Tuberous Begonia Care Is Easy

Summary: Tuberous begonia care is simple, follow a few rules in your care for tuberous begonias – light, soil and water, soon bulbs full of bloom will fill a pot or hanging basket, raining color in the landscape.


Question: My mother made tuberous begonia care simple, her tuberous begonia bulbs, tubers, pots and hanging baskets showered our patio with bloom and color during their season. Unfortunately, she is no longer around around to share her tips on growing tuberous begonia plants. Can you give me some care and growing tips to start my begonia growing legacy? Carla, Baltimore, MD

Answer: Growing good tuberous begonias is not as difficult as many gardeners, especially beginners, seem to think. In fact, one needs only to keep to a few basic rules in order to insure healthy tuberous begonia plants that will be the center of attention in your neighborhood. After you have had just a little success growing them, they will become a hobby within a hobby. That is how it happened with me.

I first tried growing these colorful bulbs about 15 years ago in Maine. The front of our house was shaded by some huge elms and a horse chestnut. As I loved color, I tried all kinds of shade-loving flowering plants, but soon found out I was wasting my time. The thought of tuberous begonias came to me, so I purchased but a few tubers, as it was expensive to fill a 6O-foot front. Fortunately, I had fairly good luck, though the begonia bulbs I kept over rotted on me when I started them the following Spring. It was due, I later found out, to insufficient warmth – a temperature of about 70 degrees is needed. Since then, with that temperature reading, excellent results have been obtained by starting them in the cellar.

yellow bloom for tuberous begonia

An Early Start

To insure early flowers, tuberous begonias should be started indoors any time from late February to mid-March. Mine are always started about March 15 at my home in Massachusetts, To avoid confusion later on, it is best to keep colors separate (keep that special hybrid apart to show it off in a pot by itself), and as the yellows develop more slowly, they need to be started before the reds which grow more quickly. Plant them with the depression end up – the top of the tubers in pots or flats. I use the smaller 3-inch deep flats, as they are easier to handle. A mixture of equal parts sand and peat moss is suitable, and it is important not to plant them too deeply.

The little begonia tubers always present a problem. As they are so small, it is difficult to determine which end is the top, and if they do not sprout within a certain time, they should be dug up to see if they have started. A bulb planted upside down must grow its shoot downward first and then up, while the roots at the top have to grow downward. Even though I have been growing other types of begonias for years – rex and geiger – I still find it hard to be certain which end is the top and which the bottom.

Start in Warm Place

As already mentioned, the bulbs need warmth at the start. Some of mine are started in the basement and some in the kitchen, although those in the basement need to be brought to stronger light when the sprouts appear. They stay in their original flats until the sprouts have started. Then they are transplanted to 4-inch pots, and placed in my small greenhouse in Maine. Until the addition of the greenhouse equal success was obtained by placing the flats in a garage that had a large window.

My very first plants were placed in window boxes in front of the house. When I decided to set them in the ground as well, I realized the roots of the trees presented a problem, so I decided to plant them in pots. In this way it was possible to prepare the soil thoroughly for each plant, and to arrange the pots in the ground in such a way so as to produce the best effect and floral display. Now the pots are arranged in tiers, starting with the drooping kinds in the window boxes and working downward to the lowest specimens at the front of the border. In this way the flowers show up to better advantage. For more contrast of color I keep the reds, yellows, whites and other colors in separate groups.

Soil Mixture

I like 8″ inch clay pots or seed pans for each bulb, and in fact the containers cannot be too big. My soil mixture consists of one part rotted manure, one part peat, two parts light, gravelly soil – sand is added if the soil is clayey – and a handful of bonemeal or superphosphate with the same amount of balanced chemical fertilizer for each wheelbarrow of mixture. For good drainage, rocks or broke clay crocks are placed at the bottoms of the pots. This is very essential, for if plants are kept too wet, the buds and blossoms drop – a difficulty every beginner soon learns. My experience shows that the crispers drop their blossoms the most, though I do not know why. The camellia-flowered types hold theirs the best. Wetting the foliage, especially if it is dusty, is a good practice. On my place I also find that the elm seed which fall on the leaves will cut a hole through them if they are not washed off periodically.

Wind, an Enemy

My plants start to flower about the first of July and are at their peak during August, although flowers last until well after the 15th of October. In order to rest the plants sufficiently watering should be withheld after Labor Day, otherwise they will remain tender.

A great enemy of tuberous begonias in the garden is the wind. As I am near the ocean, it is one of my worst problems. I have plenty of shade, and would like to grow more begonias, but the wind is the foe that needs reckoning. However, to counteract it at the front of the house, I have recently planted an arborvitae hedge to cut out the wind from the northwest. At the same time the hedge permits the air to circulate, an important need, as begonias resent stagnant air.

Fall Care – Winter Care


A killing frost determines the time the stems are to be cut in the Fall. After it strikes, the tubers are dug and the stems cut off an inch from the base. Then they are dried until the soil can be cleaned off, and the stem cut back to the tuber. For the Winter they are simply stored in paper bags, to keep the colors separate, in plastic bins, with no peat moss or vermiculite or sand. They must be kept fairly dry, so they will not rot, yet not too dry so they will shrivel.

Diseases and pests with me are few. The 15 per cent yearly loss of tubers is due primarily to a white grub which eats out the inside. When planting the bulbs I never sterilize the soil, though it is a safe practice.

Tubers Live for Years

I now have about 200 bulbs, some of which are 10 years old. These simply keep on growing larger and larger so that I find it difficult to locate large enough pots for them. I do not like to propagate them by cutting in sections, as they only seem to grow roots on the side which was not cut.

Tuberous begonia care for me has come down to simply following the steps I have outlined and trying some things out each year to improve.

by Matt Cox

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