Begonias don’t have to be gone at summer’s end
Ciscoe Morris writes about care of begonias during winter, and the dangers of overfeeding houseplants.
Special to The Seattle Times
Hardy Plant Society of Washington Fall Bulb Sale: 10 a.m.- 2 p.m., Oct. 13. Center for Urban Horticulture: 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle; (www.hardyplantsocietywa.org).
Puget Sound Mycological Society annual Wild Mushroom Show: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Oct. 13. Over 200 varieties of wild mushrooms will be displayed, identified and classified; bring mushrooms for identification. Exhibits, lectures, items for sale, and mushroom tasting. 7700 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle; (www.psms.org).
Snohomish Garden Club: featured speaker Susie Egan: 7 p.m. Oct. 14. Susie Egan, owner of Cottage Lake Gardens, will talk about “Winter Interest Plants.” 506 Fourth St., Snohomish; (www.snohomishgardenclub.com)
In the Garden
Begonia boliviensis have become highly popular hanging-basket plants. The pointed, serrated leaves have an attractive triangular shape, and the profuse, colorful bell-shaped flowers that adorn the plant from late spring through summer are hummingbird favorites.
The most popular variety, “Bonfire,” is revered for its bright-orange flowers, but new varieties will be showing up at local nurseries and plant sales next spring. Look for “Bonfire Santa Cruz Sunset,” which features scarlet flowers.
Some of the most exciting new varieties feature dark foliage and colorful blooms. The leaves on the blush-pink ‘Bonfire Chocolate Pink’ are a unique greenish-blue color, while the foliage on my personal favorite, ‘Bonfire Chocolate Red,’ sports dark burgundy leaves along with deep-reddish-orange flowers. If you prefer pastels, the ‘Million Kisses’ series offers blossoms ranging from blush pink to pastel yellow.
Most people grow these plants as annuals and toss them out at the end of the season, but they actually have a tuberous root system that makes them incredibly easy to overwinter.
Once they begin to die back, simply move them, pot and all, into the unheated garage. Wait to cut the foliage back until it dries up in earnest to allow the plant to store as much energy as possible in the tuberous roots.
Don’t bother watering. Simply leave the pot alone until you see growth begin next spring, and then move the pot back out into the garden for the summer. Fertilize and water as normal and get ready to duck hummingbirds when they discover your begonia is blooming again.
While I was working at Seattle University as director for grounds care, students and staff often fed my dog, Kokie, little tidbits. As frustrating as this was to me, I can’t really blame them. She was the world’s most talented beggar, and no one could resist sharing a bite of a sandwich.
Unfortunately, the offerings weren’t good for her, as it made it difficult to keep her trim and healthy. The same can be said if we shower our houseplants with affection by overfeeding them. It’s true that indoor plants, actively growing in bright spring and summer light, use up nutrients rapidly and need to be fed often.
On the other hand, most plants situated in lower-light conditions grow more slowly and need to be fed smaller doses, less often. By September, however, most houseplants shouldn’t be fed at all. They go into a dormant period as the length of natural daylight diminishes in fall and winter.
While feeding them won’t make them chubby, it can cause salts to build up that harm roots and can even kill your houseplant. The exceptions are plants that flower in winter such as some orchids, African violets, holiday gift plants, and plants that are actively growing under grow lights.
For the rest, even if they wag their leaves lovingly at you, wait to resume feeding until active growth begins again, usually around mid-March.
Ciscoe Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.
About Ciscoe Morris
Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.