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Flowers at twenty-four weeks - Lindsey Kuper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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Flowers at twenty-four weeks [Feb. 16th, 2015|04:05 pm]
Lindsey Kuper
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First, the good news. Back in November, I described my window-box begonias as having "failed to take off". I would now describe them as slowly and steadily winning the race. Here are four pictures, taken right after planting and at eight weeks, sixteen weeks, and, as of a couple days ago, twenty-four weeks:

Begonias at planting, August 30 Begonias at eight weeks, October 26

Begonias at sixteen weeks, December 22 Begonias at twenty-four weeks, February 14

I see these flowers every day, and the growth happens too slowly for me to notice day to day or even week to week -- but, looking at these photos, it's clear that there's been a lot of growth since August. So I'm glad I've been taking photos! Also, my phone-tography appears to have improved since August.1

The bad news is that the rest of my flowers aren't doing as well as these are. In November, I bragged about how well my potted begonias were doing. They looked like this:

Begonias on the back deck, November 22

And as of late December, they were even more healthy and verdant -- or so I thought:

Begonias on the back deck, December 22

At the end of December, right after the above photo was taken, Alex oniugnip and I went out of town to visit family for two weeks. When we got back, the begonias in that pot had met with an awful fate: the blooms were gone, and the plants were limp, brown, and rotting. I was mystified, especially since the ones in the window box still seemed to be plugging along just fine.

After investigating2, I'm pretty sure that the cause of near-death was overwatering. In early December, California, which has been in a severe drought for over two years, was hit by an "atmospheric river" of rain.3 Here in Sunnyvale, streets were flooded; I think it was the rainiest December on record in San Jose. My begonias were exposed to all that rain. Now, all that was in the first half of December, and the photo above was taken on December 22 -- and it didn't really rain any more while we were out of town. But my suspicion was that the plants were already starting to rot from overwatering by the time I took that picture, and the nastiness just hadn't started to show above ground yet. (Or maybe it had; now that I see the photos next to each other, the leaves didn't look as shiny in December as they did in November.) Meanwhile, the begonias that were in the window box weren't exposed to most of the rain, because they're under a huge awning. They probably caught a few drops here and there, but nothing like the deluge that the ones on the back deck got.

Anyway, when I saw what bad shape the potted begonias were in, I tried to cut off the rotten parts of the plants, which didn't leave much. I don't really know if this was the right thing to do, but it seems to have worked, because as of a couple days ago, what's left of the plants looks reasonably healthy, and there are even a couple of tiny, pink blooms again:

Begonias on the back deck, February 14

I'm hopeful that they'll return to their former glory, and I'll keep an eye out for rain -- not like any is predicted.

Then there are the impatiens. Here's how they looked in late December:

Impatiens, December 22

Recall how back in November, the plant way over on the left started to grow out the bottom of the window box? Well, I was hoping that part of it would bloom, and in December, it did:

Yesssss.

Yesssss. I did end up cutting that part off eventually, though, so it wouldn't destroy the window box. RIP.

Anyway, the window-box impatiens plants were doing nicely. The pot to the right of the window box was doing so well that I moved it out to the front porch to show it off alongside my other, larger pot, which was also doing nicely. Unfortunately, over the last two months, both pots stopped looking quite as bushy as they did in December. They're still green, but they've gone all spindly:

Impatiens, February 14

According to the interwebs, what I'm supposed to do is prune them. I already pinch off wilted blooms and dead leaves pretty often, but actual pruning -- cutting off healthy parts of a plant! -- seems a bit scary. Maybe I'll try it with half a pot and see what happens.

Oh, and a baby impatiens plant started growing in the window box without any involvement from me! It was really close to another plant (its parent?), so I carefully dug it up and re-planted it in the gap left by the plant that got destroyed by some creature back in the fall:

A baby impatiens, February 14

I'm excited to see what this lil' dude does. All the plants I bought originally were already blooming, so it would be pretty cool if I can get this one to bloom for the first time ever under my care.

Finally, the chrysanthemums! These looked amazing in September, then turned dry and crunchy in October after I failed to water them. After I started taking better care of them, they had something of a renaissance in November, but eventually those blooms dried up, too. The good news is that Rainpocalypse '14 didn't really seem to hurt them. They're not blooming, but after I brushed away all the old, dead, dried-up bits, they're as vividly green as they've ever been. I wonder if and when the flowers will come back?

Chrysanthemums and begonias, February 14.  Bonus Mylk in background!

I do wonder if my plants are confused by the weather here. Impatiens, for instance, are annuals; aren't they supposed to die in the winter? But here we are, at the end of winter, and everything is still alive. The coldest it got here was maybe 36° F or so, and that only for a brief moment. Right now it's dipping to around 46° at night, and during the day it can get up to 70°. In other words, it's fantastic. We have a crabapple tree in our side yard, and it's already covered in lovely pink blooms. There's even a frickin' hummingbird flitting around it! In February! What is this?!


  1. Admittedly, most of that improvement was the result of getting a new phone in January.
  2. Did you know that there are people on the interwebs who know a lot, and care a lot, about begonias? Of course you did.
  3. Although the rain was impressive, it was no match for years of drought. In fact, my vague understanding is that rain on the coast is pretty unhelpful for alleviating drought, because most of it just runs off into the ocean, whereas what we really need is snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east. Most of the Bay Area's water comes from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which is in Yosemite, 150 miles east of here, and fed by snowmelt from the mountains. So it was actually kind of bad for the drought that we had a lot of coastal rain, because then people could be all, "Well, I guess we don't have to conserve water anymore!", while the reservoir that our water actually comes from was as low as ever.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: deepdistraction
2015-02-17 06:37 pm (UTC)
Nice pix!

Begonias' leaves have that waxy quality. I believe that is characteristic of plants that evolved to conserve water. Your guess that an abundance of water hurt the begonias sounds correct. Even a pot with excellent drainage may not have helped. Some plants just like to get good and dry in between waterings.

Annuals can behave like perennials given the right conditions. I think plants are christened as one or the other depending on the conditions in their native habitat.



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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-02-18 07:23 am (UTC)
Yes, I'm starting to think that "annual" and "perennial" are not nearly as clear-cut categorizations as I once thought.
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[User Picture]From: sonetka
2015-02-17 09:54 pm (UTC)
We are also getting lots of uncharacteristically nice weather here, along with early-blooming flowers and free-time activities like going to the park in short sleeves. It makes the east coast sound like another planet.

Your begonias are gorgeous! Clearly they are of genus tortoise rather than genus hare, but we all know how that story ends.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-02-18 07:24 am (UTC)
Yeah; I feel a little guilty posting this while Boston is getting pummeled by snow.
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