Shady old favorites

Brighten your garden with begonia, fuchsia

Determining what plants will work where in your garden can be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to decide whether a particular area should have plants labeled “full sun,” “part shade” or “for heaven’s sake, don’t plant me next to the tool shed.”

Begonias and fuchsia are two old standbys you may want to try if you have an area that’s shaded, but not sun-starved. Here’s a review on the ins and outs of each:

Begonias score not only for shade tolerance, but also for the beauty of both foliage and flower. Probably the most familiar are the annual fibrous-rooted begonias. The wax begonias we often see, with their shiny, waxy-looking leaves, are part of this group. Short and compact, they’re great as bedding plants and produce white, red or pink blooms for most of the season. You might also find white blooms tipped and edged with red or pink, and bronze or maroon leaves. The Cocktail wax begonia series names its bloom colors after vodka, whiskey, gin, rum and tequila. You might be able to grow wax begonias from seed or from cuttings, but it’s way easier to support your local nursery and buy a flat or container or two there.

One distinct fibrous-rooted begonia is the Dragon Wing (sometimes known as angel wing), with its wing-shaped, serrated leaves with red undersides.

The tuberous begonias are bigger stars with the beautiful, variegated leaves and large, showy blooms. The “Non-stop” cultivars are more heat-tolerant and, like most of the wax begonias, bloom throughout the season. These are good candidates for containers, and the tubers can be overwintered. For details on how to do that, see Purdue publication HO-85: Winter Storage of Geranium, Canna, Gladiolus, Caladium, and Begonia.

The rex begonia, while it does flower, is grown for its foliage. I saw the “China Curl” cultivar at the conservatory recently – a striking specimen whose leaves feature a silver spiral with dark purple edges.

Begonias’ shade tolerance may vary slightly from one type or cultivar to another, but they do need sunlight to flower well. Another problem with too much shade is that it makes it much easier for problems like powdery mildew to develop.

The fuchsia is another plant that likes shade, but not all the time. You can usually identify the fuchsia by its delicate two-toned blooms, which come in several hues but are most commonly found locally in red and purple.

It’s perfect in a hanging basket in filtered sunlight, or where it will get only about four hours of direct sunlight a day. I had one hanging on a south-facing porch a few years ago, and the shade it received just from being on the porch was enough to keep it happy.

In hot weather, the fuchsia will most likely need daily watering, especially if it’s in a hanging basket. Don’t let the soil dry out completely between waterings, but be careful not to overwater – the goal is to keep it evenly moist. Feed every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer or less often with a timed-release fertilizer. Removing the faded flowers will help keep it blooming all season long. Although fuchsia is a perennial, if it is to function as such, you’ll need to bring it inside. The objective isn’t to hang it up by a window and keep it blooming all winter, but to put it into dormancy. The University of Minnesota has more details: Visit and type “fuchsia” into the search bar. (Don’t use its frequent misspelling, “fuschia.”)

First appeared in the June 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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