Begonias have long had a reputation of being either boring workhorses in annual planting beds and container gardens, like Wax Begonias, or finicky, greenhouse specialty types unsuitable for most people and landscapes, like Rhizomatous Begonias. However, in 2008, Benary Seeds introduced a new early flowering landscape/container Begonia series, all with huge, showy flowers and robust growth habits. They named the series ‘Big’ and changed Begonia’s negative narrative forever.
The first attribute that’s obviously different about ‘Big’ Begonias is that they are, in fact, much bigger than “normal” bedding begonias in every conceivable way. ‘Big’ grows to 18” high with a similar spread, roughly twice as large as conventional wax begonias. ‘Big’ also sports massive (for a Begonia) 1.5-2” flowers that don’t stop until the first fall frost ends the show. And since Begonia flowers appear in clusters, the combined effect of these much larger flowers grouped together is nothing short of spectacular. Even individual leaves are larger on ‘Big’, often hand-sized and coming in various shades of green and bronze, depending on the cultivar.
Speaking of cultivars, the ‘Big’ series has now expanded to include eight different selections, each with slightly different leaf/flower attribute combinations. For example, the ‘Big’ that I am growing this year is named ‘BIG Rose Bronze Leaf’. As you might expect, the plant has dark, bronzish-colored leaves and vivid, rose-pink flowers that together make for a striking combination. Others in the series include such creative names as ‘BIG Red Green Leaf’ and ‘BIG White Bronze Leaf’. Though the names of these cultivars leave much to be desired (come on Benary, step up your name game!), they are all outstanding plants.
Fortunately, growing difficulty doesn’t also increase with plant/flower size and all the plants in the ‘Big’ series are extremely easy to cultivate. ‘Big’ selections, like most other Begonias, prefer partial shade and consistently moist soil, though they can tolerate the occasional dry period due to their waxy leaves. The ‘Big’ cultivars with bronze-colored leaves can even tolerate full sun, which the ‘BIG Rose Bronze Leaf’ sited in a sunny area on my deck can confirm. As with most other long-season flowering annuals, I apply a slow-release, complete fertilizer at planting and then supplement throughout the season with liquid fertilizer to keep them looking their best!
If you’ve avoided Begonias in the past like I did because they just didn’t offer the “wow” factor of other annuals, it’s time to think again. Bigger and truly better in every way than most other begonias, the selections in the ‘Big’ series are definitely worthy of a spot on your patio or in your landscape – plant one today and enjoy eye-catching Begonia blooms all summer long. For more information on Begonias, flowering annual plants, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening!