This page features a type of Begonia that is grown by everyone and always seems to take a back seat to the more spectacular canes, but that has many great qualities and really deserves more attention.
The type of Begonia I’m referring to is the shrub type begonia that includes many of the more unusual begonias and many of the most easy to grow Begonias.
Your collection won’t be complete without including them. Shrubs vary in size, from the minuscule leaves B.foliosa to B.luxurians with its huge palmlike leaves and that can reach 10 feet tall easily.
There are many species of shrubs to choose from and a huge variety of easy to grow cultivars for you to choose from.
Growing and Appreciating Shrub Begonias
Most shrubs, except for some of the species which may be a little finicky, are easy to grow and can grow to be large full plants quickly. One advantage to the shrub type over the canes is that most are very free branching on their own and send up many multiple stems in a single season. They are much fuller growing than most canes and while some are seasonal or shy to bloom, they are attractive all year round because of their more varied and interesting leaf types.
Most are also less mildew prone than canes and quite a few, especially the hairy leaved types, seem to be completely mildew resistant. The shrub types also have a wide variety of bloom types from fuzzy to bare (like canes), and can add interest to your garden. Some are seasonal bloomers like I stated before but even those bloom at a time of the year when your other plants are void of leaves or resting.
Quite a few of the species and most of the hairy leaved types bloom in the winter and early spring which can bring some welcome relief from the winter doldrums. Many shrubs can make nice baskets and many can also make huge accents plants. The following list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the varieties available but are a good cross section of some of the types and are some of my favourites.
Most shrub are easy to grow as a general rule, most are very tough. Some are easier than others though and there are a few finicky ones. Shrubs are divided into three main types, bare-leaved, hairy-leaved, and distinctive foliage. The three main types are further broken down by leaf size that isn’t important to culture but is more a way to divide the type further for show purposes.
Bare Leaved Shrubs
The bare leaved shrubs are very popular and some are common bedding plants in many parts of the country. Of the various types of shrubs, this type comprises the best blooming varieties. A good share are ever blooming which is why they are useful for bedding plants. Most of this type make excellent hanging baskets. There are some giants in this type though such as B. luxurians which can get ten feet tall. Examples of this type are B.’Richmondensis’ and B.’Concord’.
Hairy Leaved Shrubs
Many of this type are commonly grown. They are generally larger growing and have larger leaves than the bare leaved varieties. Except for a couple, most are either shy bloomers or seasonal bloomers. Their attractive hairiness makes them good foliage plants even without blooms though. Some do have attractive blooms that are impressive and worth waiting for however, even if seasonal. Nearly all have flowers that are hairy like their leaves, some even have hairs on the flowers of a contrasting colour. Examples of this type are B.’Alto Sharf’ and B.’John Tapia’
Distinctive Foliage Shrubs
Most of this type are less commonly grown, mostly because many are more difficult to grow. Of them, the listada type hybrids are probably the easiest to grow, although B. listada itself can be tricky. Many distinctive foliage types are either mildew prone or not very cold tolerant. Most shrub classed hybrids of B. soli-mutata are especially mildew prone during colder weather. Distinctive shrubs such as B. breviramosa and B. clorosticta require terrariums or greenhouses. Examples of this type in addition to the ones mentioned are B.’Midnight Sun’ and B.’Murray Morrison’
B.’Paul Hernandez’, although this plant has been out for awhile, it is just starting to gain in popularity. It is probably the largest growing begonia, or at least the largest that I can think of and is very fast growing. The leaves can get 2 or more feet across and are interestingly cut and have a puckered texture. A small sale plant may not look exciting but anyone who has seen a mature plant wants it. I have 3 plants just because it is so spectacular. The blooms are small white flowers held in huge upright clusters that can be a foot across and only accent further an already awesome plant. I have seen plants of B.’Paul Hernadez’ that were 8 foot tall and I have seen some that were 6 feet or more across so if you want a large showcase plant this is the one. It does resent overwatering.
B. luxurians is an exciting shrub and is also one of the parents of B.’Paul Hernandez’ and where it gets its large size. B. luxurians is just as spectacular and has large leaves that are compound and remind you of a palm leaf. The flowers are the same as Paul Hernandez. This plant is a little harder to grow at least until you get it up to a large size but is worth the extra trouble. I have seen huge examples of this plant, such as one that was planted in the ground at Eric Seel’s house that grows to 10 feet tall every year even after being pruned severely every year. It may not get that big in a pot but I have seen 7 or 8 foot tall specimens in pots. It can be hard to get a full plant and may take a few years of hard pruning to get it full before allowing it to get tall. It would make a nice choice to grow on a trellis. B. luxurians will require staking and can be somewhat tricky as far as how much to water. It resents overwatering especially but in hot weather it can wilt easily if not kept wet enough. I suggest buying 3 plants and planting them together to get a nice full plant faster.
