Hardy Begonias for Fall Color

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

The fall-blooming flowers of hardy begonia, B. grandis.

In 1991, I took a perennial plants course at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and was introduced to many wonderful plants that I have since planted in my garden (hellebores being one of them).  One of the most fascinating was hardy begonia or Begonia grandis.  I just couldn’t believe that there was a plant that looked just like my angel wing begonia house plant but grew outside and came back every year.


I can’t remember where I finally located a plant, but hardy begonias soon found their way to my garden and have been multiplying and spreading ever since.  I have noticed that my nursery customers have the same reaction that I did: what is that plant—is an annual?  So I thought I would introduce it to all my readers and recommend it for inclusion in your gardens.



When I say they are like a begonia house plant, I am not kidding.  They grow from tuberous roots and have fleshy succulent stems.  Their leaves are 3 to 6″ long and shaped like an angel’s wing with green on top and red highlights underneath.

The flowers are pale pink and clustered in loose bunches with deep pink stalks.  They bloom from September into November depending on when we get a frost.  The ovary, which persists when the flowers drop, is bright pink, three-winged, and very attractive.

Self-sown hardy begonias in my compost pit

Hardy begonia is native to China and Japan.  It is an upright plant growing to 2 to 3 feet in part to full shade.  Ideally it likes organic, moist soil, but my experience is that it grows anywhere in the shade.  It spreads all over the place at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens and is easily removed by yanking on the stem.  However, I rarely find it in a place I don’t want it.  It has even formed a very nice stand in my compost pit.  The only trick to growing it is that it comes up very late—mid-May in the mid-Atlantic—so you need to remember where it is.

White hardy begonia, B. grandis ‘Alba’

 

There is a lovely white cultivar of hardy begonia called ‘Alba’.  It has pure white flowers with pale pink stalks.  It is just as hardy as the parent species and seeds around my garden readily.


Hardy begonia looks great everywhere in my garden.  However, I prize it for growing between all my hostas on my back hill.  When the hostas look ratty, it springs up looking fresh and elegant and blooms its heart out.

White hardy begonia growing between hostas.

Before I start an avalanche of emails asking for this plant, I am sold out for the year at the nursery.  However, I always have it available in the spring so look for it in 2013.

Carolyn

Nursery Happenings:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall.  Thanks for a great year.  See you in spring 2013.

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67 Responses to “Hardy Begonias for Fall Color”

  1. I have friend who does very well with these and really enjoys them Carolyn. I have not had real good luck myself however…. Larry

  2. Judy Graham Says:

    Carolyn, how far north does this grow? Maine?

  3. paula burns Says:

    I’ve got one blooming now and I love it!

  4. I planted a couple of these for the first time this year here in the PNW. I love them! I didn’t know they would self-sow. Looking forward to having more next year!

  5. paulinemulligan Says:

    I tried it once, it only lasted 2 yrs here in south Devon so to me I’m afraid it isn’t hardy. I planted it in the woodland which is sheltered and the first year it was very good, the 2nd year it was struggling after a hard winter and after that it wasn’t seen again, such a shame as it is a beautiful plant.

  6. I planted this in a rocky dry shade spot that had challenged everything else I ever tried in autumn 2011. The begonias came up in May and have been blooming since August. So far so good! I hope they do multiply. The only other thing that has been doing well in that area and self sowing reliably is corydalis lute and corydalis cheilonifolia. In your experience, how dry can begonia grandis take, and how much sun? Any difference between the white and pink? I only have pink so far.

    • Klaus, Thanks for letting us know that you grow hardy begonias in such an inhospitable spot. My begonias are in deep dry shade among other places. None of them have ever seeded into the sun though. The white is very beautiful but culturally the same as the pink and just as much of a spreader here. Carolyn

  7. Very pretty, I will keep my eyes open for one of these. Sounds like a very useful plant for some of my shaded spots. Thanks 🙂

  8. This is intriguing. I wonder how much sun it can tolerate?

  9. chris spolsky Says:

    Where I have mine growing doesn’t work very well – it sprawls and shades out other plants that I want to see, but I will have to try your suggestion of planting amongst hostas – sound like a good idea to me.

  10. I actually just discovered this plant in a friend’s garden this year and she was good enought to dig a few pieces for me! I planted it as a backdrop to some hosta and so far, so good!

  11. Have grown them here in GA for many years. They need special attention during our hot summers and should not be allowed to get too dry. Great plant for Fall.

  12. I have grown a couple of different cultivars in the past, originally purchased from Heronswood and I love them too. if they can be planted in a slightly elevated position you can appreciate the red leaf nodes which stand out in remarkable contrast to the green stems. Likewise, when backlit the reverse of the leaves have an intricate vein pattern, often in deep burgundy which wouldn’t otherwise be noticed. Gorgeous plants.

  13. nwphillygardner Says:

    Here in Philadelphia, I have seen Begonia grandis thriving in some part sun locations with several hours of morning sun. And the leaves do orient toward the light. The rich red undersides of the leaves make this plant an exciting specimen to plant where there’s an opportunity to see the back sides of the leaves. When grown in more sun the plant grows more compactly, with shorter stems.

  14. Muffy Kerschner Says:

    I bought one of these from you a few years ago and this was the best season for them since then. When is the best time to transplant them as I would like to introduce them into another one of my gardens?

  15. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA Says:

    A friend with a large, woodsy collection of amazing shade plants generously bestowed some of these hardy begonias upon my garden in 2011. I sat the gift pot in the back yard for a very short time, researching it and waiting to decide where to plant it. I installed it in a shady location in the front yard. The following summer, tiny begonias were appearing in the back yard within a foot of where I sat that pot temporarily. I lifted them carefully, potted them and now they are large enough to pass on…. but I think I will keep them !!! The leaf shape and the red stems are very eye-catching, but those pink blossoms are really showy for fall accents in the shade bed. I, too, have the indoor houseplant that is quite similar and find it amazing that this lookalike is a perennial begonia that comes back each spring.

    I’ll be eager to see how far the colony spreads. Thanks for featuring this beauty.

  16. Carolyn, I have not read every post so I hope I am not repeating this information. One great aspect of this plant is that a cutting can easily be rooted in a glass of water and semi-sunny window. So gardeners can just snip one of their friend’s plants to get started or easily multiply their own stock.

  17. Whenever I hear “begonias”, I always think of the bright, cheerful specimens in Alastair’s garden. These are delicate showing the variety in this plant family

  18. Before we were good friends, a good friend handed me an old bread bag full of B. grandis seeds and seedheads. I asked what I was to do with this, to which she said sprinkle them in your garden. That was 15 years ago and I sill have this plant coming up polietly here and there. They are lovely.

  19. This is listed as grow in a heated greenhouse by the RHS, do you get any frosts in your zone? What are your minimum temperatures? Christina

    • Christina, That’s funny. We are much colder than the UK. In the new USDA hardiness zone map we just moved to zone 7a which is a minimum temperature of 0 to 5 degrees F (-17.8 to -15 C) but when I first planted these this area was significantly colder with a minimum of -10 to -5 F. No heated greenhouse required. Carolyn

  20. Carolyn I love this type of begonia but had no idea there were hardy ones…I cannot wait to plant some next year.

  21. […] – Hardy Begonias for Fall Color In 1991, I took a perennial plants course at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and was introduced to many wonderful plants that I have since planted in my garden (hellebores being one of them).  One of the most fascinating was hardy begonia or Begonia grandis.  I just couldn’t believe that there was a plant that looked just like my angel wing begonia house plant but grew outside and came back every year.     Carolyn’s Shade Gardens […]

  22. Hi Carolyn, this plant is not easy to find! At least in my area. i fell in love with hardy begonias some years ago and have made casual searches since. I think i may end up having to mail order. is this a plant that will be available via internet from you next year?

  23. You had me googling this one Carolyn, I have a feeling the plant roots or tuber would come through our Winter in Aberdeen. However I think by the time it realises Summer has arrived and maybe gone it would have given up the ghost.

  24. Carolyn,

    Atlanta is officially zone 8 now. Hardy begonia is one of those odd plants for me here. It thrived at my old house, but hasn’t taken off at the current one. A small clump comes and goes without much drama. I keep thinking it is gone forever and then see a small emergence which quickly disappears. Time to try a new spot, I suppose. The clump at my mother’s in West Chester always makes me want to grow more of this delightful fall bloomer.

  25. Louise Thompson Says:

    Two things: Hardy begonias are also available from Plant Delights Nursery’s catalog & website (in Raleigh, NC) and comes through just fine from them. Also, because they don’t come up until May, you can interplant them with ephemirals like Virginia blue bells. Of course you have to keep them from overwhelming each other when they start to spread…
    Louise

  26. What a shame that I’m too far north for this beauty. It’s always nice to discover a new shade loving plant.

  27. A landscaper gave me a small hardy begonia about 5 years ago and I planted it in shade as he instructed. It has come back reliably since then, but never self seeded. It is always at its glory a few days or weeks before hard frost in our suburban DC garden. I have since split the original plant given me into three, and they all bloom, but very, very late. I almost forget they are there until they bloom, and I have to look very hard for them among the hosta.

  28. I have never seen them up here for sale since they are at the edge of most of the planting zones in WNY. I do like your idea of planting them with Hosta though.

    • Donna, With climate change and the lake effect in Niagara Falls, maybe you can grow them. Carolyn

    • Ellen Reimers Says:

      I live in Oakville , Ontario, Canada, just west of Toronto on Lake Ontario. I have been very successful in growing begonia grandis and get many new plants from the huge numbers of bulbils falling from the leaf axils in October. They like dappled light and rich moist soil here but I find new plants in odd places . Some are far from the mother plants and some in a limestone wall! you should be able to grow them easily in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. I have friends growing them north of here at Acton and in north Toronto. perhaps I could send you bulbils? next autumn.

  29. […] Begonia grand is (hardy begonia) for shady areas seems like something to explore. They reputedly spread easily which would help keep cost down as they would naturalize. They’re winter hardy to zone 7 (we’re 7b) and bloom July to early fall. Here is an example growing at the arboretum on UNC’s campus. I’ve seen this listed as deer resistant.  Here is a good article about planting them for fall color. […]

  30. Got these from a neighbor in Warrensburg, Missouri (zone 5b) where they were invasive, coming up in the gravel path and the grass. Suspect they may be sensitive to the area where they originated (like redbud and some others). Perhaps best obtained from as close to your location as possible? Am trying to grow them in Colorado (6a) and would appreciate knowing if anyone around here has them.

  31. Ann colmus Says:

    Is it available now, July, 2014?

  32. Your garden blog is the BEST! Great info, the plain talk of personal experience and great photography!

  33. I grow mine in Southwestern Michigan, Zone 6. They are absolutely beautiful, and I am trying to transplant them to other parts of my very shady garden. They were given to me by a friend, who longer lives here and who mourns not having a garden. They always look in the Spring like they are dead, and I always worry that the frost killed them all, but then – miraculously, they show up every year.

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