The leaves and flowers are beautiful, but the plants can grow to taller than 6 feet. Pinching out top growth or cutting the canes back will lower height, slow growth, and result in a bushier, more balanced look.

Share story

In the Garden

Q: I’ve had an angel wing begonia for about a year and it’s more than 3 feet tall and growing. If I cut the stems back will it make them branch out to form a bushier, shorter plant?

A: A number of species of begonias are called angel wing begonias because they sport gorgeous large, dark-green, silver-spotted leaves in the shape of angel wings. Adding to their appeal, the leaves’ undersides on most species are a beautiful shade of deep red.

The attractive flowers occur in dangling clusters in red-orange, pink or white. The canes grow upright and resemble bamboo and, if left unpruned, these impressive growers can exceed 6 feet tall in one season.

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

“Welcome to Subirdia” lecture at Molbak’s Nursery:

10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, July 9. John Marzluff, author and UW professor of Wildlife Science, explains how our suburbs and city parks are often remarkably rich in bird diversity, and gives concrete suggestions on how we can continue to support and protect our winged neighbors. Free. Address: Molbak’s Nursery, 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville.

Park in the Dark at UW Botanic Gardens, Washington Park Arboretum:

8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 9 (additional dates available). Check out the nocturnal animals on a night hike. Programs are designed for families with children aged 6 through 12 but everyone is welcome. Cost: $8 per person. Register online or call 206-685-8033. Address: 2300 Arboretum Drive E., Seattle.

“Growing Luscious Container Gardens” lecture at Swansons Nursery:

11 a.m. to noon Sunday, July 10. Renee Shepherd, founder of Renee’s Garden, will share tips for creating healthy container gardens and suggest the best varieties of veggies, flowers and herbs to grow in them. Free. Address: Swansons Nursery, 9701 15th Ave. N.W., Seattle.

Although there are exceptions, on most species of angel wing begonias, pinching out top growth or cutting the canes back will lower height and slow growth, but it won’t cause branching to occur lower down on the stem. It will result in a bushier plant, however, because pinching or cutting back the canes encourages new ones to grow from the base of the plant. These newly formed canes won’t branch out even if you pinch them back, but it will slow their growth and create a bushier, more balanced look.

In the future, every March you can control for height by symmetrically removing a third of the oldest and tallest canes by cutting them back to the soil level. Then pinch back the top growth on existing as well as emerging canes to slow their growth.

Angel wing begonias require a bright location out of direct sunlight. Water only when the soil surface feels dry, and feed with half-strength soluble houseplant fertilizer once per month during the growing season. Plant your angel wing begonia in a heavy clay pot. It’s going to get tall no matter what you do, and it basically wrecks them if they topple over.

Q: Is it better to cut the lawn longer or shorter in the hotter summer months?

A: In the Puget Sound region, it’s best to cut the grass at the same height in all seasons. The best grass blend for our area is a 50/50 mix of fine fescue and perennial rye. This combination tends to die out if it’s cut at below 1¼ inches, leaving your lawn open to invasion by grasses that are less attractive and prone to thatch problems.

On the other hand, allowing grass to grow above 3 inches high can also cause thatch to build up. Thatch is a matted layer of dead and living shoots, stems and roots that accumulate on the soil surface. A thin layer of thatch acts as mulch, slowing evaporation and cooling roots, but when it accumulates to above ½ inch thick it prevents water, air and nutrients from penetrating to the root system, causing the lawn to turn brown.

To slow the growth of thatch, I cut my grass to 2 inches tall year-round. It’s best not to cut more than a third of the grass blade at any mowing. Hence, if you cut your grass to 2 inches, you should mow as soon as it reaches 3 inches in height. As long as you mow that often, it’s better to leave the clippings than to remove them. The clippings don’t contribute to thatch buildup; rather, they provide one-third of the nutrients required for healthy growth.

Of course if you keep your lawn actively growing by watering and fertilizing in summer, you might find yourself having to mow twice per week, but hey, mowing is so much easier without having to deal with a grass catcher, you might just enjoy the extra exercise.