brads begonia world

Shrub Begonia Page


By Brad Thompson

This page
features a type of Begonia that is grown by everyone and always seems to take a back seat to the more spectacular canes, but that has many great qualities and really deserves more attention. The type of Begonia I'm referring to is the shrub type begonia that includes many of the more unusual begonias and many of the most easy to grow Begonias.

Shrub type Begonias come in every size, and a myriad of leaf shapes and truly has more variety than the cane types and at least as much variety as the rhizomatous types. Your collection won't be complete without including them. Shrubs vary in size, from the miniscule leaves B.foliosa to B.luxurians with its huge palmlike leaves and that can reach 10 feet tall easily. There are many species of shrubs to choose from and a huge variety of easy to grow cultivars for you to choose from.

Most shrubs, except for some of the species which may be a little finicky, are easy to grow and can grow to be large full plants quickly. One advantage to the shrubtype over the canes is that most are very free branching on their own and send up many multiple stems in a single season. They are much fuller growing than most canes and while some are seasonal or shy to bloom, they are attractive all year round because of their more varied and interesting leaf types. Most are also less mildew prone than canes and quite a few, especially the hairy leaved types, seem to be completely mildew resistant. The shrub types also have a wide variety of bloom types from fuzzy to bare(like canes), and can add interest to your garden. Some are seasonal bloomers like I stated before but even those bloom at a time of the year when your other plants are void of leaves or resting. Quite a few of the species and most of the hairy leaved types bloom in the winter and early spring which can bring some welcome relief from the winter doldrums. Many shrubs can make nice baskets and many can also make huge accents plants. The following list doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the varieties available but are a good cross section of some of the types and are some of my favorites.

B.'Paul Hernandez', although this plant has been out for awhile, it is just starting to gain in popularity. It is probably the largest growing begonia, or at least the largest that I can think of and is very fast growing. The leaves can get 2 or more feet across and are interestingly cut and have a puckered texture. A small sale plant may not look exciting but anyone who has seen a mature plant wants it. I have 3 plants just because it is so spectacular. The blooms are small white flowers held in huge upright clusters that can be a foot across and only accent further an already awesome plant. I have seen plants of B.'Paul Hernadez' that were 8 foot tall and I have seen some that were 6 feet or more across so if you want a large showcase plant this is the one. It does resent overwatering.

B. luxurians is an exciting shrub and is also one of the parents of B.'Paul Hernandez' and where it gets its large size. B. luxurians is just as spectacular and has large leaves that are compound and remind you of a palm leaf. The flowers are the same as Paul Hernandez. This plant is a little harder to grow at least until you get it up to a large size but is worth the extra trouble. I have seen huge examples of this plant, such as one that was planted in the ground at Eric Seel's house that grows to 10 feet tall every year even after being pruned severely every year. It may not get that big in a pot but I have seen 7 or 8 foot tall specimens in pots. It can be hard to get a full plant and may take a few years of hard pruning to get it full before allowing it to get tall. It would make a nice choice to grow on a trellis. B. luxurians will require staking and can be somewhat tricky as far as how much to water. It resents overwatering especially but in hot weather it can wilt easily if not kept wet enough. I suggest buying 3 plants and planting them together to get a nice full plant faster.

B.'Alto Scharff' or B.'Alto Scharff Rameriz', these two names are used interchangeably but really refer to two identical looking plants one of which is freer blooming than the other. Rameriz is the one that is supposed to bloom more but the names are too mixed up now and I doubt if you will ever be able to tell the two apart for perfect identification. Neither one really puts on a show of blooms really but its growth and ease of culture make up for the lack of blooms and it will reward you occasionally at any time of the year with large fuzzy pink flowers that do last a long time. This plant grows very full easily and has very fuzzy leaves. If you give it enough sun, the leaves will have a purple velvety look but if grown in the shade will be green. It can take a lot of sun but may wash out some and be pale if it gets too much. It can be grown as a large basket and I have seen one that was 6 or 8 feet across and hung down at least 8 feet. It was one of the first begonias that I had seen and the first shrub and helped spur my interest in begonias so you shouldn't underestimate its potential. When pruning, as with most of the hairy leaved types the stems may die all the way back to the soil after cutting but will send up a lot of new stems to replace them.

