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Garden Help Desk: How can I save my begonias through the winter?

By USU Extension - | Nov 20, 2021
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Tuberous begonias come in a variety of colors. Begonias do best with morning sun to full shade.
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Some plug trays hold very small seedlings.
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A clumping bamboo makes a pretty backdrop for other plants and garden decorations.
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Examine begonia tubers before storing them for the season. This tuber looks fine on one side but has quite a bit of decay on the other side.
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Plants from plugs start small, with their roots tucked safe inside the plug, but the roots can quickly expand beyond the confines of the plug.
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This lettuce is just one of 144 from a plug tray. It's ready to go out into the garden.

I used some begonias in my hanging baskets this year. They didn’t trail down the way I wanted, but they were still pretty. Would it be hard to store the bulbs and plant them again?

I’m not surprised you want to save those tubers. Begonias are beautiful, colorful, and look great in shady flower beds, hanging baskets and container gardens. But you’ve already figured out that even though begonias are perennials, they aren’t winter hardy here and you have to dig them up and store them over the winter. If you’ll keep a few things in mind, you’ll have healthy tubers to plant next spring.

Collect your begonia tubers after light frost nips the leaves, but before a hard freeze. Leave the entire plant connected to the tuber if you can, but don’t panic if the stems break off while you’re digging them up. Begonia stems can be a little brittle.

Gently brush off any soil, remove loose roots, and check the tubers for signs of decay. Discard badly damaged or decayed tubers and put the rest of the plants in a warm, well-ventilated place to dry for several days.

Once the tubers are dry, brush off any remaining soil and remove any remaining stems. Put the tubers in separate paper sacks and tuck them into a cardboard box someplace cool, dark and dry for the winter. Check now and then for decay or pest problems.

It can take begonias time to be big enough to bloom again, so you may need to start them indoors at least several weeks before you want to plant them in your baskets and containers.

Keep those pretty, upright begonias you grew this year, plant them in pots and container gardens where they’ll shine and add some nice trailing varieties to your collection in your hanging baskets.

I found this thing while I was cleaning out a hanging basket I bought this spring. What is it? Fertilizer? Bug killer? A mistake?

Not a fertilizer pouch. Not bug killer. This is part of a plant plug.

A plant plug is a small seedling or cutting grown in a seed tray that holds multiple small cells. It’s a way for a nursery, a commercial grower, or even a home gardener to grow a lot of plants in a space the size of a standard 11×22 flat of plants. A tray may hold anywhere from 21 large cells for cuttings or larger seeded varieties that need more root room to 512 very tiny cells for very tiny seeded species.

Plant plugs with rooted cuttings or seedlings are used to start hanging baskets, container gardens and pots. That’s how that little plug found its way into your basket. Sometimes plugs are still intact at the end of the growing season when the plants have died back and sometimes plugs will break down over the season. What you found in your container was the remains of one of those little plugs.

My son wants to plant some bamboo trees in the yard of a home I’m renting to him. I’m concerned that I, and the neighbor, might end up with a bamboo forest.

Bamboo is a member of the grass family, and just the way we can categorize the lawn grasses in our landscapes — cool-season or warm-season, bunching or running — there are ways to categorize the bamboos that are used in landscapes, too — tropical or cold-hardy, clumping or running. Of course, your son would be looking for a cold-hardy variety, but the characteristic that’s important for your question is the growth habit of the bamboo. Is your son looking at running bamboo or clumping bamboo?

Running bamboos send out rhizomes (underground runners). Many of the running bamboo species are cold-hardy, but their rhizomes can be aggressive and the bamboo can quickly spread and become a nuisance. That’s the problem you and your neighbor want to avoid.

Clumping bamboos expand by sending up new shoots at the edges of the clump. Many of these bamboos are slow-growing but the clump can eventually fill in a large space. Can a clumping bamboo spread wider than you’ve planned? Sure it can, but some of the more common species don’t grow so fast that you’ll have trouble controlling their size if you need to. I’ve had a couple of clumping bamboos in my own yard for many years and while they’ve expanded a little every year, getting wider and taller, they have also been pretty “well-behaved” and stayed inside their planting area.

If your son sticks with bamboo species that are described as hardy and clumping, and he plants them at least a few feet away from a property line or structure so they have room to expand over the years, there shouldn’t be significant problems.


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