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The Begonia Maculata, otherwise known as the Polka Dot Begonia, is one of the most unique plants in the world for its natural polka dot design. It is also very complicated to take care of, especially if you choose to parent an indoor species.
Being a plant mom or dad can be quite the challenge if you don’t understand the species of plant you are caring for. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply watering them every now and then and hoping for the best.
If you’re looking to buy a Begonia Maculata for your houseplant collection, or if you think you might be slowly killing yours off and you don’t know why – you’ve come to the right place! Here is the ultimate care guide for the Begonia Maculata.
How to Care for a Begonia Maculata
Begonia Maculata is frequently sought after due to its impressive appearance. The emerald leaves feature unique pale polka dots at the top, and a red coloring on the underside.
These plants bloom white or pale pink flowers up to 3 times a year. They are a perfect houseplant for showing off your plant-caring skills, but only if you follow the strict guidelines routinely.
Unfortunately, they aren’t the easiest indoor plant to care for.
Maintaining the right balance between wet and dry soil for this species of plant can be a real challenge.
They’re quite a demanding plant, and won’t always look 100% perfect even if you have perfected the right soil texture and consistency for them.
The key to a healthy Begonia Maculata is good drainage in the soil. It thrives in a mixture of loam soil, sand, clay, and small pebbles.
Layering small pebbles (or broken terracotta plants pots if you have some spare ones laying around) along the bottom of the pot is vital for good drainage, as this plant is unfortunately prone to root rot.
Providing your Begonia Maculata with the right amount of water is vital to keeping your plant healthy and alive. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy task – so pay close attention.
As this plant is susceptible to root rot, the soil needs to be damp rather than wet.
You can check the dampness of the soil sometimes by touching the top layer of the soil – but the best method is to stick your finger into the soil an inch down. If it’s damp, don’t water it. If it’s dry, it’s probably time to water.
However, don’t wait until the soil is bone dry! Dry soil can cause brand new green leaves to drop off, and the other leaves will develop a brown crisp to the edges.
On the other hand, if your leaves are turning yellow and floppy, this is a huge sign of overwatering. This could lead to root rot and other plant diseases.
So – here’s how to water your Begonia Maculata properly. The general rule of thumb for the majority of house plants is to check the dryness of the soil by sticking your finger in around an inch or so down.
Once it’s completely dry, now is your time to thoroughly water your plant.
The water will seep through and begin to drain, but discard this excess water immediately as any lingering water could seep back to the roots.
Also, be careful to only water the soil and not the leaves! Due to the temperature and humidity requirements of the Begonia Maculata, wet leaves can dry out and fall off over time.
Despite the native Begonia Maculata that thrives best in tropical and subtropical sunlights and climates, the houseplant species actually enjoys the shade.
The light requirements aren’t as strict as the water or soil requirements, as you can usually determine what the plant needs by how it looks.
Keeping them in a well-lit room that does not receive too much direct sunlight is best. If the leaves start to change color or begin to crisp (and you’ve done the soil check and it’s all fine), then try moving it to a shadier part of the room or house.
If you choose to keep your plant outside in the warm months, this is fine! Just be sure to keep it in the shade.
The Begonia Maculata grows best in tropical and subtropical climates, so if you live in a cold part of the country you will need to source the right temperature.
If you live in temperamental climates, don’t worry too much – the most damaging temperature for these plants is below 60 degrees fahrenheit (15 degrees celsius).
The best temperature for these plants is anywhere between 67 to 70 degrees fahrenheit, or 18 to 22 degrees celsius. Anything warmer will dry out and burn the plant, and anything colder will damage it.
This is when it gets a little bit tricky. It’s not easy to keep indoor houseplants in a suitable room that offers the best humidity, because you are going to want to show it off. The best rooms that maintain moisture are the kitchen or the bathroom.
If you want to keep your Begonia Maculata in a room for people to see frequently, there are loopholes.
