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Begonia Maculata: Expert Care Tips and Growing Guide

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Begonia maculata is another houseplant that has taken the plant world by storm and is super popular. And for good reason! The foliage is absolutely stunning and is nicknamed the Polka Dot begonia for obvious reasons.

Let me take you through how to take care of this beautiful houseplant!

begonia maculata

There is a lot to know about how to take care of begonias indoors. Outdoors, they are much easier, but indoor conditions pose many more challenges.

Regardless, if you know a handful of critical tips on Begonia maculata care, you will be able to grow this plant with ease!

In this post you will learn how to take care of this plant, as well as discuss some common problems with Begonia maculata and what you can do to help prevent these issues.

How do you care for a Begonia maculata plant?

LIGHT

Light (next to watering) is the most misunderstood topic in houseplant care. When grown indoors, Begonia maculata does like some partial sun.

This is not a low light houseplant. Cane-like begonias such as the maculata like brighter light.

This plant absolutely MUST be in front of a window, otherwise it will grow weak and lanky. I find that they tend to need support regardless, and if you have these plants in conditions that are too dark, you will be disappointed.

Keep this in mind next time you see a staged photo of plants on Instagram. In many cases, photos are staged and those plants are not necessarily growing where you see them in the photo!

By the way, if you aren’t following me on Instagram, what are you waiting for?

I have my own plant growing in my sunroom, which has nice light from a large wall of North widows, a smaller wall of East windows, and also a skylight.

begonia maculata

Granted, in the winter, conditions in Ohio are quite dismal so you may be luckier than I am! Sunshine in the wintertime is beneficial for many plants (including ones that don’t traditionally “need” direct sun).

I would not recommend growing this plant in front of a North window. It’s not enough light for this plant. A good East window would be great.

If you are blessed with super sunny windows, you may want to diffuse the light with blinds or a sheer curtain. Too much direct sun can scorch these plants and bye bye polka dots!

If you are concerned about natural light, the American Begonia Society says that begonias can grow very well under fluorescent lights and it doesn’t have to be an expensive set up.

The ABS says that if you are on a budget, you can use a plain shop light with cool white bulbs and leave them on for 14 hours a day. Just be sure to have the bulbs 2 inches above the top leaves for best growth.

Just be careful as the plant grows, you will have to adjust the lights!

I actually have successfully grown begonias indoors even under LED lights (not the hideous purple ones…just plain LED).

begonia maculata

SOIL MOISTURE

Soil moisture for Begonias is CRITICAL! Read this section carefully because it could mean the difference between success and failure.

I’ve found that there is a delicate balance to strike in watering begonias indoors. They seem to demand very exacting conditions in soil moisture to really look their best!

As long as you don’t expect a perfect looking plant (and begonias will rarely look perfect indoors), you will be ok if you heed everything I have to say.

If you keep the soil too dry (meaning completely dry, or even almost completely dry), I’ve found that Begonia maculata is prone to dropping brand NEW green leaves (how rude!).

In addition, you will get more of the dreaded crispy brown tips. Some of the lower leaves will also turn ugly and drop off as well.

If you have leaves that are yellow and dropping off, you are keeping it too wet. When you notice this happen, stick your finger in the soil and see if it is wet or dry in order to best diagnose the cause.

So don’t let these plants completely dry out! To read more about crispy brown leaves in houseplants in general, be sure to read my blog post on why plant leaves turn brown and crispy.

begonia maculata brown tip

On the other hand, you must NOT keep any begonia too wet. This will cause rotting to occur and also invite various diseases that begonias can be prone to including powdery mildew, among others.

My recommendation for watering would be to let the surface dry out (about the top 1/2 inch or 1 inch or so) and then water thoroughly. This should be a good rule of thumb.

Water your plant thoroughly until all excess water escapes the drainage hole, and discard the excess water. Do not let your plant sit in water.

And don’t expect perfection with begonias indoors. For begonias to look their best indoors, they need high humidity, which is difficult to achieve indoors.

I do run a humidifier indoors though in the months that our central heat is on, otherwise my plants (and my skin) will hate me. I wrote a blog post on the topic of increasing humidity for houseplants so be sure to check that out as well.

Before we move on, I talk about this in the humidity post that I referred you to above, but my absolute favorite humidifier, and the one I use in my home, is made by Levoit. I LOVE it and it has so many features.

My plants, and my skin, are much happier in the winter with the humidifier. My plants are already subjected to dark Ohio days in the winter, so I make sure that I can compensate a little bit by giving them extra love with more humidity!

I talk about the humidifier in my blog post that I linked to above, but if you want to go directly to Amazon to purchase it, check out the Levoit Ultrasonic Humidifier now. You won’t regret and your plants and your skin will love you!

SOIL TYPE

Cane-type begonias aren’t as picky as some other types of begonias as far as soil goes. Many other begonias need a coarser mix.

Mine is just planted in an all-purpose Miracle Gro potting mix to which I’ve added some perlite to it. It seems to work just fine.

Just make sure that you don’t keep your plants too wet and remember my advice from the watering section!

One very important caution if you are repotting your begonia…be sure not to use a pot that is much larger than where it was previously in. If you go too big, the soil will stay wet for much longer and you will risk disaster with your begonia! This is especially important for begonias!

