Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on August 14, 2008. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Begonia, sweet potato thrive in summer heat
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Early August usually means several more weeks of hot, miserable weather. If your more tender flowers have started to fail, I have a combination planting that will perk up your summer-tired landscape.
Lime green ornamental sweet potatoes and Dragon Wing begonias kick into gear when temperatures soar. These work in landscapes, containers or baskets.
Both plants are like thoroughbred racehorses ready to gallop once in the ground. You may think the sweet potatoes will overrun the begonias -- and they may at first -- but in the end, the Dragon Wing begonias will find the sunshine and put on a vibrant show.
Last week while filming a Southern Gardening segment, I noticed the gardener had absolutely monstrous baskets. Inside the coconut coir lining were the largest Dragon Wing begonias I have seen, and they were contrasting incredibly with the Marguerite sweet potato. Two such baskets made the show even more dramatic.
I use a little different version of the same idea in my own front flowerbed. I have always wanted to find the perfect place for an Australian tree fern, knowing they cannot take the winter without protection. After finding the perfect tall, wide-mouthed urn, I knew I had the ingredients for a winning project. I filled the urn with the best, lightest potting soil I could find and planted the tree fern as the center plant.
I planted a couple of Dragon Wing Red begonias and the Marguerite sweet potatoes around the tree fern. Today, the top of the fern is at about the 8-foot level and gives an exotic look. This planting gets quite a bit of afternoon sun, but so far it has performed exceedingly well.
In front of this urn, I layered the bed with Electric Lime coleus, SunPatiens Vigorous Red impatiens, Gold Mound duranta and Goldilocks lysimachia. I am letting a few vinca volunteers come up through the lysimachia. Super Dwarf Cavendish bananas flank the planting, adding a little more tropical flair.
If you're planting these in the landscape, work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter while turning your soil. Try planting your Dragon Wing begonias behind the sweet potatoes, and train these as a low-growing groundcover. Never hesitate to cut the sweet potato to control its growth, whether it is in a container or in the landscape. The Sweet Caroline series is a little more compact and offers lime green in two different leaf textures -- one heart-shaped and the other deeply toothed.
Perhaps you have a planting of petunias that have expired in the heat or other annuals that have simply failed after a long, hot summer. Fresh Dragon Wing begonias are starting to show up at many garden centers, along with small sweet potatoes.
Whether you use a similar combination planting or create one of your own, know that these two plants will get established quickly and give weeks of gardening pleasure.