By John Hamilton

The first step in growing begonias to exhibit as cut blooms is to obtain the correct varieties. No amount of good culture will produce quality blooms from any variety not capable of producing the goods. An ideal guide as to what to grow is a trip around the exhibits staged at Ayr. You will quickly see which varieties are consistently showed and these are the ones to start with.

The next stage is to grow the plants. This is a simple exercise if an old saying is borne in mind – “never put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today”. The real secret behind the quality flowers shown at Ayr is a strict adherence to this rule.

Tubers should be started into growth with the date of the show borne in mind, a rough guide is to start older tubers about 20 weeks before the show and cutting tubers 24 weeks. A heated propagator is required for this stage and a compost temperature of about 65oF should be aimed at. The Chempak seed mix is an ideal starting medium. Tubers can be buried or left showing, both methods have their advantages. If they are buried, stronger shoots will be produced and the tuber will produce roots from all of its surface area. Tubers left showing will produce more shoots and can be easily inspected for any signs of rot. I personally favour the latter.

As soon as a good root system has been produced the plants can receive their first potting into a John Innes No 1 compost. The size of the pot being determined by the size of the rootball. On no account must too large a pot be used at this stage as it is very easy to over water and tubers will be lost. A night-time temperature of 50oF will help produce excellent plants.

After around 3-4 weeks the plants should have progressed sufficiently to be moved into their final pots. A pot 2” larger should be used and a John Innes No 2 compost is now required.

At each potting stage and at any other appropriate time, cuttings should be removed to allow the plant to channel all its energy into the main stem (for cut flower work plants must be restricted to a single stem). A cutting is ready to remove as soon as it is around 3” long.

The most difficult part of the culture is to give the plant the correct amount of water. Too much will result in root rot and quickly lead to the death of the plant. Too little will reduce the plants vigour and end up in poor quality blooms. Part of the solution is to use a good quality grit when preparing your compost. The rest of the solution is to handle the plants on a regular basis, you will soon get to know when a plant requires water by the weight of the pot.

Once the plants are in their final pots they require to be spread out. If the leaves are touching then they are too close together and damage to flowers will inevitably occur. There is no point in growing quality blooms only to damage them by not taking this simple step.

Around six weeks before the date of the show a bud needs to be secured. Something around the size of an old 5p piece should be aimed at. This means that no more buds should be removed from the plant nine weeks before the show which will leave you with a choice of buds. At this stage plants must be staked and tied. The next step is to ‘stop’ the plant thereby limiting it to one flower. It is by this means that size is obtained. Once the buds begins to develop, three flowers are produced, the largest one which is the centre one, should be retained and the other two removed. These are usually female flowers and are single and if left on will reduce the size of the male flower. A sharp twist and they will come away easily without damaging your final flower. As soon as the bud begins to open it should be tied to the stake and a cardboard collar fitted. This collar prevents the bloom being damaged by the leaves. It also prevents the back petals from curling and disfiguring the bloom. The material I use for tying in both plant and bloom is ribbon, this does not cut into the plant and is easily worked with. All the blooms should be inspected regularly and any ties that require it, moved to support the bloom.

The final journey to the show and staging of the blooms is the grand finale and a worthwhile experience in its own right. Blooms should be cut the night before the show. I cut mine around 10 o’clock at night and all the plants are given a water around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. In this way the bloom is already at its peak of freshness. The reasoning behind cutting at night is firstly if a bloom is not drawing water it will collapse. If this happens you still have time to cut another, but very often after a night they will have had time to recover. It is amazing to see the number of blooms that collapse during judging only to look perfect the following day. The cut used when removing the flower should be a long diagonal one, this exposes as much of the stem as possible and therefore enables the bloom to draw the maximum amount of water. As soon as they are removed the stem should be placed in water. I use a staging solution of one teaspoon of alum/one teaspoon of Milton/8 teaspoons of sugar to 1 gallon of water, both for transporting and staging blooms. I also use carry boxes which consist of a plywood box with a false bottom with holes cut in the false bottom large enough for a plastic drinking cup to fit in. These holes should allow 10” in diameter for each bloom to prevent rubbing on the way to the show. The false bottom is then lined with cotton wool to give added protection. The plastic cups are ¾ filled with the solution and sealed with cling film. A small cross is then cut in the cling film into which the stem of the flower is inserted. During this time again the cardboard collar is a boon, the bloom need never be touched all through the operation, only the stem or the collar being handled. After all the blooms have been placed in the box, it is then sealed with a sheet of plastic. This guards against any untoward elements the following morning.

Allow yourself plenty of time on the morning of the show to stage your exhibit. Many quality blooms are wasted through poor staging. If it is your first show watch how the more experienced set about their exhibit, a lot of information can be gleaned in only a few minutes. Make sure all your flowers face the judge, the best are nearest the front of the exhibit and use enough cups (all the flowers are staged in plastic cups) to ensure all the bloom look the same depth.


Up until about ten weeks before the show I have or will be going to foliar feed my plants with Chempak No’s 2 and 3 progressing from 2 – 3 at 14 weeks before the show. This process commenced as soon as the plants were potted into their first pots. The dilution rate is one teaspoon of fertiliser to two gallons of water. At 4 weeks before securing the bud I am going to use Chempak No 4 at the same dilution. After securing the bud, foliar feeding will stop.
When foliar feeding is taking place this is done early in the morning.

The pots are now fed with Chempak No. 4 at half strength with every watering. This continues to 2 weeks before the show.
At this stage every pot will receive a full strength feed of Chempak No. 8. This I know from experience hardens up the flower and reduces the risk of it collapsing.

Varieties For Exhibition

White or cream                  Red                        Orange
Avalanche                         Linda Jackson         Mary Heatley
Full Moon                         Tom Brownlee          Tahiti
Bernat Klein                      Mosie Fadime         City of Ballarat
Moonlight                          Eureka                   Colin Hamilton

Pink                                Picotee (white ground)
Roy Hartley                     Fred Martin
Miss Rankin                    Jennifer Wilson
Falstaff                            Isobel Keenan
Mrs. Dan Ramage

Picotee (yellow ground           Bi-colour                    Yellow
Bali Hi                                  Peach Melba              Monica Bryce
Can-Can                               Mrs. E. McLauchlan    Golden Hynde

The above collection represents a wide range, all of which if treated correctly will produce excellent results.