You can keep a bowl or sauce of water next to the plant for it to soak up the evaporated droplets. If you like to keep your central heating system on in winter, it might be worth investing in a humidifier as well!
We understand that it’s a bit confusing, because one minute we say to keep the soil damp but not wet, and the next we say to keep the plant in a humid room. The Begonia Maculata is a complicated plant to care for, but the results are definitely worth it.
All plants need food. Fortunately, feeding a Begonia Maculata with fertilizer is a simple process! We recommend feeding your plant every 2 weeks to rejuvenate and encourage healthy leaves and growth.
In terms of quantity, this plant doesn’t need much food. Choose a fertilizer that is full of the necessary nutrients and is urea-free.
The best thing to do is, depending on the type of fertilizer, feed half or a quarter of it with your watering schedule. When growth and blooming begins to slow after the winter and spring months, you don’t have to fertilize it as often.
Growth and Pruning
Begonia Maculatas can grow up to 1.5m tall. The leaves can grow up to 20cm in length each, and can often be placed sparingly around the plant.
If you wish for a bushier and thicker plant, trimming and pruning allows for regrowth! (Kind of like when you go to the hairdressers to have a hair cut)
The best time to prune your plant is in the spring and summer months so they can utilize the natural warmth.
The leaves will go from an olive green to a rich emerald green, and will produce a red or purple-red underside when they mature. Before this, young leaves tend to be more of a maroon or pink shade.
Sometimes, the occasional cane can look dry and brown, and may only hold a couple of leaves. You can cut these canes right down to the soil.
This is essentially cutting off the dead part to allow a new cane to grow back! To maintain good green canes, you can trim them slightly until there are 4 nodes left (where the leaves meet the stems).
A Begonia Maculata will blossom beautiful white or pale pink flowers up to 3 times a year from spring to fall.
The flowers form in clusters on each stem, and may require picking off if they start to wilt to encourage regrowth. These flowers are a gorgeous addition to a houseplant collection, and also look gorgeous outside!
The Begonia Maculata requires correct and regular repotting, especially in the first few years of its growth. These plants enjoy living in pots, so they don’t require large pots.
When looking to pot your plant, the best time to do this is in Spring – just at the start of the regrowth period. Always look for a pot that offers a good drainage system, but also one that can maintain moisture.
Interested in other types of begonias? Read more about how to care for an angel-wing begonia
Propagation and How to Propagate a Begonia Maculata
If you’re looking to grow your own Begonia Maculata from your original plant, it’s fortunately very easy to propagate them! If you prune your plant regularly, you can use these clippings to propagate.
Ideally, you should keep one to two nodes on the stem for the propagation to work.
You can propagate using seeds, stem cuttings or leaf cuttings, but leaf cuttings is the most efficient method.
How to Propagate with Leaf Cuttings
If you want to make lots of plant babies:
- Cut several fresh new leaves from your plant.
- Lay these plants down on a flat surface upside down (with the red underside facing upwards). Take a sharp knife and slice them into wedges.
- These wedges should have a vein flowing through each one, otherwise new plants will not grow from the cutting.
If you only want a few new plant babies:
- Cut out some leaves from your plant, leaving one inch of the petiole connected to the leaf (the stalk connecting the leaf to the stem).
How to make a nursery:
- With a small pot that can drain well, fill it with a well-draining soil.
- Put the leaf wedges or leaf stalks/petioles into the soil.
- Put the pot in a plastic bag and place it in a well-lit and warm area away from direct sunlight.
- Follow the watering guidelines for a grown Begonia Maculata and be careful to not overwater it.
- In 3-4 weeks, roots should begin to appear.
- After 6 weeks, your new plant babies are ready to be moved to a new home in a new pot.
How to Propagate with Stem Cuttings
As we said earlier, if you prune your Begonia Maculata’s stems, you can use these cuttings for propagation! These thick stems are called rhizomes.
The method is similar to the leaf cuttings, simply place them into damp (not wet or dry) soil in a bright place that is out of direct sunlight. You should begin to see roots after 6-7 weeks.
