The wax begonia is a classic, one that you’ve definitely seen before even if you didn’t know its name. It’s a plant that requires a low amount of care, and for indoor houseplant enthusiasts, it’s literally a perennial favorite. I love these plants, and if you’ve never tried to grow one before, you’re in for a treat.
Table of Contents
- What Are Wax Begonias?
- How to Care for Wax Begonias
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
- Are Wax Begonias annuals or perennials?
- Can you grow Wax Begonias outdoors?
- Can you grow Wax Begonia from seed?
- Are Wax Begonias deer-resistant?
- Are Wax Begonias Toxic to pets?
- What pests or diseases attack Wax Begonias?
- Are there different varieties of Wax Begonias?
- What’s the difference between Wax Begonia and tuberous begonia?
- Why is your Wax Begonias dying?
What Are Wax Begonias?
Wax begonias are warm-weather plants that come from the southern half of South America. They are perennials in hotter plant hardiness zones and when grown indoors, but they can be grown as annuals outdoors in zones 9 and cooler.
The plant doesn’t grow to a very big size, often less than 12 inches, so it is perfect for a small container garden or as a desktop plant at work. The leaves, depending on the cultivar, can be green or a coppery brownish red, and they’re thick, fleshy leaves. They have a glossy appearance and feel almost waxy, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the plant’s common name.
The leaves are pretty and showy, but the real treat for gardeners is the array of blossoms that seems to never end. The flowers come in shades of white, pink, red, and burgundy, and the blossoms’ petals are arranged in a single-layer circle. The blossoms are kind of unusual in that the petals on the flowers are uneven, with some being longer or broader than others.
The colorful flowers, with bright yellow centers, grow in clusters that continuously bloom over spring, summer, and fall. The plants are generally considered drought resistant.
How to Care for Wax Begonias
Wax begonias may be easy to care for, but if you’ve never gone near one, even easy care can seem confusing. Take it step by step and remember that plants are usually not so fragile as to die on you if you give them a smidge too much water.
Start with one plant and work your way up from there.
1. Watering for Wax Begonias
Watering is likely one of the aspects of wax begonia care that will cause confusion at first. Begonias need well-draining soil; if you’re growing them as houseplants, you have to have them in a pot with drainage holes and good drainage.
Letting them sit in soggy soil can promote root rot and other fungal growth, but not watering enough can harm the plant.
Give the soil a chance to dry out a bit between watering; wait until at least the surface of the soil is moderately dry before watering again. Wax begonias like moist soil, but constantly watering the plant puts it at risk of being overwatered. However, don’t wait until all of the soil is dry, as the begonias appreciate some exposure to moisture on a regular basis.
When you water the plant, water at the base of the stem near the soil’s surface. Use a watering can with a spout that will let you reach that point. Showering the plant with water only gets the leaves wet and promotes fungal and bacterial growth.
If growing the begonias outdoors, try to use drip irrigation instead of hoses or sprinklers.
2. Soil Needs for Wax Begonias
Wax begonias are one of those plants that actually likes soil to be a little on the acidic side. When you choose a planting mix, aim to make it nutritious (a little compost can help) and choose a soil that has a pH in the 5.5 to 6.5 range. Other than that, you can use a general potting mix; peat-based is perfect.
Outdoors, begonias could really use mulch around the roots, especially in summer. The mulch will help preserve moisture and prevent evaporation.
3. Lighting Requirements for Wax Begonias
It can’t be stressed enough: In very hot climates, shield wax begonias from full sun. The combination of full sunlight and very high temperatures will make the plant sickly and weak.
For hot areas, find a sheltered spot that gets partial sun, preferably in the morning. You may also want to look at planting wax begonia varieties that have coppery leaves as those seem to be more tolerant of sun. However, even those shouldn’t be planted where they’ll have no protection from the summer sun.
For indoor planters, again, place the plant in a spot that gets partial sun in hot regions. In cooler regions, more sun is fine, but be prepared to move the plant if you notice signs of stress.
4. Temperature and Humidity Levels
Begonias don’t like the cold. Outdoor annuals need to be planted after the last frost and removed once frosts begin again in fall. Outdoor perennials can use protection during short cold snaps.
Indoor plants need moderate temperatures. Watch out for the air coming out of heater and air conditioner return vents because those drafts will hurt the plant.
As for humidity, these plants do like to have some moisture in the air. Unless you live in a region where humidity is fairly high all the time, you’ll want to put the wax begonia (if growing indoors or in a container outdoors) on a pebble tray. These are also called humidity trays.
You place a bunch of pebbles in a large, flat dish and fill the dish with water. Place the plant on top of the pebbles (the base of the pot should not be submerged) and let the evaporating water create a microclimate.
Refill the tray with more water occasionally.
5. Fertilizing for Wax Begonias
You don’t really have to fertilize wax begonias. You can; if you do, a regular 10-10-10 fertilizer is acceptable. Houseplants don’t really need that unless you want to encourage blooming.
6. Pruning and Deadheading
Pruning isn’t that big of a thing for wax begonias. You’ll want to pinch off dead flowers, but as the plant doesn’t get very big overall, pruning isn’t that crucial. If you see dead leaves, you can remove them, of course.
7. Propagating and Transplanting
Wax begonias don’t really need to be repotted. Maybe if you convince one to live long enough, it might like some new soil. But in general, this is a comparatively short-lived plant even in the best perennial circumstances.
However, propagation and transplanting (such as from a container into the ground, or between two different spots in the garden) require care. They’re simple to do, but you still need to be careful. To propagate wax begonia, you have to take cuttings, which should not have flowers.
