'Dragon Wing' begonias lend lush, tropical look

Bright red blossoms, glossy leaves work well in sun or partial shade

In The Garden

April 04, 2004|By Norman Winter | Norman Winter,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Sometimes we garden writers get presumptuous and assume that everyone is growing a certain plant, so I was taken aback a little the other day when I did an informal survey during a seminar. Only a small minority raised their hands when asked if they were growing the 'Dragon Wing,' which I consider the most beautiful landscape begonia in world.

The 'Dragon Wing' red begonia works great in full sun or partial shade. In full sun, the plant is more compact and the foliage develops a reddish cast. In partial shade, the look is lush, tropical and exotic.

'Dragon Wing' blooms almost constantly from spring until frost with huge, scarlet panicles hanging down in contrast to the dark green, glossy leaves.

In the full-sun garden, they might be combined with the award-winning 'New Gold' lantana or large yellow marigolds like 'Antigua', 'Marvel' or 'Discovery.' Grow as under- story flowers near large candlestick plants.

These begonias have the ability to make partially shaded beds look like Jamaica or Martinique when combined with plants like bananas, cannas, elephant ears, fatsia, gingers, hostas and my personal favorite, the yellow shrimp plant.

'Dragon Wing' red begonias are also ideal for hanging baskets on the front porch or in large containers, and they can put on some astonishing growth. A 10-inch basket planted in a large tub or whiskey barrel in late April or early May will probably get 36 inches tall and as wide or larger by the end of summer.

Depending on the desired look from above, choose a site in sun or partial-sun. Soil should be fertile, organic rich and well drained. Work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, turning the soil to a depth of about 8 inches. While tilling, add two pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer with minor nutrients per 100 square feet of bed space.

Space 'Dragon Wing' plants 12 to 18 inches apart in the landscape. Keep them well watered and feed monthly with light applications of the fertilizer. In containers and baskets, use controlled-release granules or dilute water soluble 20-20-20. Apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture, deter weeds and keep the soil temperatures moderate.

'Dragon Wing' red begonia produces new shoots called canes from the base of the plant. Should any canes get unsightly or leggy, simply break off at the base or prune to allow new blooming canes to develop.

A little maintenance goes a long way because 'Dragon Wing' is an exceptionally long landscape performer -- blooming from spring through fall. In fact, the plants exhibit some cold hardiness and can take several hits of temperatures in the low 30s with no problem. After mild winters, they may even return.

Wax begonias are nice, but once you try the 'Dragon Wing,' you will be hooked. These red begonias will be for sale at your local garden center as spring planting season arrives. If red is not your favorite color, then look for 'Dragon Wing' pink begonia. No matter your style of garden, this begonia will be an asset.

Horticulturist Norman Winter is the author of Paradise Found: Growing Tropicals in Your Own Backyard and Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.

'Dragon Wing' begonia

* Shiny green leaves, red or pink blossoms

* Excellent as bedding plants or in containers

* Does best with morning sun, light afternoon shade.

-- The Southern Living Garden Book

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