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Begonia boliviensis or “Begonia Bonfire” is a tuberous perennial prized for its textured foliage and showy, vividly colored, and scented flowers. In the wild, it grows upon wet cliffs and other humid and shady places. It is native to the Andean Mountains of Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia.
Care highlights: Through a bit temperamental, Begonia boliviensis is one of the easiest tuberous species to cultivate. Not only is growing it in a hanging basket aesthetically pleasing, but it provides excellent drainage that the plant needs, along with an open fibrous potting mix. Given its natural habitat, it performs best in cooler climates with high humidity and filtered light. When I say cooler, it does not mean freezing, but comfortably warm and airy. This plant is a heavy feeder and lots of fertilizing is necessary for luxuriant growth.
Here’s what we shall talk about here:
- The Begonia genus
- Description of Begonia boliviensis
- Planting in a hanging basket
- What are the light requirements of this plant?
- Does it need a higher temperature?
- How to provide optimal humidity level?
- Soil requirements
- Watering requirements of Begonia boliviensis
- Potting and repotting highlights
- Does it require heavy fertilizing?
- Is pruning necessary?
- Two main propagation methods
- Which diseases are typical for this plant?
- Common pests that pry on Begonia boliviensis
- Frequently asked questions
Read carefully and test your memory in the quiz at the end!
The Begonia Genus
Before we delve into how you can take proper care of Begonia boliviensis, a word or two about the Begoniaceae genus. The genus Begonia includes 900-1000 species of fleshy herbs, shrubs, and climbers widely distributed in tropical areas.
Mostly evergreen, they have broad usually asymmetrical leaves of brittle and waxy texture. Flowers range from small to showy, usually in shades of red-orange, pink or white. Male flowers differ from female ones and some species are delicately scented.
These are divided into groups: cane-like (angel wing), rex, rhizomatous, shrublike, tuberous, semperflorens (wax or fibrous-rooted), thick-stemmed, and trailing (tree climbing).
Hybrids can exhibit a combination of these and it is hard to tell their ancestry.
Before we proceed, meet these gorgeous members:
Description of Begonia boliviensis
Begonia boliviensis belongs to section Barya and a tuberous group, released commercially in 1870. It can grow up to 1m tall and performs well in zones 9-11.
As a tuberous plant, it is dormant during the winter. Moreover, it has a tuber, much thickened and rounded underground part which can also occur at the soil level or even on the stem, which stores water and other nutrients during the period of dormancy.
A German plant collector Hugh Weddell first discovered it in the Andean mountains in Bolivia in 1857, so it is not surprising that he named the species so. He had discovered it, but Richard Pearce introduced it into cultivation a few years later, in 1864.
Stems are hairless, few-branched or totally branchless, pale green in color, with a white to pale pink powdery covering. Don’t be mistaken that these are mealybugs. The plant is at once recognized by its pendulous habit, lanceolate to lanceolate-ovate, long and narrow leaf blades that are green above, paler beneath, both surfaces with short hairs, especially on the veins beneath.
The second distinctive marker is bright red flowers with long, narrow, lance-shaped tepals held upright that never fully open.
In addition, the inflorescence is few-flowered, bisexual, while male flowers have four tepals and numerous stamens, and female flowers have five tepals and red-tinged ovaries. This interesting shape of Begonia boliviensis might have developed this characteristic in response to bird pollination since bright-red colored flowers are indicative of bird-pollinated flowers.
It looks best if grown in a hanging basket because its drooping stems and flowers beautifully fall over the sides of the basket. Display them where visitors can admire their beauty and charm.
Planting in a Hanging Basket
Hanging baskets are usually thought of as outdoor features, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t be kept inside. The plant you choose should have height in the center, color in the middle, and something to trail over the sides – Begonia boliviensis satisfies all of these prerequisites.
- Pick a basket and line it with sphagnum moss to keep the soil in place.
- Put in a layer of soil and position the plant in the center, filling in with the soil around it to make it firm.
- You can enhance the soil mix by adding water-retaining gel and slow-release food.
- Water to settle.
How to water properly a plant in a hanging basket?
