begonia of the week: ‘dragon wing’ red

I HAVE SO MANY BEGONIAS IN MY CARE OVER HERE, I could probably do a ‘Begonia of the Week’ series all gardening season long. I’ve already raved about ‘Bonfire,’ and now I have to say I love the older but no less showy ‘Dragon Wing.’ Apparently I am not alone.

When it first came into mass production less than 10 years ago, I was working at Martha Stewart Living, and the folks at Ball Horticultural who were touting the plant to wholesalers and the press send me some babies to try. Baby they did not remain for very long, since ‘Dragon Wing’ is a lusty creature: One plant will easily fill a 10-inch pot all by itself, and gets to about 2 feet tall. It grows in semi-shade or even pretty substantial sun in my experience, and wants regular watering (but never to be sodden) and a dose of fish-emulsion and seaweed solution pretty regularly. A hungry thing.

‘Dragon Wing,’ which also comes in a pink-flowered form, blooms and blooms all season, with pendulous trusses of hot-red blossoms. When it came on the market, cooperative extension agents from many of the Southern states raved about it for its heat tolerance and adaptability, too, from Arkansas to Georgia and elsewhere.

Apparently I can cut it back and grow it like a houseplant over the winter, I’ve read…if I can find room for one more begonia inside in winter, that is, particularly one more of this massive scale. Have you grown it, and if so in what kind of situation: beds, pots, hanging baskets? If not, what’s your vote for “Begonia of the Week”?

  1. Phylis says:

    Thank you for answering so fast. The leaves are nice and clean, no spots. It does have nice red flowers but the whole plant is drooping. Initially, I had given it too much water, like in a pond. I dumped out the excess. I just pressed on the soil and it is still very wet but it doesn’t pool on top. OMG I just realized that the planter doesn’t have drainage holes! I’ve had it on my front porch, north facing, that gets about 2 hrs of sun in a.m.

  2. Willough says:

    I just purchased a Dragon Wing Begonia a couple of days ago and I have been doing some research on it today. I am a little dissapointed thta I can’t keep it in the garden all winter because I had bought it for my daughter’s memorial garden. =( At least I will have some color inside during the winter! I happened to read about the “curled leaf” problem on http://www.seniorwomen.com (I think) here is the quote…”According to one grower, too much sun causes the edges of the leaves to turn dark red and curl. They also exhibit some cold hardiness and can take several hits of temperatures in the low 30s with no problem. Mine withstood several brief freezes this past winter just fine.”

    I hope this helps!

  3. margaret says:

    Welcome, Willough, with more news on one of our favorite Begonias. Thank you. I am going outside to see what mine is trying to tell me with its body language… :) See you soon again we hope.

  4. Phylis says:

    Thanks for the info Willough. A memorial garden is so touching. I am sorry for your loss.

    I repotted this plant in a pot with good drainage and placed it in continuous shade. It didn’t help. I went back to the place where I purchased it and was told to cut it back (they do not guarantee their plants) So I cut it back, watered it a little at time, and I waited and I waited. Some of the main shoots have turned brown (it looks like there are two separate plants) so I am going to cut them out and repot the healthy ones in new potting soil.

    As you can tell I’m very new at this. I have a 3 yr old perenial garden that I just love but I’ve never had much luck with potted plants, except for Hosta and Impatiens so I have alot of them!

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome, Ann, and thanks for news of your experiments with the begonias. Mine got so gigantic there was no bringing it indoors, so I will start again next year, sorry to admit.

  6. ann says:

    Just had our first killing frost and Devils
    wing hanging basket is gorgeous in house. Fills up the entire round poker table and so robust that hook doesn’t even show. My Angel Wing planted with wax begonias around bottom is also nice and will see how long they last in the house.

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Liz Grey. I grow many, many houseplant-type begonias, both cane (upright stems like bamboo, but smaller) and rhizomatous (with caterpillar-like rhizomes at soil-surface level) and the one Rex type as well. I find the Rex ones hardest of all.
    Keys to all kinds: Don’t overwater…less is more. Never let the saucer or cachepot have standing water in it. Let the plants very nearly dry before watering. No siting in super-chilly spots, no blazing sun, no radiator tops. Ideal would be 55 at night and 75 by day, but that can be tricky. Humidity (or lack of) is a key as well, so the standard tactic of pebble trays with some water (but not deep enough to touch the bottoms of the pots) helps.
    I find that my guys often get angry at me and one or another will drop its leaves, sometimes in late winter, sometimes right after I bring them in in fall. Most recover, however.
    Might be worth a pit stop at the Begonia Society website, too.

