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Southern Gardening: Whopper Begonias deserve a place in Mississippi landscapes

 

The leaves of Begonia Whopper are huge and provide a great background for the main color show, such as these flowers seen on the Red with Bronze Leaf.

The leaves of Begonia Whopper are huge and provide a great background for the main color show, such as these flowers seen on the Red with Bronze Leaf. Photo by: Ball Horticultural Co.

 

Gary Bachman

 

 

We survived the latest polar vortex, and I join other Mississippi gardeners in being thankful that we didn't get the really extreme cold our friends up north experienced. But still, it was cold enough for me and my garden. 

 

My fall-planted tomatoes finally gave in but not before providing my family with 10 gallons of green tomatoes. I have to say there's nothing like picking fresh tomatoes for fried green tomatoes in January! 

 

But now it looks like we're going to start warming up, and I'm looking forward to the great, warm-season flowering annuals. And there's not a better plant to share for this summer than the 2019 Mississippi Medallion winner Whopper Begonia. 

 

Whopper Begonia has foliage that is waxy, shiny and smooth. Both its leaves and flowers live up to the whopper name. Foliage is either green or bronze, while the flower clusters are red or rose. 

 

The huge leaves provide a great background for the main color show. The flowers are some of the biggest of all begonias, with clusters up to 3 inches in diameter. This series was developed by Benary, and there are four varieties to choose from: Red with Green Leaf, Red with Bronze Leaf Improved, Rose with Bronze Leaf Improved and Rose with Green Leaf Improved. 

 

While most people think of begonias as shade plants, the Whopper series can handle a fair amount of sun, as well as and Mississippi's intense, torrid heat, if you supply adequate water. 

 

Whopper Begonias have a presence in the landscape. Sometimes they're called a 55-mph plant, because you notice them when you drive by at that speed. They can easily grow to 24 inches tall and wide. Those grown in full sun tend to be larger and fuller than those grown in the deep shade. 

 

For the best landscape performance, plant Whopper Begonias before summer temperatures set in. Use the same planting timing as the Mississippi Medallion winner SunPatiens. This timing allows the root system to become established. 

 

These begonias respond very well to fertilizer; if you don't feed them, they have sluggish growth and flowering. Start with an application of slow-release fertilizer at planting. I like to use water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks through the summer to improve flowering and leaf health. Since these plants want regular, consistent watering, fertilizing this way is easy. 

 

The Whopper series also does extremely well in pots, which is my favorite way of growing these plants. They look great placed beside an entry to the home, on a patio, or even in a hanging basket. 

 

As far as other maintenance is concerned, no deadheading is required. You can remove the faded blooms, but this is not necessary to promote new blooms. 

 

These begonias are not winter hardy, but the good news is they can be moved inside to a sunny window to be enjoyed during the winter. This is an excellent option when growing Whopper Begonias in containers.  

 

Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi and hosts Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at [email protected]

 

 

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