Add a Rex Begonia to your indoor garden for color, texture

Published Nov 4, 2018 at 9:00am

The genus Begonia includes more than 1,300 species and countless hybrids which are broken into several classes according to their appearance and cultural requirements.

The most well- known group is the “wax” or “bedding” begonias that many gardeners use outdoors. Cane begonias, often called “angel wings” are another popular variety because of their wing-shaped leaves. Tuberous begonias are grown for their showy flowers.

However, many begonias are famous only for their foliage color and texture. These are rex begonias. They have flowers, but it’s all about the dramatic foliage with these plants.  

The origin of rex begonias was in the forests of northern India. Today, there are numerous cultivars and it’s hard not to find a rex begonia you won’t like, especially as breeders bring more selections with intriguing leaf veins and even leaf puckering.

Leaf sizes vary but can grow to 9 inches long and 5 inches wide; the mounding habit of this plant can reach 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Rex begonias look great by themselves, or they can be mixed in with other plants. This plant is considered tropical; it can be grown outside but it is frost tender.

Outdoors, it is typically grown in the shade as an annual. Most people enjoy this plant up close and personal as a houseplant.

Growing conditions:

The key to success with rex begonias is to avoid over-watering and to add humidity. These plants thrive in organic, well-drained soil. Watering when the soil is dry to the touch is the way to keep these plants happy. Avoid soggy conditions, but do not allow the plants to wilt before watering.

To keep the humidity level up, place containers on a tray of gravel or pebbles, where runoff water can collect, evaporate, and raise the air-moisture level. 

Avoid placing the plants near a heat source or near drafts. Indirect light works best; a location with morning sunlight or filtered sunlight is good.

Rotate the plants if light is only on one side of the plant. They like growing in temperatures around 70 degrees; no lower than 60 degrees is advised.

Maintenance:

Use a diluted dose of water-soluble fertilizer every 4 to 6 weeks. Keep the plants well-groomed by removing dead leaves and any blooms and keep the planting mix surface free of any debris.

If leaf tips turn brown, chances are the humidity level may be too low. Plant diseases rarely impact this plant. Watch for typical houseplant insects such as spider mites or mealy bugs.

The difficulty will be which variety to buy. Words can’t describe the foliage variety of these plants.

Rex begonia “Fireworks” features dark black, metallic silver, and vivid purple foliage. Begonia “Stained Glass” is ruby red, with silver tips.

Begonia “Escargot” is popular because of its name-inspired, snail-shaped curl of color located where the base of the leaf meets the leaf stem.

The poinsettia may be the quintessential holiday plant, but there are other plants such as rex begonias which are just as beautiful and are deserving of giving their own holiday cheer.

Add a creative container and these plants make an excellent gift. 

For more information on begonias, visit the American Begonia Society website at
www.begonias.org.

For answers to your gardening questions, call Oneida County CCE Horticultural Hotline at
315-736-3394 or visit our website at cceoneida.com.