> Volume 72 (March/April
In the Mailbox
by Greg Sytch
In a year that has seen much uncertainty, destruction
and disaster around the globe and here in my home state of Florida,
begonias have been one haven of relief for me. They have proven
In September, the eye of two hurricanes came within 15
miles of my home. "Frances" lumbered across Florida in late summer,
bringing hurricane-force winds for 24 hours and a foot of rain. It took
down my prized Tabebuia tree. "Jeanne" followed three weeks later, much
quicker but stronger with a peak gust of 94 mph here in New Port Richey.
It took the remaining four shade trees from my back yard. Jeanne also
deposited my huge live oak into my house, making it uninhabitable and
leaving me with a sun-baked back yard full of begonias. It wasn't
After two weeks in a motel, I finally was able to
scramble and get 70% shade cloth over my two greenhouses left standing. I
lost the other two. Begonias had burned, become ripped, some were reduced
to tattered messes unrecognizable to even my trained eye. Labels were
gone. I started hacking back all the plants, repotting lightly where I
could, and placing them under shade. I also gave away countless carloads
after each storm to reduce the number I had to care for.
I was one of the lucky ones. An apartment opened up on
my street, and I seized it to live in while my house is repaired. This
gave me accessibility to my yard and my plants.
Now it is 2005, and I must say I am surprised how the
begonias recovered. I had trays of rhizomatous leaves rooted when both
hurricanes hit, and I quickly stepped those up into 4" pots to give them
space to roam and grow. Canes either hacked back or judiciously pruned by
Jeanne or Frances were bursting with new growth. Larger rhizomatous have
started to fill out their pots again. Cuttings rooted. It has been a long
road to getting the collection back, but through it all it kept my mind
off my "broken" house, as my middle school students refer to my home. The
mild fall weather helped, too.
While I will not be able to move back into my home
until spring, I have access to my large Florida Room, computer and phone
as that area of the house was left untouched. I now have to wear sunscreen
to work in my previously shaded yard. Life as I know it has changed, but
my plants have been a haven to me through this most difficult time.
Begonias, and plants in general, have been my therapy.
My collection is greatly reduced in variety, and my growing areas
reduced in halt, but taking solace in this tiny piece of heaven is
a chance for a new start to re-design my home and make it better than it
was before - including my begonia collection.
Q: Cuttings that I take rarely root, or root weakly
and take forever to grow. I use a combination of a standard potting soil
and perlite, and keep them covered and warm until rooting begins. What can
I do to be more successful with cuttings of stems and leaves?
A: Use a better propagating mix! Begonias need an
airy, very light mix to root in. Do not use soil. Instead, try a
combination similar to this one:
1 part peat moss
2 parts perlite
Moisten the mix well, but do not make it wet. This
should allow better air circulation for new roots forming, and the mix is
light enough for roots to spread. Keep the air humid, as you have done,
but allow some venting. Light should be bright but never in sunlight. As
the weather warms, you can use this formula to start cuttings outside
under shade. Use only a container barely large enough to accommodate the
cuttings. When I take rhizomatous leaves, I almost always use a 3" pot,
square. This is small enough to prevent a moisture buildup. Cane or shrub
cuttings go into 4" azalea pots unless they are tall l canes, when they go
into 4" deeper pots.
HINT: Rhizomatous leaves do not root well as they
enter their blooming season. In northern climates, try not to take leaf
cuttings from October through February. In southern climates it would be
October through March or April. The plant wants to bloom and not propagate
itself. However, if conditions are favorable, leaves will root but sit
until conditions and daylight are right for pupping.