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Helen Chesnut: Bushy begonia benefits from watering, indoor site

Instead of storing the tuber for the winter, Sheila keeps her plant growing indoors

Last month was brightened with gifts from readers, in the form of lively correspondence and interesting photos. For your stories of adventures with plants, I thank you.

Alternative begonia care. Sheila has sent along a photo taken on Nov. 11, of a bushy begonia with wide-spreading arms covered in leaves and adorned with flowers. The photo was taken indoors, at a corner window.

Sheila’s comment: “Your advice regarding keeping begonia tubers over winter was interesting. Here is what might happen when your advice is disregarded and a gentle watering is maintained.”

Instead of storing the tuber for the winter, Sheila keeps her plant growing indoors. This is its second year inside. In summer, she gives plenty of water and moves the begonia into a shady spot in the house on the sunniest days. Over late fall and through the winter, she gives “just sips of water.”

Flowers this late in the season have been “an unexpected bonus” that has come with the begonia being indoors.

Last winter, some of the branches died off and there were no flowers, but the plant stayed leafy. Sheila also mentioned that “I keep a cool house, all winter long. Not above 20 C.”

Care-free cactus. Anne sent pictures, taken on Nov. 8, of a flower-filled holiday cactus: “Just wanting to share my baby this year. It once was a tiny thank you gift. I did nothing special or different to it from past years, yet it has never been this full!”

Seven years ago, when Anne received the little plant in a 10-cm wide pot, she placed it at a south-west facing dining room window with indirect afternoon sun. It was last repotted four or five years ago.

Anne says the plant is pretty much “left alone” except for watering around once a week and a spring fertilizing. And yet, the plant is gorgeous. She wonders: “I guess the lighting is one of the keys?”

There are a few basic conditions that commonly lead to a good set of flower buds being formed. Begin reducing water around mid-August. Then provide a combination of cool room temperatures, bright indirect light and dryish soil conditions, along with naturally shortening days. It helps to house these plants in rooms that are not used much at night

After flowering has finished, give holiday plants a rest in cool temperatures and with reduced water until early spring, when normal watering can be resumed.

Protective measures. I don’t know why I’ve kept those large rolls of fine galvanized wire mesh all this time. I think they were left behind after the house was built. After a rather challenging 2023 growing season, I’ve begun looking at them with new eyes.

And I’ve purchased a pair of wire cutters. Two of my friends have their own. Among us, we plan to cut widths from the rolls to form rounded cages over 120-cm wide beds of greens, bush beans carrots and other favourites of the ever-present rabbits.

I make the beds 120 cm wide to accommodate the floating row covers I use to protect the plants from insect pests. The covers I buy are 213 cm wide. Placing a length of cover over a 120-cm wide bed allows a 45-cm slack on each side. That “slack” gives room for the plants to rise and develop properly.

The bunny cages will also serve to support shade cloth as needed in summer, and cold weather protection in winter. With various coverings depending on the weather and season, simple supports help to protect plantings against several challenges: freezing weather, hot sun, voracious rabbits.


Abkhazi Garden festive season and sales. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Through to Sunday, Jan. 7, the Teahouse is offering a Festive High Tea. Details and menus at Sales begin today (Saturday, Dec. 2) from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the front gate of festive planters, swags, decorative table centres, culinary wreaths, culinary table centres and more. New this year are bonsai kits, bird seed cake kits, flower presses and hand carved wooden bowls by a local artist. These sales continue to Sunday, Dec. 24. Proceeds will be used to maintain the garden and preserve the legacy of Peggy and Nicolas Abkhazi.