How to Care For Begonia Maculata

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Begonias are one of the OG house plants. Even a bit, er, grandma-ish.

I LOVE mine. It’s barely more than a cutting and prefers to bloom rather than grow leaves, but I don’t mind.

There are over 1000 species of begonia, and thousands more hybrids. You get big ones, small ones, showy ones, plain ones, hardy ones, and ones that die if they think you’re mad at them.

There’s something about the spotty ones that I’m drawn to – possibly because they have sort of…ethereal look to them. If you’re a fan of ethereal or even witchy plants, there are a few black and purple begonias that look cool as hell (look at this Begonia Brevirimosa!).

begonia maculata in leca

Begonia maculata has a bit of a reputation for being difficult to care for, but I think they’re fine.

Unfortunately, it seems to be one of those plants that either likes your house or it doesn’t, and if it decides that it doesn’t then you might be in for a bit of a wild ride.

Disclaimer: I was given a cutting from a VERY established plant, that has thrived in a dark house belonging to a plant novice. My plant has a genetic predisposition to be a survivor, which is a good thing in my house.

Should you mist Begonia maculata?

Begonias love a bit of high humidity but that doesn’t mean that they like being misted.

I wouldn’t recommend misting begonia maculata.

They have fairly thin leaves compared to some other begonias (I have a couple of outdoor ones that have leaves that are super thick. Like, weird thick) and they’re pretty delicate.

Misting can introduce nasty bacteria and fungi to the leaves, and begonia can be a bit sensitive to that kind of thing. Powdery mildew isn’t the worst of plant afflictions to deal with (it doesn’t spread particularly quickly in my experience, but it can kill your plant pretty quickly.

Even if you don’t have the bad luck to get a nasty infection, you can get watermarks on the leaves which don’t really harm your plant, but they’re not very aesthetically pleasing.

If you have low humidity, then I would either invest in a humidifier (this is the one I recommend), check out some of these suggestions that can help you increase the humidity without using a humidifier, or…pick a plant that isn’t a begonia.

Look, if you’re a mister, go ahead. Many people mist their plants and don’t have an issue. I have an article here on why I don’t mist my plants, but if you want to, go ahead.

Why is my Begonia maculata dropping leaves?

Begonia maculatas drop leaves at the drop (ba dum bum tss) of a hat.

Currently, mine is dropping leaves because we’re going into winter and it’s mad that the weather is getting colder.

Prior to that, it was dropping leaves because I deigned to move it (it grew better in the new position, but dropped a few leaves just to ensure I knew it wasn’t impressed). My bad for trying to put it in a better spot.

Begonias are naturally big on dropping leaves, but because they grow pretty quickly (or they can. anyway) it’s not usually that big of a deal.

If yours is dropping more leaves than it’s growing, then first check the roots. Root rot is common, but perfectly treatable if it’s caught early.

Remove any brown or mushy roots and make sure the soil is well aerated and not sodden.

As I mentioned, low temperatures can cause leaf drop, so be sure your begonia isn’t sat in a draught. They do like an east-facing windowsill, but make sure the windows aren’t that draughty – you can use insulating tape if you’re concerned (and it’ll keep you warmer too!).

How often should I water my indoor begonia?

I like to water my begonias quite often, just because I’ve found that it helps them to grow quickly (and grow larger leaves) so I keep them in really well-aerated soil.

Ok, to be perfectly honest I now grow mine in leca, because they really seem to love it, which makes sense, since they get as much air AND water as they like. Win win.

You can use regular house plant potting mix, but add a load of perlite and/or orchid bark. If that’s not really your thing, make sure the soil is pretty dry before watering. Like a 2/3 on a moisture metre.

What do overwatered begonias look like?

Often we talk about yellow leaves when it comes to overwatered plants, and whilst I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen with begonias, the first sign that your begonia is overwatered is often general drooping.

Oh, and leaf drop, but that’s not isolated to overwatering, so don’t assume that leaf drop=overwatering.

As well as leaf drop, dropping and an air of general malaise, you’ll want to watch out for oedema, which looks a bit like the back of the leaf is variegated.

My begonia maculata doesn’t have oedema atm (which I know is a good thing, but it would have been helpful) but my Scindapsus pictus ‘silvery ann’ does, and it looks similar:

oedema on scindapsus pictus silvery ann

If you look around the edges of the leaf, you can see that there are a few darker marks – that’s essentially water in the leaf breaking the cell walls. That’s oedema.

Oedema isn’t actually that big of a deal – it can be a sign of overwatering, but more often than not, your plant simply has eyes bigger than its belly water-wise.

Some plants are more prone to oedema than others – Alocasia and Rhapidophora tetrasperma are two that just love damaging their cells after each and every watering. I’ve never had a problem with overwatering with either of them

How long do potted begonias last?

There’s a rumour doing the rounds that begonias only last a few seasons, but the mother of my little plant is testimony to the fact that this simply isn’t true. i have no idea how old it is, but it’s a good few years old.


A lot of people keep their begonias outside, and their begonias die in winter.

In fact, if you google ‘are begonias perennial?’ google will tell you that they aren’t. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t live for years and years and years.

