begonia maculata

How to Care for Your Begonia Maculata

Begonia Maculata, also known as the polka dot begonia, is a beautiful flower that can be a great addition to any garden. Caring for the plant isn’t too difficult, but there are a few things that it’s important to know about.

Let’s look at the basic care instructions for this plant, then help you to solve a few common problems that come up with these flowers.

Characteristics of Begonia Maculata

The Begonia Maculata is also known as the polka dot, wightii, clown, or spotted begonia. It has dark olive green leaves with large silver-white spots that many people compare in shape to angel’s wings.

The underside of the leaves can range from light green to bright red, but red undersides seem to be the most prized and popular type of this plant. The plant loves the shade and tends to creep along the ground, but when grown indoors it can get up to four feet tall.

Because of its love of shade and unusual patterning, it is a favorite ground cover among gardeners.

Characteristics of Begonia Maculata
Characteristics of Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: bakker . com – NL/Pinterest)

Because it’s in the begonia family, many people assume that polka dot begonias will produce the very bright round colorful blossoms that are typically associated with begonias.

Polka dot begonias, however, will only form very small clusters of white or red blossoms sporadically throughout the year. These blossoms grow on woody or bamboo-like stems.

The plant is native to the rainforests of Brazil, and loves warm temperatures, shade, and plenty of moisture.

In America, this plant is typically grown indoors, but it makes a great outside plant in warmer climates.

When and Where to Grow Begonia Maculata

Polka dot begonia is native to an area of the world with plenty of rain and warm temperatures, so mimicking its natural environment will yield the best results. In tropical climates, this plant will grow year round. In colder climates, however, temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit will kill the plant.

When planting polka dot begonias outside, it’s important to get them established in spring or summer.

begonia maculata care
Begonia Maculata Flowers

In climates where temperatures reach below freezing, be sure to establish these plants at least six weeks before the first danger of frost, and keep them covered when temperatures drop below freezing.

Polka dot begonias are not recommended in climates where the ground freezes.

In warmer climates where there is no danger of freezing, polka dot begonias can be planted at any time, but spring or summer are the best seasons.

When and Where to Grow Begonia Maculata
When and Where to Grow Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: frau-doktor/Pinterest)

Planting during the warmer months gives the plants time to get established, and the heavier rainfall during these seasons will help the plant to establish strong roots. In the cooler, drier months, this strong root system will allow a gardener to reduce hand watering.

When planting, look for areas with a high amount of shade. In the wild, polka dot begonias grow along the floors of rain forests. This area gets a lot of indirect light.

Therefore, when planting these flowers outside, be sure to do everything possible to mimic these conditions.

Lifecycle of Begonia Maculata

Once your plant has been established, you can expect it to live for several years. When healthy, the plant will send out runners that will propagate the plant on its own.

Lifecycle of Begonia Maculata
Lifecycle of Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: house of plants/Pinterest)

In Brazilian rainforests, there are patches of polka dot begonias that are believed to have been living in the same place for several decades, perhaps as long as several centuries. 

Basic Care Instructions for Begonia Maculata

Polka dot begonias are fairly easy to care for, but it’s important to follow a few rules. In addition to getting the flowers in the ground during the right time of year, make sure these guidelines are followed:

1.  Choosing the Right Soil for Begonia Maculata

Polka dot begonias will do best in well-drained soil. Ideally, soil should be able to hold moisture without becoming oversaturated or muddy. Polka dot begonias like a high amount of moisture.

If you do not have good soil for them, try adding these things:

Choosing the Right Soil for Begonia Maculata
Choosing the Right Soil for Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: house of kojo/Pinterest)

Wood chips – Large wood chips will create small pockets in the soil that can store water. This can help with soil that has difficulty storing water without turning into mud. Over time, the wood chips will decompose into the soil, so be sure to replace them periodically.

Perlite – This substance seems very similar to styrofoam, but it’s actually volcanic glass. This material will help to keep soil well aerated, allowing moisture and nutrients to reach the roots better.

Compost or fertilizer – Fortunately, polka dot begonias don’t require a lot of fertilizer, but mixing in a small amount with the soil will be helpful in keeping the plants healthy.

2. Sunlight

The most important thing to remember with polka dot begonias is to ensure that they have shade. Avoid planting this flower in direct sunlight. If you allow it to grow on its own in a yard or garden, it will naturally creep towards more well shaded areas.

Expect to find it under trees and other shady areas.

Sunlight
Sunlight Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: eymayshop/Pinterest)

3. Water Needs

Because the plant is native to rain forests, it’s very hard to over-water polka dot begonias as long as they have good soil conditions. In the wild, this plant is used to high amounts of rainfall, but it’s water that is somewhat evenly distributed by the time it reaches the rain forest floor.

In a garden, this plant will do best with steady, constant watering.

Water Needs
Begonia Maculata Water Needs,(Image credit: 1garden/Pinterest)

In fact, the plant tends to do well in low-lying areas of a yard, where water tends to collect. Be aware, however, that this is not a flower that likes swamps. Be sure to keep the area that you’re growing your polka dot begonias well-drained.

Polka dot begonias like soil to be moist, but they can develop root rot if the soil is kept muddy. Ideally, allow the first half inch of topsoil to dry before re-watering.

4. Fertilizer Needs 

Fertilizer Needs
Begonia Maculata Fertilizer Needs,(Image credit: jessica duclos/Pinterest)

When growing this plant outdoors, it’s a good idea to plan on fertilizing it at least once a year. Fertilizer is usually added to the soil in order to get the plant to flower.

