Begonia Maculata has become very popular due to its beautiful, unique foliage.
Also known as Polka Dot Begonia, Begonia Maculata boasts long, olive to dark green leaves shaped like angel wings and sprinkled with silver polka dots.
The undersides of the Begonia Maculata leaves are a vibrant red or maroon color, creating a beautiful contrast with the green foliage.
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How to care for Begonia Maculata plants
Begonia Maculata care is relatively easy once you understand these important fundamentals of plant care:
- Provide bright indirect light. Think of light as food to your plants. Your Begonia Maculata will do best in front of an east- or west-facing window. A couple hours of direct sunlight won’t hurt your plant (and can actually be beneficial), but try to avoid prolonged/all-day direct sunlight.
- Water your Polka Dot Begonia thoroughly once the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry. You can stick your finger a couple inches into the soil to feel for moisture, or you can use a moisture meter to check the soil moisture level. If the meter reads 3 or 4, it’s time to water so the soil is saturated from top to bottom. Let any excess water drain out, as described below in #3.
- Plant your Begonia Maculata in a well-draining pot and soil mix. For begonias, I like to mix a soilless potting mix of equal parts coco coir and perlite with some worm castings for added nutrients. But you could also use an all-purpose indoor potting mix if you prefer and add an equal amount of perlite to the mix. This will improve drainage and airflow around the roots, which helps prevent root rot. Also, use a pot that has multiple drainage holes, as this too helps with drainage and airflow around the roots.
If you follow these 3 fundamentals, your Begonia Maculata will put out new leaves quite fast—you will have a full grown begonia before you know it!
New leaves unfurl from a sheath. They start small and are an olive or yellow-green color, but they will grow in size and darken in color as they mature.
When properly cared for, Polka Dot Begonia will reward you with many new leaves and sometimes even white flower blooms.
Now, let’s dive deeper into all the details of Begonia Maculata care and propagation.
IN THIS POST
How much light does a Begonia Maculata need?
Begonia Maculata (Polka Dot Begonia) grows best in bright, indirect light. This type of light will give your plant the energy it needs to produce many new leaves.
While Begonia Maculata houseplants may survive in lower light conditions, I would not recommend this because they won’t produce as much new growth or be as beautiful as they are when they get good light.
You can give your Polka Dot Begonia bright indirect light by placing it in front of an east- or west-facing window.
If your plant gets an hour or two of direct sunlight, it won’t hurt it. My Begonia Maculata is in front of a west-facing window and gets a couple hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon and it is no problem.
Just be aware that direct sunlight all day long could burn the leaves (for example, if it’s outside in the sun all day).
Begonia Maculata can also be grown outdoors. Just make sure to choose a location that gets 3 hours or less of direct sunlight.
What soil is best for Begonia Maculata?
The best potting mix for Begonia Maculata or Polka Dot Begonia is the following soilless mix:
2 Parts Coco coir (to retain moisture)
2 Parts Perlite or Pumice (to improve drainage and airflow)
1 Part Worm Castings (to add nutrients)
If you don’t want to make your own potting mix, you could purchase an all-purpose indoor potting mix. However, you will need to add and equal amount of perlite or pumice to the mix because these mixes almost never drain as well as they should.
Having a well-draining potting mix is important to help prevent root rot and to allow airflow around the roots.
If your potting mix becomes compacted over time, it can be helpful to loosen the soil a bit with a stick or chopstick to keep air circulating through the soil and allow for even watering.
How to repot Begonia Maculata
Once the roots of your Polka Dot Begonia fill it’s current container, it’s time to repot your plant.
When repotting your Begonia Maculata, it is best to choose a new container that is only a couple inches larger in diameter than the previous container. If you choose a container that is much larger, the soil will stay wet longer and could lead to root rot.
In my case here, I’m moving my begonia from a 4 inch pot to a 6 inch pot.
The photo below shows all the materials I needed to repot my Polka Dot Begonia.
To make my potting mix, I combined 2 parts coco coir, 2 parts pumice, and 1 part worm castings. This creates a soilless mix that can retain moisture but is also well draining and contains nutrients.
Next, I filled the bottom of the new container with enough potting mix so the top of the root ball would be at the same height it was in it’s old pot.
And last, I removed my Begonia Maculata from it’s old pot and placed it in the center of the new pot. Fill in the sides and empty spaces with the potting mix, and you are finished!
You’ll notice that the picture above on the right shows some of the limbs of my begonia bending down a bit. That’s because it has grown pretty rapidly since I got it, and the stems can’t support their own weight (this is normal).
You can do a few different things at this point:
- You can put a stake in your plant and attach the stems to the stake to hold them upright if you’d like your plant to grow tall.
- You can trim some of the long stems and propagate them to make new plants. (That’s what I chose to do, and I describe how to do this later in the propagation section of this article.)
- You can just leave the plant as is. It will continue to grow out more horizontally than vertically. Eventually, some stems could snap if they get too heavy. If a stem snaps don’t worry, you can just propagate it into a new plant as I describe later in the propagation section.
How often should I water my Begonia Maculata?
Begonia Maculata likes to have some amount of moisture at all times, so I wouldn’t let this plant completely dry out before watering.
However, this plant is prone to root rot, so you don’t want it to be sitting it a very soggy potting mix either.