FERTILIZING

I’ve converted most of my houseplants to Dyna-Gro Grow fertilizer. I can’t speak highly enough about this fertilizer. It is urea-free, is balanced enough for pretty much all foliage plants, and has all the major and minor nutrients.

I add 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water and use this with every watering throughout the growing season. I refrain from fertilizing in the winter when growth slows or comes to a halt.

Dyna-Gro Grow is simply the best all purpose fertilizer that I’ve used for my indoor plants and should be part of anyone’s houseplant care routine.

PRUNING BEGONIA MACULATA

If you want a bushier plant, you can trim and prune your plant. I trimmed mine in the photo further down below, and you can see that it is growing back.

My plant had started to look a bit ragged because I unintentionally let it dry out multiple times (life happens…) but I took action to improve it. Don’t be afraid to prune!

I followed these tips from the American Begonia Society. In late winter or early Spring, when plants start back up into growth, you can do some maintenance.

pruning begonia maculata
Begonia maculata after pruning and showing new growth

If there are very old, woody canes, especially with not that many leaves, just cut the whole canes down to the soil line.

For any green canes, you can shorten them a bit, but leave at least 4 nodes like I did in the photo above. A node is where the leaves meet the stems.

A few months later, this is what the plant that I chopped back looked like. Granted, I also had it outdoors during the summer, but look at the transformation!

And the flowers are just stunning!

Throughout the growing season, if you pinch the growing tips of the canes, this will help to encourage brand new cane growth from the base of the plant. This will result in a fuller plant.

And of course after all that trimming and pruning…

HOW TO PROPAGATE BEGONIA MACULATA

Propagating this plant is very easy. Just take any clippings that you may have taken from pruning your plant and use this material to propagate.

You’ll want to have one or two nodes on the stem. Again, the node is where the leaf meets the stem.

Here is an example of where you can cut to make a cutting.

propagating begonia maculata

If you then remove the leaf right above where the scissors are, you are left with one node where the roots can grow from, and the cutting still has two leaves at the tip.

Whatever you do, make sure each cutting has one or two leaves left on it.

Then simply just place the cutting in water to root, or you can even insert the cutting into a pot with moist perlite. Once it is rooted, pot it up. Don’t wait forever to pot it up into soil.

Here are all the cuttings I made after I pruned my plant.

propagating begonia maculata

And here is an example of one of the rooted cuttings! All the cuttings I made rooted. There is evidence of rooting on the node and also on the internodes (between the nodes).

begonia maculata cuttings
Rooted Begonia maculata cutting

And here is a close up of the roots.

begonia maculata cutting

BEGONIA TOXICITY

Begonia maculata is toxic to cats and dogs due to calcium oxalate according to the ASPCA.

That’s about it folks! Do you have a Begonia maculata? What are your experiences with this plant? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you.

Please do me a favor and share this post to social media because it will help me spread the Ohio Tropics houseplant care tips to the masses! Also, check out my shop on Amazon for all your houseplant care needs:

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MaryJane

Thursday 8th of April 2021

Hi there my maculata’s back side isn’t red just the veins are. It looks healthy and keeps pushing out new leaves. Is it because it’ not getting enough sun? I have it in front of a north east facing window and there is plenty of bright indirect light for most of the day then it will get filtered direct light towards the evening.

Raffaele

Thursday 8th of April 2021

Hi MaryJane! Hm, that could very well be the case. As long as it's growing and looks healthy, I wouldn't be concerned. You can try moving it to a brighter location if you want to see if the red undersides develop.

Mel

Monday 5th of April 2021

Hi there. My Begonia has been doing fine during winter. Now that it is spring time it is having difficulties growing new leaves. The tip where the leaves are trying to grow becomes brown and crispy or the new tiny leaves just falls off. Can you please tell me what I should do?

Raffaele

Monday 5th of April 2021

Hi Mel, are you doing anything differently from what I describe in the post in terms of light, watering, etc? What kind of light is it getting? Have you let the potting mix go really dry?

April

Tuesday 30th of March 2021

Hi it's early spring in ohio, and I'm wondering if I should butcher this plant or not, new green leaves fall off, and the leaves it came with are very very curly. Also what moisture level should I maintain with this plant? When would you say it's safe to keep it outside? Thanks

Raffaele

Wednesday 31st of March 2021

Hi April! I would follow the watering advice I have in the blog post. You can prune the plant back like I described in the post, and now would be a great time to do this if you want to rejuvenate your plant. You can use parts that you trim off to propagate more plants if you'd like! As far as moving it outdoors, wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50F.

Nicole

Monday 1st of February 2021

I just purchased a begonia that was shipped to me. It arrived in poor health. I'm not sure what to do for it. It has red spots spreading through all the leaves with brown crunchy tips on some of the leaves. Please help! :)

Raffaele

Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

I'd have to see a photo to better help...try contacting me through my Contact Form on my website. When I reply, you can attach a photo and send it back to me, and I will try and help.

GEORGE EDWARD NICHOLSON

Monday 23rd of November 2020

I do have this plant and I talk to it and it's gone crazy lovely, masses of new growth, wonderful glossy polka dot leaves and now loads of white flowers, it's a real show stopper,I think it likes the attention it get from everybody.

Raffaele

Monday 23rd of November 2020

It sure is a show stopper! :-)