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From easy-to-grow begonias: a regalia of color

Indoors or outdoors, any season, there is a begonia to beautify the world. There are tuberous begonias, grown from bulbs, and fibrous-rooted begonias. Hanging-basket begonias give hundreds of camellialike blossoms in pink, yellow, or red.

Some begonias, such as Rex Begonia and Angel Wing, are grown primarily for their lovely foliage.

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Begonias are the easiest plants to grow, requiring simple basic care. The biggest foe, frost, is about the only thing that can damage these tender-leaved but sturdy plants.

Spring-planted bulbs yield huge, double-flowered plants, the flowers often growing 5 inches in diameter. These bulbs do well on the sandy side of the house and are in great demand for window boxes.

Tuberous begonias can be started indoors as early as February to encourage early bloom. Start them in pots and transfer them to the flower border or window box when all danger of frost is past.

The bulbs can be dug in the fall after the first frost and stored in the basement or other cool place at 45 or 50 degrees F.

There are many varieties of tuberous begonias, some resembling huge roses, and others, ruffled carnations. They do best on the north or east side of the house, as these enjoy shade or partial shade.

Tubers for these begonias are available early in the spring at garden centers. You may also buy them already started in pots. If you can save the bulbs from year to year you will realize quite a saving, as the bulbs are fairly expensive.

Hanging-basket begonias are grown from bulbs planted in the spring. They will bloom all summer, giving quite a shower of color under your overhang or on your patio. They require a rich soil and adequate water. Never drown them, but provide water often enough to prevent wilt. The amount of water depends on the dryness of the air and drying winds.

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Since all begonias break off easily, it is well to hang the basket in a semiprotected area to avoid the wind. Fertilizer will probably not be required, since the plant will be cut back come fall.

The bulbs for weeping begonias may be stored in the same manner as for the tuberous begonias and replanted in February in fresh potting soil.

Begonias grown for their unique foliage can be bought as potted plants, already started, or they can be propogated by leaf or stem cuttings.

The amount of light usually controls the amount of color you will see in these foliage plants. Angel Wing, for example, grows pink undersides and will yield clusters of pink bloom if there is plenty of filtered light. Some gardeners prefer to grow this as a foliage plant in a north window, where the silver spots on the leaf grow more distinct and the pink is less prominent.

Begonias grown for foliage continue to grow year after year as you transplant them from pot to larger pot, adding a bit of fertilizer from time to time, according to the directions on your favorite houseplant food. Many of these foliage begonias grow to huge proportions in floor planters or tubs.

The all-time favorite for generations is the fibrous-rooted begonia, which can be grown from seed or stem cuttings. These are available at garden centers as bedding plants in the spring. If you prefer to grow your own from seed, do start the seed early in February so the plants will be of blooming size when all danger of frost is past.

Some fibrous-rooted begonias have bright-green foliage; other varieties have red foliage.

It is easy to create a colorful flower bed, using the contrasting foliage to edge the bed or draw geometric designs. These waxy-leafed beauties grow about 8 inches tall and bloom profusely all summer long.

Before frost it is a good idea to take stem cuttings and root them in water or a rooting medium. These cuttings will yield colorful potted plants for winter and make welcome gifts to family and friends. Potted fibrous-rooted begonias begin blossoming when they re a few inches high. They do well in filtered sunlight or almost any place near some light.

When severe winter weather arrives, remember that window glass conducts cold into the house. Therefore, the temperature on the windowsill may drop enough to freeze tender begonias. Try slipping a folded newspaper between your fibrous begonias and the window glass at nightfall. This is usually ample protection against frost.

In February, take cuttings of your favorite pink, white, red, or yellow fibrous begonias. Root them in water or rooting medium and transplant them into pots until danger of frost is past. Then they can be transplanted into window boxes, flower gardens, or used to edge the garden or walk.

By planting from three to five cuttings in a single pot you will create luxurious growth that will make good Mother's Day or bridal-shower gifts.

By taking cuttings every fall and spring, your begonias can go on seemingly forever. Some of these begonias have double, roselike blooms. Others produce single-petaled flowers in colorful clusters. All begonias continue to bloom profusely if the blossoms are removed as soon as the flower begins to fade.

Tuberous-rooted begonias will not need to be pinched back, but fibrous-rooted begonias and some of the foliage types may tend to grow leggy if the center bud is not pinched out, causing side shoots to form.

The more side branches you grow, the more flowers you will have and the thicker your foliage begonia will be.

Flowering begonias of both fibrous and tuberous types have earned the reputation of being blooming fools. Rowns of these potted beauties hve long been a favorite at flower shows and expositions where formal gardens were created by bringing in these potted plants and arranging them in a head-turning fashion.

Begonias don't ask for a lot of fuss and bother. All they want is ample water, proper drainage, and reasonably rich soil. They don't even ask for full sun.

You can buy a batch of tuberous begonia bulbs, a packet of seeds, or a box of bedding plants and it can be a lifetime investment. If you save the bulbs properly, slip your fibrous begonias, and, perhaps, trade with a neighbor, your flowers can go on an on.

That's a real bargain for flowers that bloom all summer outdoors and all winter indoors.

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