B.’Alto Scharff’ or B.’Alto Scharff Rameriz‘, these two names are used interchangeably but really refer to two identical looking plants one of which is freer blooming than the other. Rameriz is the one that is supposed to bloom more but the names are too mixed up now and I doubt if you will ever be able to tell the two apart for perfect identification. Neither one really puts on a show of blooms really but its growth and ease of culture make up for the lack of blooms and it will reward you occasionally at any time of the year with large fuzzy pink flowers that do last a long time. This plant grows very full easily and has very fuzzy leaves. If you give it enough sun, the leaves will have a purple velvety look but if grown in the shade will be green. It can take a lot of sun but may wash out some and be pale if it gets too much. It can be grown as a large basket and I have seen one that was 6 or 8 feet across and hung down at least 8 feet. It was one of the first begonias that I had seen and the first shrub and helped spur my interest in begonias so you shouldn’t underestimate its potential. When pruning, as with most of the hairy leaved types the stems may die all the way back to the soil after cutting but will send up a lot of new stems to replace them.
B.’Lee’s Luxurians’, B.’Rudy’s Luxurians’,etc, all of these are similar but have minor differences like more red on the back of the leaves, etc. If you have tried the specie B. luxurians but found it too difficult then theses hybrids will make good substitutes. Although the leaves are not as cut or large as B. luxurians the plants are much easier to grow and less temperamental and will make much fuller plants than their parent and will make large speciman plants.
B. venosa is an interesting choice for those that like the unusual and is not too difficult to grow. It is very succulent and has large round felted leaves with huge paper bracts around the stem(don’t remove these bracts(stipules) especially if you are entering it in a show because these are one of the main identifying qualities of the plant and points will be taken off if they aren’t there). It will branch if pruned but seems to look funny so if you do prune it, prune the stems low to encourage the branches down close to the pot and to encourage more stems to come up from the soil. The flowers are white and very fragrant, with a spicy fragrance.
B.’Richmondensis’ is almost considered too common for most begonia growers to grow but the fact that it is that common should clue you into the fact that is has a lot of great qualities. It can grow anywhere in your yard, practically, from shade to full sun, blooms continuously, and never gets mildew. It is a great bedding plant and performs better than semps because it doesn’t get mildew like they do. It can be a basket or a large specimen plant in the ground or in a pot. You should prune it fairly hard to keep it full and compact or at least shape it occasionally. It has continuous pink to red flowers depending on the light and there is also a white variety but that one is a little more temperamental and has to be kept out of strong sun if you want to keep the flowers white.
B. echinosepala, B. fuchioides, B.foliosa, are all small leaved type shrubs with small leaves and full compact growth. All make good baskets and are a good choice for some variety amongst your large monster shrubs. They are not delicate and are relatively easy to grow.
B. ‘Ginny’, no list of shrubs would be complete without adding B. ‘Ginny’. This plant has small narrow fuzzy leaves with red stems and leaf backs. The top of the leaves are green with a metallic sheen. The flowers are fuzzy and red and it is probably the only hairy leaved shrub that is everblooming all year round. It can be grown tall or short or can be made into a basket. It is pretty much self branching and sends up lots of stems to make a full plant all on its own. Giving it some morning or evening sun will enhance the colour of the leaves and stems.
I know I have left out a multitude of interesting and rewarding shrubs but we do only have so much space. The following is a partial list of some of the different types you might want to try(this is not a horticultural listing because I’m lumping them together differently)
Large shrubs for accents or specimen plants
Shrubs for baskets
Shrubs with unusual qualities
B. fernando costae
(some of these may require terrariums to grow)
Hairy leaved including listada hybrids
- B.’Alto Scharff’
- B.’Murray Morrison’
- B.’Magdalene Madsen’
- B. scharffii
- B.’Nelly Bly’
- B.’Mrs. Fred T. Scripps’
- B.’San Miguel’
- B. ‘Withlacochee’
Credits / references:
Brad Thompson | Brad’s Begonia World