A shady love affair

2016-01-13 06:00
 Begonia ‘semperflorens’.

Begonia ‘semperflorens’.

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MANY gardens have shady areas where nothing seems to want to grow – but there are two plants that flourish in the shade. These are Begonia semperflorens (bedding begonias) and its numerous cultivars, and its well suited companion, coleus or more commonly known as “Flame Nettle” or “Painted Leaf”.

Begonia semperflorens: There are different varieties available so check which ones you need before buying. For edging your flower beds, pots and hanging baskets, you should opt for dwarf varieties. For other purposes, opt for the larger varieties, sometimes as tall as 30-40cm which can be planted en masse to create a wonderful, long lasting show of colour in that drab area.

The most ideal location for Begonias is dappled shade. The white and light pink varieties are particularly well suited for the shade because the lighter colours show up well, while if the reds are planted in sun their colours are a shade or two deeper.

Begonias will reach for the sun when they’re starved of it, growing taller and spreading out more, a little like an umbrella, so can be planted further apart in the shade. Deeper shade is tolerable if that’s the gap you have to fill but you’ll have to compromise by accepting you’ll have less blooms.

In case you’d like to plant your begonias in full sun, which is perfectly acceptable, just remember that when planting them in the sun, it’s essential to plant them closer together so that the smaller umbrella of leaves will manage to shade the ground between the plants sooner to avoid the soil heating up too much.

Begonias like average to moderately fertile and well-draining soil and be kept moist but not sodden. Mulching around the plants during the hot summer months goes a long way to keeping the soil cool, which is their preference, and helps reduce evaporation substantially. This is where coleus becomes a wonderful companion, acting as a natural mulch.
Begonias do not require much maintenance. Deadheading flowers and yellowing leaves will encourage new blooms but is not essential and if you prefer a neat and compact plant for a container, you can cut back any stems that have extended beyond the mound of the plant.

Excellent for use as a ground cover, these plants will compliment your begonias like no other. They too require fertile, well-draining soil and at maturity you can expect a 30cm spread so remember this when planting. At 20cm high with densely packed foliage, this mini canopy will act as the natural mulch your begonias need and want, keeping the soil cool through the summer months.For more information, go to www.lifeisagarden.co.za - Bedding Plant Growers Association.

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