Tropical Flowers in January?

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What plant thrives indoors, shrugs off low humidity, and blooms all winter in bold shades of white to pink to red? Surprise! It’s wax begonias!

Also called fibrous begonias, these familiar bedding plants have large, round succulent leaves in either lime green or a beautiful burgundy- or bronze-red. Flowers have fleshy petals surrounding a bright yellow cluster of stamens. Plants grow to a height of about six to twelve inches. They tend to flop, creating a solid mass of color, and even trailing over walls and container edges.

Wax begonias are usually considered summer annuals. It’s true that they do well in our gardens, given light shade or (preferably filtered) sun. Space them a foot apart in soil high in organic matter and keep the roots evenly moist. Happily, pests are usually not a problem—even the deer tend to leave them alone!

I was elated to discover that these carefree outdoor plants are just as easy to grow indoors.

Treat them as you would any houseplant. Size the container to the plant, and use a soil-free potting mix. While the water-retentive plants can go a while between waterings, they prefer to stay damp, especially when growing in full sun. While they bloom in the shade outside, indoors a sunny window is best. Be sure to leave some space between the leaves and the glass to avoid burning the foliage. Regular feeding keeps the flowers coming. If they get too leggy, just pinch them back. As a bonus, the stem ends root readily in a cup of water.

The only real problem is that the spent flowers drop their petals on the floor where they must be swept or vacuumed away. That’s a small price to pay for flowers in January!

While the plants are listed as tender annuals, they seem to keep growing indefinitely. Mine are heading into their third winter. If they do decline, replacement seedlings are cheap and easy to buy during the growing season.

Perhaps the easiest way to enjoy these flowers year round is to grow them in containers. Start them on the patio in early summer. When frost threatens in the fall, bring them indoors and continue to enjoy their tropical appearance while the snow flies.

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