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(MCT)—If you have been looking for a big begonia that can take full sun then by all means remember the word ‘Big.’ Big is a hot new series of begonias that came out three or so years ago and has literally leaped off the trial charts.

Now you may be asking why I am talking begonias in the dead of winter. To be honest, it’s like therapy; taking my mind off winter as I wishfully think about getting my fingers in the warm spring soil.

Besides there are so many great new flowers I’ve got to start early and Big deserves its place in the spotlight. You might wonder about the name. Is it big? You bet it is—Texas sized. Big, which comes in three colors, reaches about 18 inches tall and as wide. Good fertile soil will find it pushing 24 inches plus.

The three colors are Big Red with bronze leaf, Big Red with green leaf and Big Rose with bronze leaf. It’s kind of funny—when we all saw it at the California Pack Trials it commanded immediate attention. But the question everyone had was, how would it perform back home.

The answer from trials was superior. It was considered among the elite at Kansas State, Penn State, University of Georgia, Dallas Arboretum and North Carolina State to name just a few.

These plants are ever-blooming with dark bronze or green leaves and almost form a dwarf shrub-like appearance. It lends itself to stunning landscape performance planted in mass 12 inches apart, as a filler plant in large mixed containers, or monoculture in mid-sized pots. It will simply dazzle on the front porch or patio.

In the landscape, plant them in front of evergreen shrubs so that their brilliant colors will really stand out. Big begonias have the ability to make partial shaded beds look like Puerto Rico or Jamaica when combined with plants like bananas, cannas, elephant ears, fatsia, gingers, hostas and the yellow shrimp plant.

Deep down I am partial to the fiery scarlet that evokes passion and excitement but there is definitely something to say for the rich rose pink. I hope you find a place to use both. I prefer the partial-sun beds that are well drained and organic-rich. This is where you will get the best performance and size.

Work in three to four inches of organic matter turning the soil to a depth of around eight inches. While tilling, add 2 pounds of a slow release 12-6-6 fertilizer with minor nutrients per 100 square feet of bed space.

Keep them well-watered and feed monthly with light applications of the fertilizer. Apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture and keep the soil temperatures moderate. They also exhibit some cold hardiness and can take several hits of low 30s with no problem

When you shop next spring don’t look for them in some little dinky 4-inch pot. They are too vigorous for that. You’ll find them in 6-inch or gallon sized container.

Winter will not be everlasting, I promise. Spring is coming—just remember to give the really big, “Big Begonias” a try in your landscape.

Norman Winter is executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.”

© 2011, Norman Winter.

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