven Winners
Begonia hybrid

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

12 to 18 inches tall, 16 to 18 inches wide

Exposure:

Part shade to shade

Color:

Green foliage with splashes of white

This selection makes an exceptional ‘thriller’ in containers and is also adaptable as a houseplant.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Surefire ® Rose Buy now from Proven Winners
Begonia benariensis

Zones:

10-11

Height/Spread:

12 to 24 inches tall, 18 to 24 inches wide

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Bloom time:

Spring until frost

Color:

Pink flowers over dark green to bronze leaves

Versatile in sun or shade and more vigorous than older varieties. Surefire® begonias are lower maintenance too, and don’t require any deadheading. They can handle some drought, but will perform their best with regular watering.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Dragon Wing® Red Buy now from Proven Winners
Angel wing hybrid

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

14 to 18 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Part shade to shade

Bloom time:

Spring until frost

Color:

Red flowers, bright green foliage

A vigorous and heat-tolerant variety that flowers all summer. This cane type can be brought inside over winter as a houseplant. For a softer flower shade, this series also includes pink and white selections.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Nonstop® Yellow Buy now from Proven Winners
Tuberous (Begonia x tuberhybrida)

Zones:

10-11

Height/Spread:

8 to 12 inches tall and 12 to 16 inches wide

Exposure:

Part shade to shade

Bloom time:

Spring until frost

Color:

Yellow flowers; green foliage with prominent light-colored veins.

Sturdy bloomers available in a range of colors including shades of yellow, red, orange, apricot, pink, and white.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Glory White
Rieger (Begonia x hiemalis)

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

12 to 18 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Part sun to sun

Bloom time:

Spring until frost

Color:

Creamy white flowers, dark green foliage

Also known as winter-flowering begonias, Riegers are usually grown as houseplants. They bloom best with short days and cool temperatures, and will often bloom for up to six months.

Photo by: Dwi Windaryanto / Shutterstock.com

‘Escargot’
Rex

Zones:

10-11

Height/Spread:

6 to 12 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Part shade to shade

Bloom time:

Early summer until frost

Color:

Pink flowers, swirled silver and dark green foliage

An extremely popular variety that makes a great houseplant, this begonia gets its name from the unique snail-like foliage pattern.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Santa Cruz®
Begonia boliviensis

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

12 to 16 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Bloom time:

Spring until frost

Color:

Scarlet-orange flowers, medium green leaves

An eye-catching choice for a container ‘spiller.’ Shown here peeking out from under Illusion® Emerald Lace sweet potato vine.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Summerwings® Apricot
Tuberous

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

8 to 12 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Part sun to sun

Bloom time:

Spring until frost

Color:

Apricot flowers, medium green foliage

Another heat-tolerant variety that blooms all summer. The Summerwings® series is also available in shades of red, coral, pale yellow and white.

Photo by: Todd Boland / Millette Photomedia

‘Gryphon’
Cane

Zones:

8-10

Height/Spread:

12 to 18 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Part to full shade

Bloom time:

Rarely flowers

Color:

Variegated green and silver leaf tops with deep orange-red undersides and stems.

Bred for its magnificent foliage, ‘Gryphon’ can be grown as an indoor plant or a bedding plant.

Photo by: Bozhena Melnyk / Shutterstock.com

‘Tiger Paws’
Rhizomatous

Zones:

10-11

Height/Spread:

10 to 12 inches tall and wide

Exposure:

Partial sun

Bloom time:

Summer

Color:

Pale pink flowers; small, chocolate to bronze-red leaves with bright green markings resembling paws.

A smaller begonia, that is big on color. Grows well indoors or out, in containers, hanging baskets or flower beds.

DESIGN IDEAS FOR BEGONIAS:

Mixed container. Pegasus® Begonia hybrid, Sweet Caroline Raven sweet potato vine, Lemon Coral® sedum. Photo by Proven Winners.

  • Wax begonias make a colorful, compact edging for flower beds.
  • Trailing and mounding varieties look great in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets.
  • Use upright varieties with unique foliage for a container centerpiece.
  • Mix-n-match plants with contrasting leaf colors, shapes and textures for a unique container combination.
  • Select darker-leaved varieties or types with improved heat and sun tolerance for sunnier spots.
  • Search container combinations that include begonias.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Cold hardy tuberous begonia (Begonia grandis var. evansiana)
Photo by: Tim Ludwig / Millette Photomedia

Are there any cold-hardy begonias?

Begonia grandis varieties are cold-hardy plants suitable for Zones 6 to 9. They grow 12 to 18 inches tall and wide and thrive in part shade to full shade locations. They’ll bloom from early summer until frost with clusters of slightly fragrant, light pink flowers, and they have large heart-shaped medium green leaves. Plants will die back completely in the fall and reappear in late spring the following year.

What are strawberry begonias?

Saxifraga stolonifera, often called strawberry begonia, has a similar leaf structure — fuzzy, with green and silver variegation and hints of red — but isn’t a true begonia. It spreads like a strawberry plant by sending out runners, or stolons.

JOIN 75,000 GARDEN LOVERSSign up for weekly gardening inspiration and design tips

Get planting advice, garden design tips and trends, monthly checklists for your area, product specials and more in our weekly newsletter.

* Required Fields
We will never sell or distribute your email to any other parties or organizations.

More about the newsletter

Follow Us Garden Design Magazine Facebook Garden Design Magazine Twitter Garden Design Magazine Pinterest Garden Design Magazine Instagram Garden Design Magazine Youtube

Shop Garden Products

From tools to furniture, these garden products are sure to delight

Discover unique garden products curated by the Garden Design editors, plus items you can use to solve problems in your garden right now, and best sellers from around the web.

Shop Garden Design!