Typically, fertilizer is added in the spring and summer; in the fall and winter the plant goes dormant, making fertilizer largely ineffective.

5. Propagation

Polka dot begonias are relatively easy to propagate; in fact, this is a good plant to learn how to take cuttings and propagate from them. All that is required to propagate this plant is to pinch off a stem and place it in well-prepared soil (simply follow the directions from above). 

propagation
Propagation Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: raffaele dilallo /Pinterest)

6. Pruning

Pruning your polka dot begonia will cause it to grow fuller and bushier. Typically, any place you prune a begonia will cause it to grow new stems within a few weeks.

If you want to reduce the height of the plant, it’s recommended to prune in late autumn. By this point in the plant’s life cycle it will be done flowering and growth will be slowing down as it prepares for winter.

Pruning
Pruning Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: danielle/Pinterest)

Even if you do not want to reduce the height of the plant, it’s generally recommended to prune back the tallest stems before winter to help the plant conserve energy and maintain optimal health.

Pruning to encourage growth should occur during the spring and summer. By pinching off a stem, the plant will be encouraged to grow by spouting several new stems where the old one grew.

How to Grow Begonia Maculata Indoors

Polka dot begonias are typically grown indoors in colder climates, and they make a great houseplant. While it is recommended that you prepare the soil for the option in the same manner as described above, it is recommended that you water more frequently if the plant is being kept in an area where there is no natural rainfall.

Polka dot begonias do best when kept out of direct sunlight.

How to Grow Begonia Maculata Indoors
How to Grow Begonia Maculata Indoors,(Image credit: winterflor/Pinterest)

Expect to repot the plant a few times during it’s lifetime. When grown indoors it’s not uncommon for the plant to reach four feet tall. If you want a tall polka dot begonia, you will need to provide a rather large container to allow room for its roots.

Like all houseplants, it will need to be repotted as soon a the roots start to curl at the base of the pot or grow out of the drainage holes. However, the plant does alright with being root bound for short periods of time as long as it has adequate water and food.

It is not necessary to frequently check the plant.

Growing this plant in containers is a possibility, but if you choose to keep it outside, be sure to bring it indoors when there is a chance of frost.


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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Even if you follow all of the advice from above, it is possible to have something go wrong with your plant. These questions address the most common issues that come up among gardeners who grow polka dot begonias.

Is Begonia Maculata toxic?

Is Begonia Maculata toxic
Is Begonia Maculata toxic?,(Image credit: bila & bambi/Pinterest)

Generally, the polka dot begonia is considered to be non-toxic. It is perfectly safe to touch the leaves and stems without any type of protection. In some cases, however, reports of mild stomach irritation have occurred when small children or pets have ingested the leaves.

Because the leaves are rather bitter, it is unlikely that any child or pet would eat a large quantity of the plant, but you may want to consider keeping it out of reach of toddlers and curious cats.

Why is my Begonia Maculata dropping so many leaves?

Why is my Begonia Maculata dropping so many leaves
Why is my Begonia Maculata dropping so many leaves,(Image credit: raffaele dilallo /Pinterest)

Polka dot begonias tend to drop leaves when the air around them is polluted or they are suffering from a disease. To correct the problem, start by making sure that the plant is in a moderately humid area.

If the air is too dry it will cause the begonia to lose leaves. If the plant is being kept indoors, it may be necessary to mist the plant from time to time. 

Why are the leaves on my Begonia Maculata turning yellow?

The most common cause of leaves turning yellow is overwatering. Because this plant has a high tolerance for water, however, it is likely that you will notice the soil is oversaturated before the leaves start to turn yellow.

If you are certain that the plant is not being overwatered, consider the amount of light the plant is getting. While it does thrive in the shade, it does still need to get some light.

Move the plant to a sunnier spot, or cut back some of the other foliage that is providing the shade canopy.

Why are the leaves on my Begonia Maculata turning yellow
Why are the leaves on my Begonia Maculata turning yellow,(Image credit: plantr(beautifully designed planters)/Pinterest)

Finally, it is possible that the plant is turning yellow due to disease or under-fertilization. In this case, remove the stems with the leaves that have turned yellow, then add fertilizer to the soil.

In extreme cases, leaves will turn from yellow to brown. This tends to start at the time of the leaves and move towards the stem.

Take the same steps as before to correct the problem; check the moisture level and fertilizer levels of the soil, then remove the stems of any leaves that have turned yellow or brown.

Where are the best places to buy a Begonia Maculata?

Ideally, try to obtain a cutting of the plant from a friend. These flowers are fairly easy to propogate, and it shouldn’t hurt a well-established plant to take a stem or two.

Where are the best places to buy a Begonia Maculata
Where are the best places to buy a Begonia Maculata,(Image credit: myhomenature/Pinterest)

Otherwise, look for established plants in containers at local nurseries or through an online catalog. Remember that it may be listed under other names such as the polka dot, wightii, clown, or spotted begonia.

How fast does a Begonia Maculata grow?

Growth rate depends on how the plant is being grown; specifically the type of soil, the amount of nutrients in the soil, the amount of water , and whether the plant is being grown indoors or outside.

If the plant is well taken care of, however, it is possible for it to reach a height of four feet or send out runners to start a new plant within a year of being placed in the soil.

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