The best time to water Begonia Maculata (Polka Dot Begonia) is once the top inch or two of soil is dry.
You can check the moisture level of the soil by sticking your finger an inch or two into the soil, or you can use a moisture meter. Once the moisture meter reads 3-4, it’s time to water.
When you water your Polka Dot Begonia, water the soil and try not to get the leaves wet. These plants can be susceptible to mildew on their leaves, so it’s best if the leaves stay dry. (Don’t worry, an accidental splash will be ok!)
What temperatures can Begonia Maculata tolerate?
Begonia Maculata prefers temperatures of 65 to 85°F or 18 to 29°C.
Try not to expose your Polka Dot Begonia to temperatures below 55°F or 13°C because your plant will likely be damaged or could even die.
Begonia Maculata can also be grown outdoors. Just make sure it’s in a shady location outdoors. A couple hours of direct light won’t hurt but much more than that could burn the leaves.
If grown outdoors, just keep an eye on the outdoor temperatures and bring your Polka Dot Begonia inside if it gets too cold (below 60°F).
What fertilizer is best for Begonia Maculata?
I use dyna-gro 9-3-6 fertilizer to feed my Begonia Maculata houseplants because it has an optimal blend of both macro- and micronutrients.
Add 1/4 tsp of this fertilizer to a gallon of filtered or distilled water and then water your plants. I typically fertilize with this product each time I water while my begonia is actively growing and putting out new leaves.
Alternatively, you can use worm castings and fish emulsion (or water from your freshwater fish aquarium, if you have one) for a more natural, organic approach. These organic fertilizers are also gentler and don’t risk burning the plant.
Only fertilize your houseplants during their growing season (i.e., when your plants are putting out new growth). The “growing season” can vary depending on your location and the conditions in your home.
For example, the growing season for me is pretty much all year because I live in southern California. The winters here are mild, and I relocate my houseplants in the winter to make sure they still receive enough light despite the shorter days and less intense sunlight. I also keep the temperature in my house above 65°F.
If you find your houseplant growth either slows or stops during the winter, don’t worry! That is also normal and can happen, particularly if you live in a cold, northern climate.
However, make sure you stop fertilizing during the dormant season because the plant cannot take in nutrients and you risk overfertilizing and damaging your houseplant.
Once you begin to see new growth (likely starting in spring and continuing through fall), then you can resume your fertilization routine.
How do you propagate Begonia Maculata?
The best time to propagate your Begonia Maculata is when it’s time to prune your plant.
Polka Dot Begonias can get quite tall and leggy, so if you prefer a more bushy appearance, regular pruning will help you achieve that look.
Then, you can propagate the parts you’ve pruned off to make more plants if you wish.
Materials needed to prune and propagate Polka Dot Begonia:
These pruning shears (shown above) are my favorite because 1) they are super sharp and 2) the micro tip of the shears makes it very easy to clip only the stem you want to cut without accidentally cutting any other stems. I’ve definitely made that mistake before when using larger shears and it can be heartbreaking after so much work to get a plant to look a certain way.
Now, there are two methods for propagating Begonia Maculata: water propagation and soil propagation. I’ll discuss how to do both methods in this article.
Steps for propagating a Begonia Maculata houseplant:
1. Cut the stem of your begonia a quarter inch above a leaf (bottom left photo). Use sterilized pruning shears to prevent infecting your plant with a disease. You can sterilize your pruning shears by simply wiping them with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
2. You may need to snip off the bottom leaf of your cutting (above right photo) to have a long enough stem to put in a jar of water or plant in a pot of soil depending on the propagation method you choose. Also note that a leaf cannot be propagated by itself. You need to make sure you have stem with nodes on your cutting. Nodes are the horizontal lines you see on the stem where the leaves grow from.
3. For water propagation, stick the cut stem of your Begonia Maculata in a small container of water (shown below). Allow roots to form and grow a couple inches long, then plant them in a pot with a potting mix, as previously described in the soil section.
4. For soil propagation, you can skip the step of allowing roots to form in water. Instead, just plant your cutting directly into soil (photos below). You can first dip the cut ends in a rooting hormone to help speed up the rooting process if you like (bottom left photo).
I removed the cutting shown above from the soil after 25 days just so I could show you the root formation. (Normally, you’d just leave the stem in the soil until the roots filled the container and needed to be repotted.)
You can see that the roots formed a bit slower in soil than in water. However, both methods still worked and both cuttings remained healthy. So, if you’re trying to decide which method to choose, I would say the easiest method is soil propagation simply because there are fewer steps.
But if you have a pretty glass jar and like the look of water propagation, then this method works just fine as well. It just comes down to personal preference, as both methods are equally effective.
5. Keep your cuttings in bright indirect light. However, avoid direct sun exposure for cuttings because they are more delicate when they don’t have roots.
It can take a few weeks or longer for roots to develop, but soon your cuttings will be established. Once the roots have grown enough to support the plant, you’ll see new leaves start to sprout!
Is Begonia Maculata toxic to cats or dogs?
Yes. Begonias are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses if ingested due to soluble calcium oxalates according to the ASPCA. Signs of exposure in dogs and cats are salivation and vomiting.
While the most toxic part of the begonia is underground, it is still best to keep begonias out of reach of pets to avoid any potential problems.