> Volume 67 (January/February 2000, pages 8 - 9)
Growing the Big Begonias for Begonia Kaleidoscopes
Arlene Hoskins Tells Us How She Did
Winner of best of show, Sweepstakes, and culture
awards in numerous categories, Arlene Hoskins can easily be identified as
a champion grower But, how does she do it? Here she tells all in an
interview with the editor
Q: So many of your plants were huge - B.
'Cathedral Windows'. 'Shadow Box', 'Phil Corwin'. What's your secret for
growing them so big?
A: Well, we live inland and have a very hot
climate compared to the area around the coast. July and August always sees
midday temperatures in the 90's. So plants grow fast and I can use a lot
of fertilizers. Every time I water, I use half-strength fertilizer.
I rotate fertilizers too because their labels show
that different fertilizers have different micronutrients. I learned to
read food labels for health information and the habit just carried over. I
noticed the different ingredients in different fertilizers so I rotate
between 5 or 6 different ones. Sometimes I discover that a plant really
responds to one particular fertilizer - the leaves grow larger and become
more luxuriant. When that happens I may stick with that fertilizer for a
Also, some plants such as B. 'Cathedral' and B.
'Lenore Olivier' really respond to Epsom salts - they seem to need that
magnesium. I might mention that I tried organic fertilizers, but my plants
didn't respond. The plants seemed to need more.
Also, it is well to note that all balanced fertilizers
are not the same; you have to read the labels. Some don't have sulfur, for
example, and that is really important here in California. In past years,
the good growers added their own micronutrients and their formulas always
involved sulfur. Now we can get those in balanced fertilizers, but you
have to check the labels and look for them. Some of the cheap fertilizers,
by the way, are not bargains because they don't have any of those
Q. Not only were your plants large, their
leaves were just perfect as though they had been grown in terrariums.
Where are your plants grown?
A. B. 'Cathedral' was grown outside -it doesn't
like the greenhouse I found - and the canes as well. They are on the
patio, but grow under a 55% shade cloth. It doesn't rain here in summers
and I don't wash off the leaves. I water the pots and don't touch the
leaves until time for the show.
Q: Some of those you exhibited such as B. 'Aya'
and 'Sinbad' get mildew for most of us. Do you have to worry about
A: Oh, yes. Again I don't get the leaves wet
and I spray with Bayleton. Also, I grow these in the greenhouse which is
really on the dry side because I also have cacti there. I don't have a
mister, but do have a cooler and run a ceiling fan. I have these growing
near the cooler during the summer and they don't get mildew. But now that
the cooler is off, I watch for it. I don't spray until I begin to see
mildew, but this time of year I often have to.
Q: Do you do anything special to get your
plants ready for a show?
A: I start deciding about midsummer which
plants have show potential and I am probably more careful in fertilizing
and caring for them. Just before the show I wash the leaves with distilled
water. The tap water here can spot the leaves.
Q: Do you recommend any plants for
A: I think it all depends on where you are
growing. Here I would recommend B. 'Cathedral' and 'Lenore Olivier'
because their thick leaves seem to take anything. B. 'Medora' and 'Lois
Burks' are easy too, but you have to watch them because they do get
Q: Which one would you describe as most
A: B. 'Sinbad', I think, because it is a most
difficult plant to keep beautiful. You have to find just the right spot
for it and work with it.
Q: Arlene, do you have a favorite plant?
A: Rexes, I think. I like them because they
respond most rapidly to the fertilizers. Those with multiple colors will
respond best to what they are fed. B. 'Phil Corwin', for example, wants to
revert to green, but the right fertilizers will bring out the colors. I
bought this plant, by the way, at the supermarket. Just at Christmas time,
right in there among the poinsettias. I was so thrilled to find it. It is
about 3 or 4 years old now and it lost all its leaves last winter, but as
you saw, it came back. Rexes are really at their peak in August so I had a
challenge in having it looking good in September for the show.
Q: Do you repot often?
A: Not really. Unless a plant is ailing, I
don't. I do move them up when they need it, but not as often as others
would I suspect. B. 'Phil Corwin', for example is really rootbound. I have
to water it more often, but it seems to love it. When plants begin to need
watering too often, I guess that's when I repot. I learned a lot from Brad
Thompson's cultural advice; that made me really begin to observe my plants
and learn what they need. That's what it is all about!
Q: Do you have any final tips for readers on
producing show winners?
A: Just to study your plants. Observe their
leaves and try to learn what they want.
Arlene, you grow them big and beautiful as we saw in
the last issue, and we loved them all at the Begonia Kaleidoscopes Show.
Congratulations from all of us.
See the photos of her big winners in last issue.
Above, see Arlene Hoskins' B. 'Aya'. This cane is
classed as Mallet-Like and comes to us from Shigemi of Japan in 1982.
Although it can be difficult, it is also a very fast grower when given the
conditions it prefers.