These colorful annuals can transform a lush shade garden into something out of a dream – the blossoms almost seem to glow under the trees. Begonias, named for the famous French botanist, Michel Begon, come from South and Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia. There are over 1500 species of the plant.

Introduced to England in 1777, the begonia has undergone much cultivation to create a number of different hybrids and cultivars. It has been used as food for many years, and actually gives a lemony flavor to salads. Despite their beauty, some people think that begonias symbolize dark thoughts. Whatever their history, begonias remain a popular flower in many gardens across the world.

With regards to how these flowers will fit into your garden design, Begonias have variegated, asymmetrical foliage and smooth-petalled, showy flowers. Flowers will vary according to the cultivar. Colors include pink, yellow, white, red and orange. The blooms can be bicolored. Begonias can grow up and spread out to 24 inches. They should be planted out after May 24.

Growing Begonias

Plant the flowers in light or partial shade if you want them to do well. Some cultivars will tolerate full sun as long as their soil is kept moist. Begonias prefer a fertile, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic or neutral pH. The soil should be allowed to dry out a little between waterings. A garden center staffer might say that growing the plants from seed is not recommended, but if you want to try, keep the soil moist and don't cover the seeds. Once the plants have three or four leaves, they can be potted individually. If you're growing begonias from tubers, winter them in slightly wet peat moss and pot them once new shoots start to grow.

Recommended Varieties

There are many, many different varieties of begonias, and what you choose really depends on your taste and shade conditions. However, there are a few popular varieties, including "wax begonias", which have hot-colored flowers and different variations of foliage; and "tuberous begonias", which come in many different colors. They can also have "picotee", which means that the edges of the petals are a different color than the petal itself. "Non-stop" begonias are a common cultivar of tuberous begonias.

Landscape Design Tips

Begonias look wonderful as edging or border plants. They especially look lovely in hanging baskets or planters. Trailing begonias fill in the spaces on rock walls beautifully and create a "living wall" effect. If you just can't get enough of the flowers, they can be dug up later in the growing season and repotted as houseplants over the winter.

Growing Zones

Begonias are hardy to zones 6 to 9.

Pests and Problems

Begonias can unfortunately suffer from powdery mildew, mealybugs, whiteflies, rot, leaf spot and blight.