Watering high-positioned hanging containers is made easier by taping a bamboo cane to the hose to make it rigid. You can also install a self-watering system, a reservoir of water in the base of the basket which is then refilled using the pipe.
As for the maintenance of a hanging basket, check regularly to see if the plant needs water, turn the plant if the light is lopsided and remove fading leaves.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive Begonia boliviensis care guide!
What Are the Light Requirements of This Plant?
Regardless of whether you are growing Begonia boliviensis outdoors or indoors, finding the perfect spot is crucial.
Indoors, choose a spot that receives indirect, moderate, filtered sunlight. During summer, place it on the east-oriented, and when the winter arrives, change the location to a south-oriented window. If you are growing it outdoors, find a position where the plant receives bright, dappled sunlight, such as in a balcony or patio.
In both cases, make sure that the plant is shaded from direct sun. Begonia boliviensis can also be grown under artificial lights if it is not getting enough exposure to the sun.
Make sure you don’t position the plant right under the center of the lights where the intensity is the strongest and consider the distance between the plant and the light, which should be around 40 cm. If it is your only source of light, keep it on for up to 14 hours in the summer and 12 in the winter. Use timers to regulate the light and dark periods.
Does it Need Higher Temperature?
The majority of members of this family, Begonia boliviensis included, are not suitable for permanent outdoor cultivation in areas with lots of frosts as they are not hardy. That said, as soon as temperatures drop, bring the plants inside.
Keep daytime temperatures at 16 to 24 and nighttime temperatures around 15 degrees C. Protect the plant from drafts and keep them away from heating systems and air conditioners. Also provide good air movement by using blowing fans, for instance. But never allow it to blow directly in the plant.
How to Provide Optimal Humidity Level?
Bright, slightly filtered light and humid environment – these are the characteristics of the natural habitat of Begonia boliviensis. This tuberous species prefers high humidity above 60 percent, which is below the usual humidity of a regular household.
There are many ways you can increase humidity, such as creating a tray of pebbles filled with water and placing the plant on top of them, using a humidifier or grouping watered plants together.
In containers, begonias are grown in African-violet mix with added sand for good drainage. Furthermore, as indoor plants, they will do well in standard potting mix with peat moss or leaf mold added to increase acidity, which is a soil-less mix. A number of appropriate soil-less mixes are available in nurseries and garden centers.
Some growers prefer to make their own mix, some favoring loam-based soils which are more stable, heavier, contain soil, and hold nutrients and moisture better than those made of peat only. A bit of sphagnum moss will increase acidity in the mix. If you add some sand, grit, bark, or perlite, you will improve its draining properties and ensure better airflow.
So, when selecting a growing medium for this plant, make sure it’s slightly acidic (pH 5.8–6.8), with good draining properties.
Watering Requirements of Begonia boliviensis
Begonia boliviensis likes regular moisture. Apply water to moisten the soil completely, but allow the top to become dry about two centimeters.
As a general rule, add precious liquid when the top half-inch of the soil (or another growing medium) has become. Keep in mind that those kept in a hanging basket require less frequent irrigation than the one in ordinary pots.
Mind the temperature of the water, use a warmer to avoid shocking your plant unnecessarily. Also, reduce watering during winter.
Potting and Repotting Highlights
Begonia boliviensis requires transplanting only once the roots have overgrown their “residence”. Luckily, that doesn’t happen too often. Repotting every 2 to 3 years is absolutely fine.
If you purchase a mature plant, find out when it was last repotted, but you will also be able to infer that by the quality of the soil and the manner in which water drains out. Once it is time to repot, prepare your tools beforehand: pre-moistened potting medium, soil scoop, clean and sterilized containers, stakes, screen, plant tags, saucers, gloves, knife, and newspaper or plastic.
In case the the selected pot is still a bit large for the plant, it is fine to use the same one. Just, don’t forget to sterilize it. Remove the old soil and the root ball from the pot and very gently remove the soil around them and some of the roots, too. Then, use the same or a new container, fresh soil with the addition of slow-release fertilizer that will keep the plant well-fed.
Does it Require Heavy Fertilizing?
