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New Begonias Deserve Attention This Summer
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
There are a couple of hot, new begonias causing quite a stir in the garden world. They are called Sunbrite, or Dragon Wing, and Torch. Both are angel-wing types.
With all due respect to the Begonia society, I am afraid I must admit to being rather nonchalant when it came to this plant. Although I liked them, I just would pick other plants first. Not anymore.
PanAmerican Seed, who has brought much fanfare this spring with Misty Lilac and Rose Wave petunias and the Ride the Wave program, is also bringing to us a new begonia called Dragon Wing.
Dragon Wings have been around a few years under the names Sunbrite scarlet and orange. I suspect that as Dragon Wing is promoted, the name Sunbrites may fade or get lost.
The glossy green leaves and huge blooms make bold statements like no other begonia can. Under either name, these new seed-propagated begonias have excellent use in the landscape as well as in baskets and containers. Though seed-propagated, you will buy yours as small or large container plants.
These begonias have proven themselves to be one of the toughest plants in our high humidity, light and Southern summer heat. I have seen them do great in full sun, but I prefer them to have morning sun and afternoon shade.
Keep your begonias moist but not soggy, and feed monthly with a slow release fertilizer as they are fast, vigorous growers. Dragon Wings will take a light frost and can tolerate temperatures in the mid- to high-30s.
These angel-wing type begonias produce new shoots called canes from the base of the plant. When shaping, break any unsightly canes to the base to allow new blooming canes to develop. Pinching is not recommended for this type of begonia.
These plants are almost ever-blooming with red or pink flowers produced in large panicles. The foliage is equally attractive, making this plant ideal for hanging baskets on the front porch or in large containers. The plants will easily reach 15 inches in height in the landscape.
Torch, the other begonia that captured my attention, is a giant cane begonia. It produces thick canes about the diameter of a dime. The wavy angel wing-shaped leaves are a deep green on top and an almost iridescent maroon on the underside in abundance on large panicles. It is truly ever blooming.
One 10-inch hanging basket planted in a whisky barrel on May 1 will be 30 inches across by June 30. By the end of summer, it will look like a begonia shrub reaching 36 inches in height and width.
This one differs from Sunbrite, or Dragon Wing, in that it can be whacked back, pinched or whatever is needed to fit your style. It is also differs in that most are vegetatively propagated.
Plant yours in a well-drained bed with morning sun and afternoon shade or under the filtered light of tall pines. They are so tall you could plant wax begonias or impatiens in front.
I will say that you lovers of the wax begonia haven't seen anything yet until you try one of these new begonias. I can pretty much guarantee you will want some of each for your landscape and patio.