Find a stem that has no blossoms but that does have at least a couple of leaf nodes, or points where the leaves grow out of the stem. The stem should be about 3 to 4 inches long.
Cut that off with clean, sterile shears (rubbing alcohol is good for disinfecting the shears), make sure there are no actual leaves at the base of the cutting (remove them if needed), and place the cutting in a moist potting mix. At least 2 inches of the stem should be buried in the soil. If you want, add some rooting hormone to the cut end of the cutting.
You can also try propagating via water, in which you just let the cutting sit in water until it grows roots. You’ll then have to carefully plant the cutting in soil, so you’ll have to ensure you don’t shock the plant during the transplanting process.
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are Wax Begonias annuals or perennials?
Wax begonias can be both annuals and perennials. They’re annuals in colder zones where they might be exposed to long winters, but they’re perennials when grown in warmer zones or indoors.
When grown outdoors as a perennial, they still tend to be short-lived. But that’s an excuse to buy more begonias, which means you can customize the color of your yard every year. That’s not a bad problem to have!
Can you grow Wax Begonias outdoors?
If you’re in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 or warmer, you absolutely can grow these outdoors as a perennial plant. Wax begonias do not handle freezing temperatures well, so if you’re in an area that gets both freezing winter and boiling summer temperatures, you’ll need to protect the plants during those freezing days and nights.
Note that while wax begonias sometimes like full sun, that tends to be in cooler regions; in very hot regions, partial sun or shade is much better. The hot afternoon sun can dry out the plant.
If you’re in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 or cooler, you can still grow wax begonias outdoors – you’ll just have to grow it as an annual and replant every year. When choosing planting spots, aim for either partial afternoon sun or full morning sun. Make sure the soil is well draining and that the area you plant them in isn’t blocked from having good airflow.
Can you grow Wax Begonia from seed?
Technically, you can grow a wax begonia plant from seed instead of getting seedlings from garden centers or taking cuttings from friends’ plants (with their permission, of course). However, germinating a wax begonia from seed takes time and a lot of attention; while already growing begonias don’t require a lot of care, the seeds do.
It can certainly be an interesting project to try, and it’s best to approach it as just that – a project to try. If you want to have wax begonias in your garden, buying seedlings and transplanting them is much easier.
Are Wax Begonias deer-resistant?
Yes, wax begonias are deer-resistant! Those gentle deer you see in cartoons aren’t so gentle when it comes to your garden, stripping bark off trees and eating everything you’d planned to harvest. But they won’t go after wax begonias, so while you might lose the leaves off some trees, those wax begonias will stay in relatively good shape.
Sadly, you can’t expect the begonias to actually ward off deer, so planting them in your garden won’t necessarily stop deer from walking over them and chowing down on the rest of your yard.
Are Wax Begonias Toxic to pets?
You have to treat wax begonias as toxic to all pets (and keep the little kids away from the plant, too). The plant is actually more toxic at the root level, but the whole structure, from flowers to leaves to stems, can induce vomiting in pets. Grazing animals like horses are especially vulnerable to the plant’s toxic effects.
What pests or diseases attack Wax Begonias?
Fungal diseases are more likely to show up on wax begonias than other types of plant diseases. If you spot a fungal disease, look for copper-based fungicides. If the plants in question are in containers, move them away from healthy plants to avoid spread.
As for pests, thrips, mealybugs, aphids, and caterpillars are the main villains. Most of these you can knock out with rubbing alcohol or insecticidal soap.
Are there different varieties of Wax Begonias?
Yes, there are a few different varieties that you can choose from, and each variety has something notable about it that makes it perfect for a specific situation.
For example, the ‘Cocktail‘ series or mix is a group of smaller begonias (dwarf varieties) that tend to stay under 6 to 9 inches tall. These are great for crowded desks in offices where you don’t have a lot of space. Flowers are white, and the foliage takes on a bronze-ish color.
The ‘Varsity’ series are also great container occupants and also stay relatively small. They’re also better at dealing with heat than other wax begonias, even though the species already likes warmer weather. ‘Varsity’ begonias have dark green foliage with flowers in red, pink, or white.
What if you want to see more foliage than flowers? ‘Paint Splash Pink‘ is a fun one to try growing. This variety has pale pink flowers that are surrounded by large, bright green leaves that have cream-colored patches.
If you prefer larger flowers, ‘Super Olympia’ has blossoms that are larger than what you’d find with more conventional wax begonia plants. Flowers can be pink, white, or red.
The ‘Victory’ cultivar offers both showy leaves and large flowers in pink, red, or white. Leaves may be green or bronze-ish. The ‘Coco‘ cultivar also has leaves that turn bronze or even maroon, and this is a smaller cultivar as well.
What’s the difference between Wax Begonia and tuberous begonia?
Wax begonias aren’t the only type of begonias you’ll find, so you will need to specify which plant you want when you are at the garden center. Tuberous begonias are also a popular plant to grow, but they require somewhat different growing conditions.
They prefer more shade than wax begonias, and they have a root that looks like a tuber that you need to dig up and preserve over winter. Wax begonias have a plain root ball.
Why is your Wax Begonias dying?
Wax begonias aren’t without their problems, but much of what you might have to deal with is preventable, and it’s often due to poor growing conditions.
Too much moisture, either from overwatering, poor drainage, or excessive humidity and little air circulation, can lead to root rot or stem rot, as well as powdery mildew and botrytis. Use insecticidal soap to get rid of insect pests such as thrips.