It means that they’ll die if they get too cold. Perennials typically die back in winter and regrow in spring. Other annuals, like foxgloves, self-seed, so whilst it’s a different plant from the one you had last year, you’re still getting a similar plant in the same place year on year.

Begonias just…die. Mine are fine so far, but it’s a pretty mild winter so far and they’re quite sheltered by the house, so I have hope.

If you protect your begonias from the frost (by wrapping them in fleece, bringing them inside, or whatever) they can live indefinitely.

Remember that a house is an artificial environment to a plant, and they’ll behave differently. Many tropical fish species only live a few months of the year, because the puddles they live in dry up and they die.

Their eggs survive the drought and the new generation is born in the next rainy system. Those same fish can live for a few years in a tank, because, er, it doesn’t dry out.

Just like animals, plants can adapt to their environment pretty quickly.

How to keep begonias blooming

If you love plants that bloom, begonias are a great one to try. Mine blooms fairly frequently – maybe three or four times a year.

There will be differences between the different species of begonia that determines how frequently they bloom but there are things that I’ve noticed that have definitely had an effect on my begonia flowering.

begonia blooming with pink flowers

There are two main factors that I’ve noticed that really ramp up the blooms:

  1. Light
  2. Fertilising

When it comes to light, my begonia (not sure if they’re all the same) is weirdly picky when it comes to blooming.

She specifically likes light from an east-facing light to bloom. Brighter light (from a south or west-facing window) results in her growing more leaves, and she seems to bloom less frequently (I suppose because her energy is going into growing enormous).

Under grow lights, she blooms and grows leaves, but much more slowly than she does in natural light. That does make sense, because I don’t have my grow lights on for as long as, er, the sun.

Do begonias like full sun?

All plants love a TONNE of sun (if acclimatised properly), and it makes them grow faster.

But it’s not always good for them. You see, plants dgaf if all their old leaves are burned to a crisp, especially if they’re growing super quickly because of all the light. But we do care that our plants are burned, so exercise caution when it comes to putting your begonia in full sun.

Many begonias have super thick, succulent leaves, and they’ll probably be fine in full sun (again, if acclimated properly).

Begonia maculata, on the other hand, has pretty thin, delicate leaves that burn easily. I wouldn’t recommend putting it in full sun, because it’ll take an age to acclimate, but if you manage it, you’ll get a tonne of growth.

One of the hardest things about growing plants in full sun is keeping the required humidity high enough. Make sure you measure the humidity in the spot you’re going to put your begonia (hygrometers are cheap enough from Amazon, and really useful for finding the best spot for your plants), especially if you’re thinking of putting it in full sun.

How to propagate begonias

Begonias are one of the few plants (Monstera deliciosa being another) that are fairly happy to be soil propagated.

I actually propagated mine in leca (I have an article here on how to do that) and it rooted super quickly.

Begonias are propagated the same way as a lot of tropical plants – take a cutting that has at least one node, and put the node in water/soil/leca until it roots.

The horizontal lines across the stem are nodes, and as you can, there are plenty of them,

In my experience, they root pretty quickly, but it can take a while for them to produce new growth. Mine actually bloomed before it grew new leaves.

There were also a few leaves that started to grow but then either shrivelled up or dropped off, so whilst getting a begonia cutting to root is fairly speedy, it can take longer for it to actually do anything.

What fertiliser should I use on begonias?

I use the General Hydroponics Flora series on my begonia maculata and a seaweed fertiliser on my outside begonia.

I don’t actually think they’re that fussy about the type of fertiliser, but I like the General Hydroponics one because it gives instructions on the back according to your aims – so there’s a ‘recipe’ for growing roots, flowers, whatever.

And whilst it’s formulated for hydroponics, there are also instructions for using it in soil too.

Yes, it’s kind of a ballache to mix up, but get yourself a lab coat and some goggles and use the time to pretend you’re a big and important scientist.

How fast do begonia maculata grow?

There is no way to answer this – they grow like goldfish.

If you weren’t aware, goldfish can stay the same size for literally years and then have a growth spurt. Then nothing for a couple of months, then another growth spurt. Then a two-year break and then, yep, any other growth spurt.

You can speed up (or slow down) the growth of your begonia by adjusting the light, but don’t go too low light or you risk it, er, dying.

The more light, the more quickly it’ll grow, but remember that your begonia will 100% sacrifice the integrity of its other leaves to grow a new one. Fast growth doesn’t always equal ap pretty plant.

An east-facing windowsill with around 60% humidity is a great compromise. You can expect new leaves fairly regularly, but you shouldn’t risk burning any existing leaves. The humidity should stop any crispy leaf tips/edges.

How do you make Begonia maculata leaves bigger?

The general solution to increasing the size of plant leaves is to increase the light, make sure you’re fertilising adequately (but not too much – I’d do every six weeks). As I’ve already mentioned a billion times, light=burning so be careful.

I’m NOT careful, btw. I’ve just accepted that to get big-ass leaves, the little ones must be sacrificed. I don’t have the time or inclination to be moving my plants around all the time. This is pure laziness on my part, but I just deal with consequences.

Do begonia like to be rootbound?