B.'Lee's Luxurians', B.'Rudy's Luxurians',etc, all of these are similar but have minor differences like more red on the back of the leaves,etc. If you have tried the specie B. luxurians but found it too difficult then theses hybrids will make good substitutes. Although the leaves are not as cut or large as B. luxurians the plants are much easier to grow and less temperamental and will make much fuller plants than their parent and will make large speciman plants.

B. venosa is an interesting choice for those that like the unusual and is not too difficult to grow. It is very succulent and has large round felted leaves with huge paper bracts around the stem(don't remove these bracts(stipules) especially if you are entering it in a show because these are one of the main identifying qualities of the plant and points will be taken off if they aren't there). It will branch if pruned but seems to look funny so if you do prune it, prune the stems low to encourage the branches down close to the pot and to encourage more stems to come up from the soil. The flowers are white and very fragrant, with a spicy fragrance.

B.'Richmondensis' is almost considered too common for most begonia growers to grow but the fact that it is that common should clue you in to the fact that is has a lot of great qualities. It can grow anywhere in your yard, practically, from shade to full sun, blooms continuously, and never gets mildew. It is a great bedding plant and performs better than semps because it doesn't get mildew like they do. It can be a basket or a large specimen plant in the ground or in a pot. You should prune it fairly hard to keep it full and compact or at least shape it occasionally. It has continuous pink to red flowers depending on the light and there is also a white variety but that one is a little more temperamental and has to be kept out of strong sun if you want to keep the flowers white.

B. echinosepala, B. fuchioides, B.foliosa, are all small leaved type shrubs with small leaves and full compact growth. All make good baskets and are a good choice for some variety amongst your large monster shrubs. They are not delicate and are relatively easy to grow.

B. 'Ginny', no list of shrubs would be complete without adding B. 'Ginny'. This plant has small narrow fuzzy leaves with red stems and leaf backs. The top of the leaves are green with a metallic sheen. The flowers are fuzzy and red and it is probably the only hairy leaved shrub that is everblooming all year round. It can be grown tall or short or can be made into a basket. It is pretty much self branching and sends up lots of stems to make a full plant all on its own. Giving it some morning or evening sun will enhance the color of the leaves and stems.

I know I have left out a multitude of interesting and rewarding shrubs but we do only have so much space. The following is a partial list of some of the different types you might want to try(this is not a horticultural listing because I'm lumping them together differently)

Large shrubs for accents or specimen plants

  • B.luxurians
  • B.'Alto Sharff'
  • B.'Gene Daniels'
  • B.'Lee's Luxurians'
  • B.'Paul Bee'
  • B.'San Miguel'
  • B.'Thurstonii'
  • B.'Paul Hernandez'

    Shrubs for baskets

  • B. macrocarpa
  • B. echinosepala
  • B. foliosa
  • B. fuchioides
  • B.'Eunice Grey'
  • B.'Alto Sharff'
  • B.'Richmondensis
  • B.'Christmas Candy'
  • B.'Tea Rose'
  • B.'Ginny'

    Shrubs with unusual qualities

  • B. venosa
  • B. fernando costae
  • B. metallica
  • B. sanguinea
  • B. alice-clarkiae
  • B. listada
  • B. clorosticta
  • B. exotica
  • B.'Morroco'

    (some of these may require terrariums to grow)

    Hairy leaved including listada hybrids

  • B.'Ginny'
  • B.'Alto Scharff'
  • B.'Murray Morrison'
  • B.'Magdalene Madsen'
  • B.'Aleryi'
  • B. scharffii
  • B.'Nelly Bly'
  • B.'Mrs. Fred T. Scripps'
  • B.'San Miguel'
  • B. 'Withlacochee'
    The following is an addtional article on growing and appreciating Shrub Begonias

