Saturday, June 20, 2015

New begonias, off to a late start

Begonia seedlings
Begonia seedlings, about to be planted outdoors

I should have done this 6 weeks ago, but this morning I finally got some of my begonia seedlings outdoors and in the ground.  These are hybrid seedlings from a cross I made last summer, and they've been growing under fluorescent lights since germinating during the winter.  They got off to a slow start because begonia seedlings don't like the cool temperatures and low humidity of winter, but they grow explosively in the spring.  If I wait too long, as I did this year, they get a bit too crowded.  Summer also brings heat they don't appreciate and I know from past experience that they'll begin to decline indoors, succumbing to pests and diseases.  The south-facing sun porch where I grow them is the hottest room in the house, and even with air conditioning gets a bit too warm for comfort in July and August.  They do quite well in the ground, and are best planted out in early May but this year I held off, waiting to see what might come back from last year after a very cold winter put my plants to the ultimate test.  Many plants didn't make it, but I did have a few surprises.

Begonia seedlings
Begonia seedlings, tray 2

It's hard to believe these are all siblings, but both parents of this cross were hybrids themselves so I'm pleased but not surprised by the wide variation within the progeny.  I started out with several hundred seedlings, selecting them while still very small for those with interesting colors and patterns.  They're still immature, and it's interesting to see how the foliage changes as they grow older. 

Begonia seedlings
The whole shebang, waiting to be planted outdoors

Finally given the elbow room they need, the 25 seedlings in these 2 trays are now occupying about 20 square feet of my garden, precious real estate that I've had to give up from growing other things.  Every year I rip out more and more of my perennials to make room for begonias.  One of the parents has proven to be moderately hardy, so as I've done in the past with my other crosses, I plan to leave them in the ground over the winter and cross my fingers.  They may not look like much now, but give them a few weeks!  Having been selected for foliage, and having survived a first round of testing for vigor, the next test is how well they'll do outdoors, especially in summer heat. 

Begonia bed
The same seedlings in the ground, with room to spread!

Meanwhile, this is only half of what I need to get planted out.  I still have another 20+ seedlings, equally beautiful but from a different cross involving two parents of proven hardiness.  When I'll get to them--and where I'll find space to put them--is anybody's guess.  They're still under lights, still doing well but the clock is ticking.  Here they are, after I took out the ones above and planted them:

Indoor plants
More begonia seedlings still indoors

The final test, of course, comes with winter!  I try not to swoon for any of these seedlings because even the most beautiful of them may not give me what I'm breeding for: heat tolerance and cold hardiness.  I've managed one or the other, but getting both in one plant is proving to be a bit tricky .  Of the hundreds of hybrid seedlings I've grown in the last few years, only a very few have passed both tests and this year I might finally be ready to name one or two.  What were some of the surprise survivors from last year?  If you've been following my begonia posts, you may have already spotted some of them.  Come back for another blog post in a week or two!


  1. Although we have a clue already still looking forward to your official confirmation ;)

  2. Some beauties in there, but the extra hardiness is extra exciting! Looking forward to hearing more...

  3. Gorgeous progeny, John! Looking forward to how the newly planted out kids look when they're all grown up!