Greenhouse Management: Why are rooted cuttings possibly a better option than growing from seed plugs?
Mike Gooder: The first distinction is why to choose vegetative cuttings instead of seed to start with. With vegetative begonias, we have the consistency of vegetative because they are all clones. With seed, we have the variability because all seed is genetically different. From a uniformity standpoint, it’s always better with cuttings and the parental traits are all the same with propagated vegetative cuttings. If you want plants in pots that all come out the same, vegetative cuttings have that advantage. In begonia production, overall crop time is typically quicker with vegetative cuttings. The seed cycle tends to be longer.
Begonias, in general, tend to be a challenging crop to grow regardless of how you grow them. From a seed standpoint, they are one of the smallest seeds we work with in the industry. Begonia cuttings themselves are complicated to do the rooting process with. These challenges are why many growers use a trusted propagator for begonias. It’s similar to the way many growers produce poinsettias. And in picking cuttings, going with rooted cuttings means you buy 100 cuttings and you finish 100 plants. With unrooted cuttings, you may buy 100, you may lose 10 or 20% along the way, only plant 80 or 90 plants and your actual real cost factor shows that you’d have an economic advantage with rooted cuttings.
GM: What are some begonia trends you’ve seen in the past few years?
MG: One of the things we’ve seen most of is more begonias species and interspecies crosses that allow begonias to be used for more applications. So, we’ve seen the rise of the boliviensis types. We’ve seen interspecies crosses where the boliviensis is being crossed with another species to get double flowers. A wider form of flower types in traditional begonias is common too. And what has been a traditional color set has been expanded into more colors, more unique flower forms, singles with centers, fragrances being bred back into begonias — the Fragrant Falls series from Beekenkamp being an example — and plants that are better matched to different applications based on vigor group. Before, where the primary control of size had been grower technique and water management, we now have plants that are better-suited for large pots and varieties that are better for small containers and mixed pots.
GM: What should growers who haven’t produced begonias before know if they are interested in starting?
MG: Begonias are a little bit different than a typical spring annual. Typically, they have a higher temperature requirement and oftentimes require a more neutral feed where a lot of our spring annuals are more acidic by nature.
Begonias fall in the mid-range with pH, so sometimes there’s a cultural adjustment that has to be made. If growers can provide an early nurturing environment for the crop — soft light, warm temperatures — they can get the crop off to a good start. You want to reduce all of the stress possible.