  8. Liz Grey says:

    Thanks for the info and photos margaret. I love your web site and really appreciate how it brightens up a dreary late fall day. I love the variegated leaf begonias and have a favourite one with large silver and purple edged leaves I think it may be a rex? I have it inside but really dread killing it once furnace season starts (this has been the downfall of many previous favourites) Any suggestions?

  9. Alysson Galarza says:

    I’ve just googled this amazing creature to find out it’s name. My husband brought a dragon wing home three years ago, and it’s still doing lovely.. we’ve even moved with it. It’s about 2 ft by 4 ft. I LOVE it, flowers all winter.. in Montana it’s especially nice. Is this longevity typical of begonias? If so I may a few more.

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Alysson. I am so happy to hear of its longevity even as a winter houseplant in Montana. Great news. I have many begonias (probably 15 kinds) that live outdoors in the warmer months, indoors in the colder, and they have been with me for many years. I like Logee’s as a source–great selection.

  11. ann says:

    Well, first morning when it wasn’t in 30s here but Dragon wing has been outside for a little while after being divided and looks better than it did. Spring comes late in Dakotaand we may have our first day of 80 degree temps.The old Angel wing made it and was gorgeous all winter with pink umbels hanging down, but only two of wax begonias are still alive arpund it’s base in pot.

  12. Kathleen says:

    What would eat a dragon begonia? This is my first season with one on my patio and I found a huge leaf laying near it yesterday. Today, all the leaves and flowers are gone, just the stalk is standing.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kathleen. Do you have deer (or rabbits or woodchucks) in your area? All of them will often leave stems (though the ends of the remaining plant tissue is more ragged and almost torn-looking with deer, who can’t make clean bits because they lack upper incisors). Rabbits nip things cleanly at a 45-degree angle, by comparison. Woodchucks just seem to eat things down to nearly the bone here — especially tender young things.

      Do you have any/all of these animals in your area?

  13. Jack says:

    Dragon Wings have been one of my favorite plants ever since they first came out. They perform wonderful as full sun planter plants & people that I’ve reccomended them to have given up on geraniums and switched to Dragons for their pool planters. The biggest short-coming, is where the old “wax begonia” are almost deer proof, they love to eat the Dragons.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jack. Love this plant! I have a fence so no deer experience here, but good to know, thank you. See you soon, I hope.

  14. Michelle says:

    I hope someone coud please help me figure out why my dragon wing begonias are dying. I have had them for about a year and then suddenly one died and it looks like the other is going down the same path. It started with brown/black spots on the leaves and then the entire plant turned a pale green. Eventually each stem shriveled up and died. Even though I live in Tucson, Az they were doing well with some morning sun and shade for the rest of the day. Please help me save my beautiful plant.

    Thank you so much.

  15. Dianne says:

    I love every begonia, because they love me. I think my most unusual begonia is Art Hodes. Hard to find, but so pretty. I don’t know why more people don’t sell it. Dragon Wings, Bonfire, Bellefire, and tuberous, and rex. I’ll take every one I can get.

  16. Cathy A. says:

    I had a very large pot of Dragon Wing begonia that I bought from a nursery on Memorial Day. Everyday I admired it’s beauty. Then on Monday, July 25 a brief but intense wind and hailstorm came through my property. It destroyed many things (tomatoes, peppers, rhubarb), including my Dragon Wing. The wind and hail just ripped the leaves to shreds. It was so severely damaged that I could not bear to try to nurse it back to health. It has been composted and I have replaced it with an ivy geranium (with sturdier leaves). My experience has made me leery to try this beauty again, at least until next spring :)

  17. Kathy says:

    My Dragon Wings are on my front porch in 2 identical large rectangular planters.
    Each planter has a center Gryphon Begonia (beautiful spotted, star-shaped foliage) flanked by 2 Pink Angel Wing begonias. Also trailing variegated vinca vine growing over the edges.
    I think I planted some Euphorbia Diamond Frost in there too, but the Angelwings have overwhelmed it.
    I will try to overwinter these planters – haven’t tried that with begonias before. Thanks for the tip!

