Begonia maculata is easily the most beautiful and dramatic of all begonias. Also commonly known as Polka Dot Begonia, they are spotted, easy to grow woody shrubs with a striking appearance. Your houseplant collection won’t be complete with these rare begonia species.
The underside of their leaves is bright crimson, while the upper side is green with numerous round spots of silvery white.
However, easy doesn’t mean you can neglect the plants and get away with it. If you need the best-looking begonia plants that you’ll adore, you have to take good care of them. And, that’s what this article is all about.
You’re going to learn how to propagate Begonia maculata, where to buy them, how to pot and repot, key care tips, some of the problems you’re likely to encounter, and how to prevent them.
Let’s get started:
How to Grow and Care for Begonia maculata in Summary
Start right - Buy healthy plants or cuttings for propagating
Propagation - You can easily propagate Begonia maculata from cuttings. Use a rooting hormone to improve your success rate. Keep the cuttings moist and warm throughout the propagation stage.
Potting mix – Use a well-draining potting mix rich in organic matter. Since most begonia types have a dense root system, select a potting mix that’s relatively heavy to properly anchor the plants.
Planting pots selection – The best pot planters for Begonia maculata are made of clay or terracotta to allow the excess moisture to pass through.
Potting and repotting – These types of begonia do well when root-bound. Therefore, you should repot on a need basis for instance, when the pot is tipping over as a result of the bulkiness of the plant.
Watering – Polka Dot begonia is very sensitive to drastic water fluctuations. On one hand, they are sensitive to root rots as a result of overwatering. And on another hand, a lack of water will cause the leaves to become crispy. To avoid this, only water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
Light requirement – These plants appreciate bright light to thrive. If you don’t provide enough light, they’ll become leggy and spindly. Also, exposing them to too much direct sunlight will scorch the leaves and eventually lose the beautiful dot pattern.
Temperature and humidity – Provide a minimum temperature of 60 degrees F with an above-average relative humidity.
Pruning – Deadheading the flowers isn’t necessary since Polka dots are self-cleaning. However, you need to pinch the stems once in a while to encourage fuller and dense growth.
Fertilizer application – Fertilize with a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer at the start of spring to give your B. maculata a head start.
Pests and diseases – Look out for pests such as Aphids, Fungus gnats, Shore flies, Mealybugs, Thrips, Whiteflies, and Mites. Common diseases include; pythium root rot, blights, powdery mildew, and leaf spots.
Common physiological problems – Common physiological problems to expect include, legginess in case of insufficient light, crispy leaves, and general leaf fall.
There you have it!
With those summarized tips, you’d be able to grow Polka Dot Begonia without any hassle. If you need details including how Begonia maculata compares to Angel wing begonia keep reading.
Introduction to Begonia Maculata
You may or may not what Begonia maculata looks like. Whichever the case, I’ll go right ahead describe it for you.
Also commonly known as Polka dot begonia, B. maculata is a stunning and popular houseplant with its roots in Brazil. The plant has bronze-green and oblong wing-shaped leaves with dramatic rusty-red or purple undersides.
The top part of the leaves is graciously decorated with silver dots – where it derives its common name (Polka Dot).
While most houseplant enthusiasts grow the Begonia maculata for its dramatic polka dots, it produces striking flowers which I like to think of as ‘icing on the cake’. The plant grows white flowers in clusters with yellow centers on a single stem.
Here’s a summary of all the noteworthy characteristics:
Polka Dot Begonia Plant Profile
Common name: Polka Dot Begonia
Scientific/Botanical name: Begonia maculata
Hardiness zones: 10 to 11 (There’s a bit of flexibility when growing them indoors)
Blooming: Spring, Summer, and Fall
Mature Height: 12 – 18 inches
Mature Spread: 6 – 10 inches
Growing habit: Cane-like and grows upright.
Native Area: South America (Brazil)
Toxicity: Not toxic to humans, cats, dogs, and horses
Begonia maculata vs Angel Wing vs Wightii
There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the relationship between B. maculata, Angel Wing, and the Wightii. This is why I feel it’s important to clarify everything for you before we proceed.
First and foremost, all the above begonia types belong to the same classification known as the Angel Wing Begonias. Also called cane begonias, they generally have thick, upright, cane-like stems, and fibrous roots. The stems are swollen at the nodes, resembling bamboo, hence the designation as cane type.
Furthermore, their asymmetrical and wing shaped-leaves covered with white spots give them the once-common name angel wing begonias.
Under angel wing begonias (Begonia coccinea), there are several hybrids including B. maculata. Similarly, we have several cultivars which include Begonia maculata ‘Wightii’.
Therefore, classification follows the following order:
Cane begonias (Angel Wing) – Begonia maculata – Begonia maculata ‘wightii’. I hope you won’t use the names interchangeably like most people mistakenly do after this brief explanation.
How to Grow Begonia maculata
Where to Buy Begonia Maculata Plant
First things first.
You need to start by buying a healthy plant or cuttings which you can use as a mother plant in case of the former. Start by asking your plant enthusiast friends, visiting your nearest plant nursery, or garden centers.
Next check online from reputable retail stores that have a history of selling quality plants.
Ensure that your purchased Begonia maculata mother plant has beautifully dotted leaves and attractive flowers (If already flowering). In most cases, I recommend buying younger plants since older plants are prone to damages.