Propagation with Seeds
This process takes the longest time, and is the least recommended for this reason. It is also because seeds from hybrid plants will not become replicates of the original plant.
Begonia Maculata Top Tips and Facts
- Avoid frost like the plague! Frost exposure can cause a Begonia Maculata to wilt and die.
- Likewise, sudden exposure to cold temperatures can be detrimental to their health and growth.
- You can leave your plant outside in the summer months! Although they like the shade, it’s nice for them to get the boost from real sun rays every now and then.
- There is a rumor that Christian Louboutin took inspiration from the Begonia Maculata to create the famous red heeled shoes.
- Interestingly, these plants are monoecious – meaning both male and female parts of the plant grow on the same plant.
- Begonia Maculata contains calcium oxalate, which is actually toxic to dogs and cats.
Origins of the Begonia Maculata
So, now you know how to care for your Begonia Maculata. But what is the history of this fascinating plant?
The Begonia Maculata was first discovered in Brazil in 1982 by an Italian researcher. They are also native to Mexico, South Africa, Asia, and parts of Central America as they thrive best in tropical and subtropical environments.
The Begonia is a genus of plants in the Begoniaceae family. They are classified as perennial flowering plants. There are 1,831 species of plants in the Begonia species, and usually come in a tuberous, rhizomatous, or upright-stemmed form in the wild.
Physical Description of the Begonia Maculata
A mature Begonia Maculata can grow up to 1.5m tall and are mostly distinguishable for their unique leaf pattern.
Colored an olive green which turns into an emerald green, these leaves feature pale green or white dots – giving this plant the nickname of the Polka Dot Begonia.
Underneath this polka dot pattern is a red, purple, or burgundy underside of the leaf.
Between spring and fall, the Begonia Maculata will bloom clusters of white or pale pink flowers on each stem. These flowers can bloom up to 3 times a year, and make the houseplant look even more unique!
Your plant will show you if it is not happy. The most common disease that these plants are prone to is root rot, which is when the soil has been overwatered.
If the soil cannot drain well, or is in a pot that does not drain excess water, this can also be a cause of root rot.
Root rot is obvious when the soil is permanently excessively damp, and when the leaves start to look unhealthy. They will turn a mulchy brown and very weak, with some leaves dropping off easily.
If root rot is left unattended, it can unfortunately kill a plant within 10 days.
The best cure for root rot is prevention. Never overwater your Begonia Maculata – always check the soil to see if it is bone dry before watering.
The soil should also be mixed with sand and pebbles (for example) to encourage a good draining system.
If your plant has root rot, you need to replant it into a new pot with fresh soil. Be careful to not repeat your past mistakes, whether it was due to overwatering or a bad soil environment.
You can also clean the diseased roots prior to planting it in the new pot, and you can gently slice off the soft and brown parts of the roots to prevent the spread of the disease.
Where To Buy a Begonia Maculata
Begonia Maculatas are common and easy to buy – whether you prefer to purchase seeds or plants online, at a store, or at a plant trade fair is up to you! If you are a beginner, it might be worth buying one instore to ask an expert for advice.
Should I own a Begonia Maculata?
A Begonia Maculata is a really unique houseplant to own. Due to its specific guidelines and requirements, it might not be the easiest plant for a beginner to own.
If you live in a climate that changes temperatures regularly, for example in Europe, you will need to make amendments to your home to accommodate the plant’s humidity and temperature requirements.
Most beginner plant owners will assume that watering a plant does the job, but this isn’t the case for the majority of houseplants – especially the Begonia Maculata. As their watering requirements are so specific, it is important to do your research prior to buying a plant.
You will need to be aware that regular maintenance will still not produce the perfect Begonia Maculata, and this is absolutely okay!
Some houseplants experts can’t produce the perfect Begonia because they can be so temperamental under the slightest change.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t own one, just be wary that their requirements mean that they are fussy plants. The stunning appearance they present is definitely worth it though, because how many people can say they own a polka dot plant?