No, but they also don’t like to be swimming in soil.

Most plants like to be snug in their pots. Too much room and the soil stays wet for too long and you risk root rot, but a plant being too rootbound will result in it struggling to absorb enough water.

That being said, rootbound plants tend to do a lot better than plants with too much room.

This is because there’s stuff we can do to help a rootbound plant, but there’s not a lot we can do about soil staying wet too long.

If your begonia is rootbound to the point there’s not enough soil to hold the water it needs to survive, you can bottom water it for a couple of hours and let it get water that way.

You could put it in a bigger pot, but I’m guessing you know that, and currently don’t have the time.

Can you grow begonia maculata in leca?

Yes, and very well. My begonia seems to love growing in leca, and it rooted very quickly. It doesn’t require a tonne of flushing and seems to thrive. As I mentioned earlier, begonias seem to benefit from having a lot of air to their roots, so it makes sense that they would do well in leca.

I’ve never transferred an adult begonia from soil to leca, so I scoured various Facebook groups to see how others found that conversion.

Errr, it’s a mixed bag, BUT there seems to be a lot of success of transferring begonia maculata to leca, and there’s a few reports of people seeing a similar pattern to me. Begonias like to have a little break between growing roots and producing new growth, plus they just love to drop leaves.

Someone in one of the groups showed a picture of their begonia roots, asking if they were rotten, and someone replied, ‘no, they’re meant to look like that – begonia roots look like wet hair.’

This is such a good description. Here are my Begonia roots:

roots on a begonia

How do you stop begonias getting leggy?

Begonias don’t so much have a tendency to grow leggy as they do to drop leaves and move on, leaving a bare stem.

There isn’t much you can do about that, other than chop and prop. Begonias propagate easily, so don’t worry about this being a drastic step – it’ll look better in time.

I like to chop each stem into sections with around three nodes on it and put each section back in with the mother plant.

This should encourage the original part of the plant to start growing leaves at the base again, plus you’ll (eventually) get leaves growing on the cuttings.

In a few months, you’ll have a super bushy plant!

You can also pinch off the new growth. Theoretically, when you pinch off a growing tip, the plant will create a fork, so you’ll end up with two new growth points.

It’s not always as cut and dry as that (plants don’t always follow the rules), but it’s a great way to bush up (not at all sure about that phrase) your plant when it’s growing quickly in summer.

Why are my begonia leaves curling?

There are various reasons for leave to curl, but 9 times out of 10, leaf curl is due to underwatering. It’s most common in plants with thicker leaves. Begonia maculata has thin leaves that don’t tend to curl – underwatering usually announces itself in the form of the leaf shrivelling up.

Some species of plant are more susceptible to leaf curl than others. Scindapsus pictus and my unidentified Monstera (I think it’s a reverted standleyana) curl as soon as they’re thirsty, which is super helpful to me.

Both of these plants have pretty succulent leaves, so the way the plants use water must cause them to curl. Perhaps the water is diverted into the centre of the leaf, so the edges are lighter and curl?

Anyway, some thicker leaved-begonias also display leaf curl when thirsty. Remember that it can take plants with thicker leaves longer to plump up again. Give your plant a good soak and leave it for 24/48hours before trying something else to stop the leaves curling – it may take that long to get back to normal.

Temperature stress, over fertilising, and water quality issues can also lead to leaf curl, but it’s less common.

I’ve never had an issue with water quality and begonias, but use filtered water if you think that may be causing your begonia problems. Similarly, under fertilising is always gonna be more of a risk than over fertilising for me, but cut back if you think that could be a contributing factor to your leaves curling. If you’re fertilising more than once a month, definitely cut back a bit.

Temperature stress can definitely cause curled leaves, but it’s basically underwatering called by another name. Hot weather causes leaf curl, but usually because it’s causing plants to lose more water through respiration.

If underwatering is a problem for you, try a self-watering pot.

Why does my begonia have crispy edges?

I have a whole article on crispy edges here – it’s specifically about Calathea, but the same causes apply.

Crispy edges are usually due to one of these factors:

  • Overwatering (usually at the bottom of the leaf, and might have a yellow edge)
  • Underwatering
  • Poor water quality

Either use filtered water or add some aquarium dechlorinator to your water. I love Seachem Prime.

  • Cold damage

This can be from something as simple as being in a draft or touching a windowpane. Begonias are usually ok with the cold, but some are more delicate than others.

What’s the difference between Begonia Rex and Begonia Maculata?

So I actually thought they were the same. Oops. Begonia maculata is a cane begonia, so-called because the stems kind of looks like bamboo canes. Yep, I get that. Their leaves also look like wings, hence the ‘angel-wing begonia’ nickname.

Begonia Rex leaves have heart-shaped leaves, grow from rhizomes (I don’t think Begonia maculata do), and can have really fancy and colourful leaves.

Final thoughts

I don’t think that begonias deserve their picky reputation, but I also kind of understand how they got it. Like peace lilies, people’s experience with them seems to differ wildly.

I personally find them easy, but please comment if you struggle and don’t know why.

There are TONNES available on Etsy, in so many colours, shapes, and price ranges.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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