“Santa Cruz” is a heavy feeder, so you should feed it more frequently. For begonias, a water-soluble product that contains nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in a ratio of 20-10-20 is the best choice.
You can also purchase fertilizers for begonias specifically. Apply fertilizer during the growing season every three weeks in summer and spring. Use it only once a month in the fall and discontinue fertilizing in the winter, since that’s the period of dormancy when the plant stops growing.
Is Pruning Necessary?
Pruning is vital when the leaves have turned dull. When trimming, always use sterilized gardening tools to get rid of dead or dying leaves and stems. This is best done in summer and spring. That’s when the plant is actively growing and so chances for new growth to appear soon are much higher.
Two Main Propagation Methods
First of all, you need a sharp and disinfected tool to make a cutting. Find an actively growing stem or branch which has between 2 and 5 nodes. Make sure it’s a healthy and non-blossoming one.
The cutting should be approximately 5–15 cm long. Remove the lower foliage. After you do so, place the cut end in the rooting mix. It would be wise to moisten it in advance. You can also dip it in the rooting powder to promote growth.
A thing to do before inserting it in the potting medium is to check whether the basal node has a dormant growth bud. Pierce a hole using tools or your finger, and place the cutting. Add a bit more rooting hormone and water it.
Place it in the warmer location, with diffused light. Don’t forget to mist the cuttings daily. It takes a couple of weeks for roots to form. After that, you can pot it in a real container.
For this method, you need a location that’s not drafty. The last thing you want is having the seeds blown away, right?
First of all, you need to sterilize the potting medium. That’s nothing complicated. Pour it into a shallow pan and cover it with aluminum foil. Put the pan in the oven at 16–21°C for approximately an hour.
After that, use warmer water to wet the mix, and then drain it well. Then sow the seeds evenly across the surface of the humid potting medium. Don’t cover it, so to enable seed germination. Also, make sure the location has an adequate humidity level.
The seeds of many species from this family usually start to germinate within 2-3 weeks. Sometimes, it can take longer than that, so arm yourself with patience.
Which Diseases Are Typical for This Plant?
Powdery mildew and bacterial leaf are common among begonias.
The former ones produce white patches. They are found on foliage, stems, and buds. What they thrive on are high humidity, wet foliage, and cooler temp. Try not to water your plant overhead and ensure good airflow. In case the condition worsens, use a fungicide.
Like the previous, this disease also appears in humid and warm environments. If you spot this on your Begonia (or other plants) isolate it from others. Get rid of the infected parts and your plant should recover. Also, if the condition is serious, look for an adequate product to treat it.
Common Pests That Pry on Begonia boliviensis
Let’s start with mealybugs and scale insects, as the simplest ones to treat. All you need is rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to clean your plant. In case of heavier infestations, you can use insecticidal sprays or horticultural oils.
When it comes to mites, it is best to spray your plant with an acaricide. Also, when you purchase new plants, isolate them until you inspect them for any of these pests.
If you keep your begonias outside, you will surely have issues with snails and slugs. Sprinkle the soot or put a bit of diatomaceous earth. That should keep them away.
Whiteflies are powdery insects that resemble moths. What they do is cover the foliage with sticky honeydew, resulting in yellow spots all over it.
There are also weevils, which tend to attack the plants during the night. The best way to keep them away is to mix the soil with adequate insecticides from July to October. This is the season when they are most active, hence, the ideal time to create some “obstacles” for them.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to overwinter Begonia boliviensis?
If you keep them outside, that won’t be possible, unfortunately. However, it is possible to save them if they are kept as indoor plants. When its leaves die, you should cut the stems and store them in the cooler garage during dormancy, that is, winter.
Should I deadhead my Begonia boliviensis?
It is not necessary to do so, but if you want to “speed up” the natural process a bit, go ahead. That way, you will encourage the plant to produce more stems.
Is Begonia boliviensis toxic to pets and humans?
Yes, as it contains sap which is either harmful or just irritating. That’s why finding the right location to keep it is essential. If your pet eats this plant, it will start to drool, and vomit, and will probably experience difficulties when trying to swallow.