  • Shrub Begonias

    by Brad Thompson

       Shrub begonias comprise a very large and varied type of begonia group.  They have the full range of different plant size, leaf size, and leaf surfaces.  They are upright growing from miniatures to giants.  They differ from canes in that most have some hairiness to the leaves, stems or flowers, and that they usually send up multiple stems from the soil.  This multitude of stems is what gives this group their classification name of shrub.  Many shrubs are grown for their interesting foliage since most are not as heavy blooming as canes.  Many have blooms that are either white, not interesting, or not showy.  A good share of shrubs are also seasonal blooming with most blooming in the spring or summer.  Since this is a large group of begonias, however, there are shrubs that fill every need, location, and conditions you may have. 

       Most shrub are easy to grow as a general rule, most are very tough.   Some are easier than others though and there are a few finicky ones.  Shrubs are divided into three main types, bare leaved, hairy leaved, and distinctive foliage.  The three main types are further broken down by leaf size that isn’t important to culture but is more a way to divide the type further for show purposes. 

    Bare Leaved Shrubs

       The bare leaved shrubs are very popular and some are common bedding plants in many parts of the country.  Of the various types of shrubs, this type comprises the best blooming varieties.  A good share are ever blooming which is why they are useful for bedding plants.  Most of this type make excellent hanging baskets.  There are some giants in this type though such as B. luxurians which can get ten feet tall.  Examples of this type are B.’Richmondensis’ and B.’Concord’.

    Hairy Leaved Shrubs

       Many of this type are commonly grown.  They are generally larger growing and have larger leaves than the bare leaved varieties.  Except for a couple, most are either shy bloomers or seasonal bloomers.  Their attractive hairiness makes them good foliage plants even without blooms though.  Some do have attractive blooms that are impressive and worth waiting for however, even if seasonal.  Nearly all have flowers that are hairy like their leaves, some even have hairs on the flowers of a contrasting color.  Examples of this type are B.’Alto Sharf’ and B.’John Tapia’

    Distinctive Foliage Shrubs

       Most of this type are less commonly grown, mostly because many are more difficult to grow.  Of them, the listada type hybrids are probably the easiest to grow, although B. listada itself can be tricky. Many distinctive foliage types are either mildew prone or not very cold tolerant.  Most shrub classed hybrids of B. soli-mutata are especially mildew prone during colder weather.  Distinctive shrubs such as B. breviramosa and B. clorosticta require terrariums or greenhouses.  Examples of this type in addition to the ones mentioned are B.’Midnight Sun’ and B.’Murray Morrison’

    Shrub Culture

       Most shrubs require the same potting methods as for canes.  Most benefit from being potted lower in the new pot, like canes, to promote new basal growth.  Some shrubs are much more sensitive to overwatering or soggy soil than canes so the more sensitive types may do better in clay pots.  Any shrubs you have tried and not been successful with, may do better on a second try using a clay or wooden pot instead.  Some shrubs also grow very tall and wide so may benefit from the extra weight of clay pots to keep them from falling over easily.

       Pruning for shrubs differs somewhat from the methods used for canes.  Some that are everblooming like B.’Concord’ or B.’Ginny’ may need severe pruning to keep them full and compact.  Since most ever blooming shrubs don’t branch from nodes where they bloomed, they don’t branch well without help.  Hard pruning will force up fresh growth from the roots. 

       Many shrubs, especially most of the hairy leaved types, have the odd tendency for pruned stems to die back to the soil level.  They don’t always come back well from normal or hard pruning.  Besides, many are spring blooming so a hard pruning in spring may keep them from blooming that year.  The best method for these types and any sensitive shrubs is to wait till they have started putting up new growth from the roots before pruning all old growth down to the soil level.  Since most pruned stems will die back to the soil anyway, you might as well cut them back to the soil in the first place. Many such as B. venosa branch ugly anyway so any stems pruned should be pruned down to the soil.  Pruning out all of the old growth after the new starts coming up will be less stressful on the plant.  Also, getting rid of the old will force even more new growth which will quickly fill the plant back in. 

