Gardening March 2021

From Mélie’s Garden

For many years I have enjoyed growing Rhizome begonias as houseplants. The Begonia Society describes them as follows: “Rhizomatous Begonia or Rex are herbaceous succulent plants grown for vibrant leaves. Their size is in breadth, not height and grow from rhizomes underground.” I have a “Water Lily” Rex that is about twenty years old. Rhizomes are very easy plants to take care of if they are in an environment they like: lots of light, temps between 58 and 72 degrees, and humidity. Fishers Island has the perfect growing conditions – a New York apartment less so, it is too hot and dry. Plants that I have taken there in the winter are always relieved to be back on Fishers Island in the spring. Rhizome begonias are grown primarily for their interesting leaves, but they do produce delicate flowers on long stems in late February and early March, which can brighten up winter days.

The plants are propagated by cutting off a piece of the rhizome and putting it in a pot with new soil. It is helpful to pin the rhizome down with a bit of wire to anchor it. The soil must be kept slightly damp for roots to grow. Putting a plastic bag over the pot loosely is helpful. You can also take a leaf from a plant and put its stem into rooting hormone powder and plant the stem in a pot with moist soil. Many of my begonias were rooted from leaf cuttings a Florida friend gave me. Growing a new plant from a rhizome is a bit easier than a leaf, but definitely worth a try.  Once the begonia is rooted and growing, they take very little care. I water mine usually once a week and feed them occasionally with fish emulsion fertilizer. In the summer when I want to get most of my plants outside, I often leave a potted begonia under a taller plant in the garden and let nature take care of it. I keep larger begonias inside where they seem to be happy all year round. In the winter the plants benefit by a quick shower in the sink to wash off dust that might have accumulated on their leaves. Other than that, they require very little care once they are established plants.

I have bought a number of interesting Rhizomes at Logee’s in Danielson, CT and at Sam Bridge in Greenwich, CT. Now they are easily available on the internet. Like all plants, it is a bit of trial and error to see if they work for you and the environment in your home. If the begonia is happy, they can be with you for many years and will brighten up the long days of winter.

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