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Originally published Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 7:04 PM

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In the Garden

Begonia 'Bonfire' needs dark place to spend the winter

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris offs tips on overwintering Begonia 'Bonfire'; checking out the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden's weeklong Fall Foliage Festival & Plant Sale, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 through Oct. 30; and dividing peonies.

Special to The Seattle Time; s

Since its introduction a couple of years ago, Begonia 'Bonfire' has been a phenomenal success. Who can resist a bushy, pest-free plant covered with fiery orange bell-shaped flowers that blooms nonstop from late spring until late fall?

Begonia 'Bonfire' isn't hardy left outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, so most folks grow it as an annual or bring it in and grow it as a houseplant to get it through the winter.

The secret is that this Begonia can easily overwinter in the garage. When the foliage begins to die back, pot it (most people grow them in pots anyway) and move the plant into an unheated garage or shed. Then just leave it in a dark spot to sit dormant and dry for the rest of winter. Next spring, keep an eye on it. You'll know it's time to move it back outside when you see growth begin.

Fall foliage festival and plant sale

The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden is holding its weeklong Fall Foliage Festival & Plant Sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday through Oct. 30 at 2525 S. 336th St., Federal Way, on the Weyerhaeuser headquarters campus.

The festival features classes, tours and excellent deals on outstanding rhododendrons and ferns.

You're probably thinking that fall isn't a great time of year to visit a Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, but mixed in with the outstanding rhododendrons is an incredible collection of specimen trees and shrubs that turn the garden into a dazzling display of rich autumn colors.

If that wasn't enough, the botanical garden includes the biggest public stumpery garden in the world. When you enter this magical collection of enormous upside-down stumps and roots, keep an eye out for hobbits hiding out among the ferns, moss and lichens that inhabit the nooks and crannies.

Visits to the garden are free during the hours of the sale for the entire week. For information and directions go to www.rhodygarden.org and click on events or call 253-838-4646.

You really can divide peonies

In Wischeescin where I grew up, it seemed that everyone was under the misconception that peonies were impossible to divide. The truth of the matter is that, unlike many other perennials, these long-lived plants rarely, if ever, need dividing to keep them growing vigorously and flowering profusely. The reason you might want to divide them is to get new plants, and this is a great time of year for the task.

When the stems begin to die back, dig the entire clump. Shake the soil off the roots, or if necessary, wash it off so you can locate the growth eyes on the roots right at the base of the old stems. Most of the time the roots easily pull apart into sections, but if the roots are tightly entangled, use a sharp knife. Make sure that each division has three to five growth eyes (buds) and three or more thick, healthy roots.

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Now find an open sunny location with well-drained soil, and dig a wide hole and mix in plenty of organic compost and a cup of organic flower food. Make sure that the growth eyes are protruding just above soil level.

Don't get bummed next spring if you don't get any blooms. These plants live for over 100 years, so they aren't in any hurry to flower and raise a family. By the following year, or two at the most, your free peonies should begin flowering again and continue to put on a star performance every spring.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About In the Garden

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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