    Watering and Fertilizing

       Shrubs should be allowed to get slightly dry before watering.  Don’t keep constantly wet.  Unlike canes, which don’t do much during the winter, many shrubs put out, a burst of growth during winter or early spring.  For this reason, they may benefit from being fertilized during a time of the year when you may not be fertilizing other types.  The easiest rule of thumb to follow is to continue to feed them any time of the year they are actively growing.  Quarter strength fertilizer weekly is the best method.  Less fertilizer more often is better used than a large amount periodically.  Any shrubs that wilt should be examined before automatically giving water.  Both overwatering and underwatering can cause a shrub to wilt.  Also root damage from pests can do the same.  If the mix is wet and the plant is wilted, then lack of water isn’t the problem.  Increasing the humidity or removing some of the foliage may be required to help the plant recover from the root damage.

    Light and Heat
       Most shrubs are very sturdy and some will even grow in full sun in some areas.  B.’Concord’, B.’Richmondensis’ and similar types grow quite well in full sun in coastal areas of California.  Poor leaf color or lack of blooms is usually a good sign that the plant isn’t receiving enough light.  Undersized or burned leaves is a pretty good sign the plant is receiving too much light.  There are shrubs for nearly every light condition except for the deepest shade.  Many will even look nice in deep shade, although you will sacrifice blooms in those locations.  Many shrubs have such attractive foliage that blooms aren’t necessary anyway so many of them can be used as foliage plants in lower light areas.  Nearly all shrubs will perform nicely under early morning sun or filtered sun all day.

       Most shrubs are very tolerant of either heat or cold except for the few that require greenhouse care and a few of the distinctive foliage types.  Many shrubs continue to grow quite well even through the cooler seasons of the year.  Also, unlike canes, they aren’t very prone to leaf drop so their foliage stays attractive all year.

    Pests and Diseases

       The most common pest that plagues shrubs is mealy bugs.  Various pesticides will kill this pest.  Thrips are sometimes a problem and this damage shows up as distorted new leaves or leaves with brown damaged areas on leaf veins or other parts of the leaf.  Thrips may require a stronger pesticide and several treatments to get rid of.  Thrips are hard to find so are mostly suspected by the particular damage to the plant.  You should suspect this pest any time a shrub starts putting out damaged leaves or flowers.

       As a group, shrub type begonias are generally disease free.  A few distinctive foliage types are prone to mildew during cold weather which can be controlled with a fungicide.  You can also try moving prone plants to a different location to find one it likes better.  Some of the hairy leaved types are prone to either mildew or damaged leaves if they are in an area where the leaves get wet constantly.  Many hairy ones such as B.’John Tapia’ don’t do well in areas where they are watered with sprayers that get the leaves wet.  Getting leaves wet under ordinary watering conditions doesn’t seem to be a problem especially if they’re in an area where there is enough circulation to dry them off quickly. 


       As a general rule, most shrubs will only start from stem cuttings.  There are a handful that will start from leaves however.  Consult an experienced grower for specific plants that may start from leaf cuttings.  The most likely candidates for growing from leaves are B. luxurians and any shrubs of mixed parentage such as a shrub/rhizomatous hybrid.  If one parent will start from a leaf, the progeny may also. 

      As a general rule though, stem cuttings are best.  Some will start in water, mainly the bare leaved types.  Most, especially the hairy leaved types, do best started in mix or perlite.  Many will root without extra humidity such as provided by a sweater box, but all will root faster using an enclosed container for rooting.

     Special Uses and Tips

       There are shrubs for nearly every type of usage.  Some make excellent bedding plants.  Many will grow on trellises, some can even be trained as standards.  A good share will make large specimen plants when planted in the ground or moved up gradually to large pots.  There are dozens of shrubs that can be made into excellent hanging baskets.
    More shrub info, links to shrub info, and a picture gallery will be added soon.

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