  18. Monica blum says:

    we used dragon wings very successfully in harsh urban conditions in the midst of traffic along busy Broadway in Lincoln Square this summer and they are thriving! We also used a Niagara falls begonia that didn’t do as well — not as upright and hardy. I would love recommendations for other equally tough yet beautiful plants for small sun and shade urban gardens in narrow medians with trucks and cars heading north and south.

  19. Irene says:

    Begonias were my least favorite flower but this year decided to take a chance on them. These were not the fancy ones but they sure produced a show. The leaves are tipped in red and the flower a beautiful bright red with yellow center. The best part is the deer aren’t eating them and they don’t seem to be bother by any bugs. They required very little attention and seemed to love it in the garden at my condo.

  20. bobye says:

    Do the angle wing begonia’s germinate from seed very well? I would like to start my own plants from seed but sometimes the see won’t germinate. Thanks for any suggestions.

  21. Bobbye says:

    I’m new at blogging but not new at growing Dragon Wing begonias. I do have a question. I want to propagate from cuttings but does the plant produce “true to form” when you use a cutting to come up with a plant. I have a friend who says the Dragon Wing may not be true to form. I hope it will be because this will save lots of money.

  22. Kathi in MO says:

    I fell in love with dragon wing begonias 3 years ago and was very sad when I could not find one in my town last year. I have a beautiful lush one now and I am wondering if someone can tell me if and when it is appropriate to move into a bigger container?

    1. margaret says:

      Funny (or actually sad) how a plant that’s so “hot” one year is not seen anywhere the next. Makes me crazy! I finally found another ‘Bonfire’ at a plant fair but the local nurseries never had them this year. I would probably prefer to move something like this tuberous creature just as it gets going in early spring, not when it’s fully awake/all flushed out (too easy to break off a succulent stem, no?) but I have done it at both times. They don’t seem to mind being underpotted for awhile, but eventually will be far too top-heavy for a small pot.

  23. Louise says:

    I brought the more pinkish Dragon Wing indoors for winter and put it out again as an experiment a couple of years ago. It’s funny to click on the story as I ponder moving my plants back out today. It is one plant I would not like to garden without!

  24. BJ Thies says:

    This is my second summer growing Dragon Wing Begonias! Last year a potted planted beside my front door with blue lobelia & a type of impatient that I don’t remember but it had a very delicate white with pink center that grew well but was not a very dense plant. It look well with the combination. This summer I received two hanging baskets of Dragon Wing for a gift. They are hanging on my covered porch and are flourishing! I water regularly but used Osmocote granules a month ago but am wondering if I should have used something else? Most sites say to use water soluble fertilizer and do it weekly…hummm… not certain I have the time to devote to that kind of care. The plants have been doing well for the 6 weeks I’ve had them but think it is time to pinch the ends to thicken the plant as they are becoming a bit leggy… Whether I will try to cut them back in the fall & keep them as house plants is yet to be determined. They are large and I have very little space inside to put them. Regardless I believe I will be asking for these beautiful begonias again next year!!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, BJ Thies. I don’t use chemicals such as in Osmocote, but they are sustained-release so supposed to be equivalent to regular fertilizing.

  25. EC says:

    Hi – I wondered how large a container you would jump up to if planting two or three 4.5 inch pots of these together. Also, would it be suitable to use a self-watering planter with Miracle-Gro’s moisture retaining potting mix, or would that keep them too wet? I might not be able to water them more than 2-3 times a week (South Jersey zone 6b/7, not full sun). I’m trying to plan a substantial-looking container for Mother’s Day that won’t require my mother to do any maintenance over the summer (housebound).

    BTW, I just started listening to your podcast–lots of fun, and way better than the weather reports!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, EC. Nice to see you here! I don’t buy anything made my Miracle-Gro or other chemical companies, so I cannot comment on that product. As for spacing, remember they will branch out (arching stems) and probably be a foot wide each when in full swing. I suspect you want them to sort of overlap/intertwine and make a giant statement in a big pot? I’d still make sure I positioned the center (main stem) of each plant at least 8 and preferably 10ish inches apart, maybe in a triangular arrangement within the pot if there are three of them. And you don’t want them too close to the edge — so you are looking at a 14 inch pot or bigger. Note: It needn’t be super-deep/tall.

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