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ON GARDENING: Bonfire and Bellfire bountiful new begonias

If you are looking for a plant with hundreds of fiery scarlet orange flowers for a hanging basket or to cascade over a wall or window box then the Bonfire begonia is for you. Bonfire brings not only a new species to most gardeners but also incredible beauty partnered with a rugged nature.

Bonfire is known botanically as Begonia boliviensis, and as the name suggests it is from South America. It is also a tuberous begonia. Some tuberous begonias have presented challenges to gardeners in hot and humid areas but Bonfire will prove to be a cakewalk even for the novice.

While the flower power literally takes your breath away, know that Bonfire also has attractive foliage. The leaves produced on long arching stems are deeply serrated or tooth-like and the margins are also tinged in red.

Bonfire performs well in full sun to part shade. I am giving mine the extreme test growing in an Old Word style pot near the front door. Here it gets full scorching afternoon sun. It simply continues to amaze me. I know I would be equally ecstatic growing some with my bananas where it would get afternoon shade.

More good news is that Bonfire has a sibling so to speak. Making its debut this year is Bellfire. Bellfire is different in that the flowers are indeed bell-shaped and a hot coral pink. It is slightly bushier and the very serrated foliage is a wonderful deep plum color.

Once you find yours know that good drainage will be essential to your happiness. For containers choose a good light potting mix sold by the cubic foot. If the bag is sold by the pound and is almost too heavy to carry, select another brand.

If you are going to plant yours in the landscape then by all means work the soil properly to ensure good drainage and aeration. If you have tight heavy compacted clay then either work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like peat or compost to help loosen the soil or plant in raised beds in a prepared landscape mix. This will pay dividends in the winter for those in zones 7b and warmer.

This species will go dormant in the winter and will return in May or June provided the winter drainage was good. Those gardeners in colder areas or those growing the begonias in containers will want to protect to keep the soil from freezing around the tuber. Very little water if any will be needed during the dormant season.

Bonfire and Bellfire are drought tolerant once established but keeping the soil moist during its long season of bloom will just keep the flowers coming. Feed your plants once dormancy is breaking in late spring and then again in mid-summer. In containers feed with controlled released granules per formula recommendation or with a diluted water-soluble fertilizer that you mix.

In the landscape try using Bonfire in a tropical style garden with bananas or Tropicanna cannas. Grow them in containers or window boxes with blue flowers like the Easy Wave Blue petunia, or the spiky textured Victoria blue salvia. It would also make a nice companion with yellow shrimp plants. The coral pink Bellfire would also look equally impressive with bananas or blue flowers in mixed containers.

Bonfire and Bellfire are sure to be a hit so when you find yours don't dilly-dally or some other shopper will get yours.

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