Winter Solstice – Now the days are getting longer!
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
The days won't be getting any shorter, yet within this darkness comes an awakening and a shift that signifies the return on spring. Rhizomatous begonias after sensing the short day length or, in plant physiology terms, responding to the long period of darkness are sending up flower stem in multitudes. These easy-to-grow begonias put on a dramatic show that lasts into spring and, of all the groups of container begonias that one can grow, these are some of the most enduring. Easier than rexes and often more contained than the fibrous they can engulf themselves in a christening of pink and white. The foliage, though not as bright as many of the rexes and lacking the brilliant shades of reds, is quite distinct and varied in its patterning.
There are larger and more robust forms like Deco Daddy or Palomar Prince or compact ones like River Nile, Midnight Twist or Lime Swirl. For limited space the dwarf varieties like bowerae and Bowerae nigramarga will put on a great flush of bloom. The culture, like for most begonias, is to grow dry, bringing the soil to dryness and even wilting the plant a little. They never loose a leaf from dryness, even under rather severe drought stress. Grow with a little direct sunlight and keep them above 60° or better yet 65° to keep the plant active. To bloom them, keep them in an out of the way spot that does not get much artificial light after dark from September to January. Once you see the flower, their destiny is set. Moderate fertilizer is best, remembering that the lower the light the less they need. Large, old plants can overcome their pot and a pruning may be in order. This is done simply by cutting off the protruding rhizomes. It is best done after flowering up until late summer. They will need a little re-growth as the days begin to shorten in the fall for next winter's blooms.
While we're on the subject of flowering begonias lets not forget Begonia Solananthera. This hanging variety is one of the most fragrant begonias we grow and it starts it's flower now. The fragrance is sweet and heavy and will, at times, permeate the air around the plant. A native of Brazil, this species can be a little temperamental at times. A couple of thing to remember, it grows as an epiphyte in the crooks of trees. So be sure to stress it with some dryness. Although this plant does not wilt easily, it will, under lower soil moisture, get a bleached look to the leaves as many begonias do when dry. This is a good thing, especially in damp, cool, humid weather. It also has a higher light demand, some direct sunlight is essential and do keep it warm. Most problems arise under high soil moisture and lower light levels. With a little attention to details this wonderful species will bring fragrance to your growing areas from now until summer.
As the days begin to lengthen, this is also a time when we see the first new buds flushing into tiny leaves on our potted citrus. Of course, this depends on the temperature that they are held at. With the rest period of late fall and early winter over it is time for flowers. Many varieties of citrus, especially oranges, grapefruit and mandarins (tangerines) tend to flower seasonally. It is the growth that was made at the end of summer and early fall that contains the flower buds for the next season. Lemons, limes and citrons tend to flower intermittently, although you can count on a heavy flush of bloom as they start to grow, once we’ve turned the corner. This means fragrance for the winter window or sun room. The sweets strongest fragrance is found in the orange, grapefruit and mandarin group. You don’t even have to get near the flowers, it will fill the room with fragrance. lemons and limes, although sweet, generally need a nose near to the flower to intoxicate the senses. Of the oranges, one of the best is the “Myrtle Leafed Orange” Citrus myrtifolia. It is a compact and fast grower that flowers reliably and has a strong, resilient root system. The fruit is sour, but it hangs on the tree for months, giving it outstanding ornamental appeal. The edible or table quality citrus, like Valencia orange, Ruby red grapefruit or the Blood oranges are slower growing which means patience is in order.
Because ours are propagated from mature plants they begin to flower right away. At this time of year, we often see a flat of four to five inch young plants all in bloom. Remember in culturing citrus as container plants, bring the soil to visual dryness between watering. They need to get air down into the root system which helps reduce the problem of root diseases. Grow them in a clay pots. This will facilitate a quick dry down. Always thoroughly saturate the soil when watering. Here are a few other suggestions to keep your potted citrus healthy and productive. Give them as much direct sun light as possible. Although citrus can take cool or even cold temperatures, in pots in the northern climates in the winter, warm is better try to maintain 60 to 65 degrees at least. And go easy on the fertilizer, especially during the short days.