Begonia rex 15°C/60°F; South East Asia

The king of the begonias is grown entirely for its colourful foliage. Blended into or overlaid on the green wrinkled leaves can be found a kaleidoscope of colours-red, pink, silver, cream, grey, lavender and maroon. Although plants may be encouraged to grow to 60cm/2ft in height and 60cm/2ft in diameter in ideal conditions in the greenhouse, they are usually seen as much smaller plants decorating window ledges and in mixed arrangements with other plants. Mildew on leaves, which appears as white circular spots, is one of the most troublesome problems and is most prevalent in surroundings that are dank and airless. So a buoyant humid atmosphere and reasonably light conditions are needed, but strong sunlight must be avoided. A peaty soil is essential and it should be kept moist, but never soggy wet.

Raise new plants by slitting the veins on the undersides of a mature leaf in places before placing it on a mixture of peat and sand. It may be necessary to peg the leaves down with hairpin-shaped wires, or by placing small pebbles on top of the leaf. Alternatively, the stronger and older leaves may be cut up into 2.5cm/lin-wide squares and simply placed on moist peat and sand. This is a fascinating means of propagation, but it is extremely important that the propagating medium must at no time dry out as the small leaf sections will quickly shrivel up and die. Moistness of a happy medium should be the aim, as leaf sections will also rot readily in very wet conditions. When potting on larger plants a peaty, open soil is essential. It will be found that freshly-bought plants are often in pots that are much too small for them, making it necessary to pot the plants on almost as soon as they are acquired.

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