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Add a touch of brightness with begonias in any shape or size

Want a plant with a little pizazz? Begonias, which come in an immense variety of leaf sizes, shapes, and colorings, may be just what you're looking for. The many species of begonia are separated into eight groups, based on their different growth habits: canelike (angel-wings), shrublike, thick-stemmed, semperflorens (wax begonias), rhizomatous, Rex-cultorum, tuberous, and tailing-scandent.

Most begonias do not have complicated cultural needs and can be grown either in a window garden or a fluorescent-light garden as well as in a greenhouse or outdoor garden. The adventurous grower can choose from more than 2,400 varieties of begonias. While many kinds are readily available, others are difficult to find and may take a bit of searching.

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All begonias require plenty of light to develop into strong, healthy plants. Canelike, bare-leaved shrublike, and semperflorens begonias require the most sunlight. Hairy-leaved shrublike, rhizomatous, semituberous, Rex, and tuberous begonias call for filtered sunlight or a lot of indirect light.

While at their best when the temperature is 62 to 65 degrees F., begonias also grow nicely within the 58- to 72-degree range. Most begonias prefer 40 to 60 percent humidity; however, some varieties with exotic foliage need the additional humidity of a terrarium.

Growing begonias is not hard if you use a good potting mix with proper drainage. A favorite mix is one part perlite, one part soilless mix (Jiffy mix, Hoffman Mix, Redi-Earth, or Pro-Mix), one part sphagnum moss, and one part sterile topsoil. Squatty pots work best. We prefer clay pots or moss-lined containers because they afford the most porosity for good root development.

Do not repot until the root system fills the soil ball and then move only to the next-size container. This is essential to produce a compact plant with good flowering.

As with most plants, the proper watering of begonias is critical.

Water only when the surface of the soil feels somewhat dry to the touch; then water thoroughly. Don't underestimate the importance of regular fertilizing to grow strong, beautiful plants that are resistant to disease.

Any well-balanced fertilizer will produce good results if the manufacturer's instructions for amounts and frequency are followed. Be sure you read the label. Regular spraying with a broad-spectrum insecticide and fungicide will prevent infiltration of diseases and pests.

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Many begonias thrive in window gardens. Where there is plenty of sunlight, consider growing canelike and bare-leaved shrublike begonias.

In window gardens that do not have direct sunlight, particularly in the brightest parts of the day, hairy-leaved shrublike and rhizomatous begonias will do well. In a north window that has plenty of light, Rex begonias will do best, and with their flamboyant leaves will add lots of color where you normally can grow only foliage plants.

If you enjoy growing hanging baskets and have space in your window garden, try the trailing-scandent begonias.

Almost limitless varieties of begonias can be grown in the greenhouse. Use the same guidelines for light requirements as in window gardens. The fluorescent-light gardener will do best with miniature and dwarf rhizomatous and Rex begonias.

For those who enjoy growing plants in the contained atmosphere of a terrarium , many begonias will do fine in these conditions even though they do not require the additional humidity.

The miniature and dwarf rhizomatous and Rex begonias with their peacocklike foliage add vibrance to the terrarium setting. Some of the semituberous begonias with maple-shaped leaves look like tiny trees in the artistic terrarium.

Consider also growing begonias that demand this additional humidity: B. prismatocarpa and Buttercup, with their ever-blooming yellow flowers; the multicolored B. versicolor; the brilliant B. Rajah, and many more.

The outdoor garden also presents many possibilities for growing begonias during the warmer months of the year. Nearly everyone knows the brightly colored flowers of the semperflorens begonias that make striking and impressive borders, but the begonia enthusiast needn't stop there.

No matter how large or small your collection of plants is, begonias delight one with their elegance and variety.

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