Put on a good show for summer with exotic begonias
Start off just a few begonia tubers in the coming weeks and they will bring masses of colour in summer.
Tuberous begonias are exotic in appearance, remarkably beautiful when seen close up. The enormous flowers can be easily the diameter of a saucer in size. The colours are brilliant shades of red, pink, orange, salmon, yellow and peach. The large flowers are layered and the petals are thick and fleshy, long-lasting and with a rich surface glisten.
Begonias can be used in several ways - planted in the open ground in flower beds, in groups or bigger displays, or in containers; or they can be potted up for indoor decoration and are most successful for decorating a greenhouse, conservatory or porch in summer where they can luxuriate in the extra warmth.
Used as summer bedding in large numbers, the cost and the effort of raising a lot of plants can be considerable, so they are better used in small groups in flower beds, in pots and window boxes or in pots as single plants for indoor growing.
The tubers are widely available these days in garden shops. These are round, dark brown in colour and about eight centimetres in diameter. The base of the tuber is rounded like a dome and the top is sunken.
At planting, the rounded side is placed downwards with the hollow facing up. Fill a tray with compost and water it. Allow the compost to settle and drain. Place the tubers on the surface and press them gently into the damp compost to the depth of the tuber. Water very lightly and cover loosely with a sheet of white polythene.
Place the tray in a warm, bright place indoors, but not too warm. Do not water again until there are signs of new buds in the hollow. Take off the polythene and lightly water occasionally, but limit the watering until there is active growth of the new shoots. Too much water can cause poor growth and rotting.
When the shoots are about five centimetres high, carefully lift the tuber out of the compost and place it in a two or three-litre pot of compost and some good soil mixed in, again setting the tuber so that its top is just exposed, filling around it with compost. Water lightly until growth picks up again.
Feed well with liquid feed when they are growing in the pots and give them as much light as possible.
The tubers can be kept in pots on a windowsill indoors or in a greenhouse until planting out at the end of May.
They will be showing the first flowers at that stage - or they can be potted on into 7- or 10-litre pots to really show what they can do.
Q I recently got a dog. My garden is blocked from the sun for the majority of the day. With the weather lately the garden has cut up badly, and I was hoping you could advise me on any way of hardening or drying out the ground. I don't want to concrete it as it takes the garden 'feel' away.
M O'Donovan, Co Tipperary
A The principle is fairly simple: small garden equals small dog. But obviously that's not always possible - and failing that, perhaps a dog-run could be made for the dog to use in wet times? This will also give the dog more access to the rest of the garden when the soil has firmed up.
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