Besides, you need to inspect the plant for pests and diseases or signs of struggle in growth such as legginess, damaged leaves, and stunted growth. Next, you need to multiply the number of plants by propagation.
Propagate your Begonia maculata plants
The main reason why rarest or breathtaking plants like Polka Dots and Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ are so expensive is that you can’t grow them from seeds. If you do, you won’t get the exact replica of the mother plant with all the variegation.
Lucky for us, it’s very easy to propagate polka dot plants from cuttings.
Spring is the best time to propagate new plants. First, identify stems with new growths and that don’t have blooms on them. Also, check to ensure that the stems are free from any pests.
Cut the top leaf tip with a sterilized scissor and remove a 2-inch leaf tip cutting. Carefully insert the cut-end side into a light, well-draining potting soil.
To get even better results, dip the cut-side into a rooting hormone before inserting it into the potting mix. However, this is entirely up to you since begonias don’t have problems with developing new roots.
After all is done, you need to place the propagated cuttings in a warm place. Also, keep the soil moist until new growths begin to develop.
Use appropriate potting mix
Plant your polka dot begonia in airy, well-draining soil that is high in organic matter. A mixture of one-part standard potting soil, one-part perlite, and one-part orchid bark is ideal for these plants.
However, mixing these components to achieve an ideal potting mix on your own might not always be practical. In such a case, I’d recommend this ready-made Potting Mix for Begonia plants.
Besides, a potting soil that is slightly "heavy" in nature will allow the plant's vast root system to establish well, and support its cane-like stems properly.
Planting Pots selection
Selecting an ideal pot planter will depend on the stage of your plant growth. Since B. maculata plants prefer and thrive when root bound, it’s always good to select pots that are almost the same size as the plant canopy.
As a general guide, your plant pots should range between 3.5 inches to 6.0 inches depending on the size of your plant.
Furthermore, you should house your Polka dot begonia in a pot made from terracotta or clay to help wick away excess moisture. This will ensure your plant's soil doesn't get soggy along the way
Potting and repotting your begonia
Begonia maculata seem to thrive when they are slightly pot-bound, so only repot them when it's absolutely necessary (such as when the plant has exhausted its potting media or the pot is tipping over).
If you are repotting your begonia, do so in early spring, just as the first flush of new growth appears. Do not attempt to repot a plant in bloom, however, as the shock will cut short the flowering.
6 Tips on How to Care for Your Begonia maculata
Watering your begonia
The most important aspect of watering is determining when you should water your plants. To do this, stick your finger a few inches into the top of the soil. If the potting mix feels dry, then and only then should you water the plants.
The reason this is vital is that this type of begonia is quite susceptible to root rots. And overwatering will almost always worsen the situation.
Water your polka dot begonia as the top few inches of the potting mix start to dry to the touch. It is rather susceptible to root rot if overwatered (especially if it doesn't get enough light).
Place your begonia plants in a spot where they can get bright light (enough that it casts a medium to strong shadow most of the day). If it does not get enough light, it will grow tall and leggy, with weak stems and no flowers.
Too much direct sunlight is also harmful likely to cause serious sunburns.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have a location in your home that receives enough light, I’d recommend you buy grow lights for the plants.
Temperature and humidity
Provide your begonias a minimum temperature of 60 degrees F with an above-average relative humidity since they are native to humid South American regions.
One way to increase the relative humidity is to group your houseplants especially if they’re free from pests.
Another way to replicate the native humid conditions, place the container on a tray of pebbles. Add clean water to the tray to increase humidity around the plant. Alternatively, you can get cheap plant humidifiers sold commercially online or in garden centers.
Pruning usually isn't necessary. If your plant gets too tall and lanky, with no leaves at the base, pinch it back to promote more bushiness and branching. This creates a fuller-looking plant.
If you want to learn more about how to prune and train begonias, check out this article by the American Begonia Society.
You can fertilize your Begonia maculata in spring and summer if you choose for more/faster growth.
Any general-purpose fertilizer labeled for use on houseplants will do. Just be sure not to exceed the directions on the product's packaging.
Pests and disease management
Here’s a comprehensive guide explaining some of those diseases and the control measures.
Common Problems with Begonia maculata & Control Measures
Leaves turning crispy and falling off
If your Polka dot begonia stays too dry without water, it may develop brown, crispy leaf tips or edges. Prolonged moisture deficiency will cause it to drop new leaves as they develop.
Make sure you’re watering your begonia properly. You can check out this article for more tips on watering.
Begonia maculata looking spindly and leggy
A spindly and leggy-looking begonia is a sure sign that it’s not getting enough light. Make sure you provide enough light even if it means supplementing with artificial LED lights.
Crowding begonia plants could also cause longer petioles with weak stems and no flowers.
Begonia leaves with black patches, distorted leaves, or light-colored lines on the leaves and flowers
Begonias are also vulnerable to viruses transmitted by thrips like Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV) and Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV).
Viral infection can cause distorted leaves, black patches on the leaves, or light-colored rings or wavy lines to form on the leaves or blooms. Remove infected plants to mitigate the spread of viruses.
If you need the best-looking Begonia maculata plants that you’ll adore and spark conversations any time, you have to take good care of them. And, that’s what this article has been all about.
I hope with the information you’ve just read, you’ll be able to propagate healthy plants, learn how to pot and repot, key care tips, some of the problems you’re likely to encounter, and how to prevent them.
And most importantly, have fun while at it!
Let me your thoughts in the comments and if you liked the post, consider sharing it.