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Rex begonias add a splash of color for shade

A variety of brilliant rex begonias grows well in a shade garden. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Every year there seems to be a plant that catches my eye, some years there are more than others, but I am always intrigued by the new varieties. Begonias are always a hit with me as they are showy plants that come in large or small sizes. Some are good for sun whereas most others are ideal for shady locations. The angel wings are one of my favorite with their red, pink or white blooms that hang down in pendulous clusters. The fibrous begonias are small but are loaded with blooms and thrive in either shade or sun. The rex begonia is another one of my new favorites that I am planting more and more of as they have spectacular leaf colors.

Rex begonias are not known for their flowers, unlike the rest in the begonia family, but they sure make up for it with their extraordinary leaves and the multitude of color combinations they display. Some have striking reds and pinks in their leaves while others have copper and silver to accent their pallet. Some have spirals in the leaves where others have deep veining and puckering to give a new dimension in their texture. There are also solid colors for a vibrant effect to multi shades of up to five different colors in one leaf to accent any garden.

The rex begonias are fairly easy to grow as long as you follow a few easy rules. Most rex begonias do not like to be in the sun, so a shady location in a pot or in the garden are best. They like moisture, but do not like to sit in wet soil for very long as this will cause stem rot and will end in their quick demise. A good rule of thumb to follow is to only water them when the soil is dry to the touch and never allow the plant to wilt as this will cause browning and dry leaves. The plant is not big on fertilizer as too much will tend to burn the leaves also, so a very mild organic fertilizer every 30 days is plenty. I like to use organic fish emulsion as it is very mild to most plants. Some have leaves up to 8 inches long while others only get about half that size. Most plants will get about 12 to 18 inches high and across at the end of the season.

Some of the stunning and most popular rex begonias begin with the one called ‘Fireworks’. This selection has stunning triangular leaves with deep burgundy to black veins, silver patched in the midsection fading to a silvery pink edge. The leaves are about 5 to 6 inches long and about 3 to 4 inches across. Pair this one with pink or burgundy plants for a wonderful accent such as impatiens or ajuga.

‘Escargot’ is a unique style of rex as its leaves have a spiral fashion with silver and bronze coloring. The swirling silver from center to edge gives the leaf appearance of a snail shell. ‘Cowardly Lion’ is similar in its leaf style with the spiral effect, but its leaves are more mottled in color and texture with shades of chocolate tones accented with yellow and green. These ones look great with Silver Falls Dichondria or Angelina sedum.

‘Stained Glass’ is one of my favorites with its pink to burgundy shades with a touch of silver on its triangular leaves. This one looks nice with Pulmonaria or white caladiums.

‘Gold Green’ has a nice scalloped leaf with a green surface blotched with silver markings that really stand out. Accent this one with yellow Moneywort or variegated ground cover sedums or lamium.

These are just a few of the many varieties available of the rex begonia. Many of these plants can be taken inside to grow as long as they have plenty of humidity in order to thrive. Dry air or being near hot vents will cause the leaves to brown and fall off. Keep pots sitting on a tray of rock that have water in them. This allows the water to evaporate through the leaves, but does not allow the plant to sit in water.

Some people choose to propagate new plants via stem cutting, as this is the most common methods to make additional plants. Take the leaf stem and place it into a light potting mix. This is a slow process as it can take up to six months to produce a plant. Luckily for us, our winters are long and we have plenty of time to make new plants.

If you are looking for some spectacular leaf color in the garden, give the rex begonias a chance as they are sure to please. We are always looking for striking plants in our shade garden and here is just one more to consider.  

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