In this post, we are going to talk about not only Begonia maculata care, but caring for yourself with Begonia Polka Dots! Polka dots for mental health, you ask? Absolutely yes. Prehistoric art showing dots dates back tens of thousands of years. Humans love polka dots.

Neuroscientists believe that our response comes from a part of the brain called the amygdala. One of the amygdala’s jobs is to help decide what’s dangerous and what’s safe. Angular shapes with points tend to be interpreted as signs of danger. Dots, on the other hand, represent gentleness, safety, abundance, and playfulness.

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If you want to bring polka dots into your life, houseplants are a great way. What about begonias with polka dots? The leaves of the Begonia maculata or polka dot begonia are covered in big, silvery polka dots with dramatic crimson underneath. Once you’ve seen one, you won’t forget its distinctive look, especially since it can grow as high as five feet (1.5 meters).

Like other begonias, it’s native to tropical and subtropical climates as an understory plant, meaning that it grows in the dappled shade of taller plants. An evergreen perennial, it’s also a fairly fast grower. We’re going to describe all aspects of Begonia maculata care so you’ll know how to bring a bit of the Brazilian forest into your home. With polka dots.

Common Names for Begonia maculata & Similar Begonia Varieties

Plant and animal classification systems have been reorganized several times over the years. Scientific names are recognized around the world in identifying every known species. The first part of the name represents the genus.

For example, horses, donkeys, and zebras all belong to the genus Equus. Each species has its own name. The scientific name for donkey is Equus asinus.

Switching over to the world of plants, Quercus is the genus for oak trees, and Quercus rubra refers to the species commonly called the northern red oak. The genus Begonia has over 2,000 species. One more classification word to learn is “cultivar,” which indicates a plant variety developed by selective breeding.

Some people use the following terms interchangeably but technically angelwing and trout begonias are different cultivar from Begonia maculata:

  • Cane begonia: A group of begonia cultivars bred with bamboo-like stems
  • Begonia maculata‘Wightii’: Most commonly seen cultivar
  • Polka dot begonia: Common name for Begonia maculata
  • Spotted begonia: Another common name for B. maculata
  • Clown begonia: Another common name for B. maculata
  • Angelwing begonia: A hybrid cross between B. aconitifolia and B. coccinea; a cane begonia similar to B. maculata but not as tall; spots are smaller, more like freckling; flowers come in different colors
  • Trout begonia: Also called trout leaf begonia, the scientific name is B. medora; shares characteristics with Angelwings and B. maculata

What Is the Most Important Thing In Begonia maculata Care?

HUMIDITY >> HUMIDITY >> HUMIDITY

Humidity. Because of their origins, these plants have adapted to life in warm, moist climates. Your primary focus is ensuring constant high humidity, greater than 45%, especially since most buildings tend to be dry. Inexpensive digital hygrometers to monitor humidity are easy to use.

One important way to provide humidity is to avoid drafts because moving air causes evaporation. You can also place the pot or urn on top of or next to pebbles in a tray partially filled with water. Plants often thrive in groupings because they raise the humidity in their immediate area. Finally, many home gardeners invest in humidifiers just for their plants.

Watering & Soil

how often to water begonias 6

Lots of people wonder if misting plants helps the humidity in the air or if it counts as watering. The answer is that in the case of Polka dot begonias, neither is beneficial. The humidity boost is very temporary.

Water on leaves can contribute to powdery mildew and other kinds of mold. What’s more, the droplets act like magnifying glasses under sunbeams and can actually scorch the leaves.

Your watering technique makes a difference in Begonia maculata care. Cane begonias store water in their thick stalks, so their roots don’t like soggy soil. While the soil needs to be lightly moist, let the top half-inch dry between waterings to prevent root rot.

Dry topsoil helps keep fungus and gnats under control. Don’t water at all if the soil is wet. Many gardeners promote drainage for their plants by placing a layer of clean pebbles or pieces of broken crockery inside the pot before adding any soil.

Bottom watering is best for begonias because wet leaves encourage mold. To bottom water, place the container in a tray of water for 10-20 minutes. The soil uniformly absorbs water with this method. IMPORTANT: Allow excess water to drain after removing the pot.

Potting Mix And Amendment

Choose a light potting mix made for houseplants. The best soil pH is slightly acidic to neutral (6.0-7.0). A soil amendment is an additive to the basic mix that improves certain characteristics, just like an amendment to the constitution. Here are some good soil amendments for begonias:

  • Perlite: A white air-filled volcanic mineral used for aerating the soil and improving drainage; think of it as volcanic popcorn. It’s not the same as vermiculite, a mica-like expandable mineral that absorbs water.
  • Wood chips: Wood chips provide aeration and organic material that enriches the soil, so a few chips mixed into the potting soil are beneficial. While they deter the growth of weeds in beds, they should be used cautiously as mulch. Be sure to lay the wood chips a few inches away from each plant to prevent them from holding in excess moisture and causing root rot.

Fertilizer And Compost

Fertilizer: Add a balanced water-soluble fertilizer every 2-4 weeks to potted plants when actively growing and blooming. Feed bedding plants a little less often. “Balanced” refers to equal parts of the “Big 3” primary nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Diluted liquid fertilizers are more readily absorbed than dry mixtures because they don’t cause fertilizer burn resulting in yellow or brown leaves and root damage.
Compost: A little bit goes a long way and it’s all good. Half a handful per pot is reasonable, less than the recommendations on the bag.

nitrogen for plants

Nitrogen (N) is used by plants to make proteins, the building blocks of most tissues in all living things; nitrogen in the soil contributes to lush foliage. Phosphorus (P) helps plants grow and develop; adequate phosphorus is necessary for blooming. Potassium (K) contributes to overall vigor as well as to disease and stress resistance; potassium in the soil also promotes the development of healthy root systems.

The ideal soil texture is light, fluffy, and springy. We’ll talk about repotting in a moment.

Begonia maculata Light & Temperature

Knowing the origins of a plant will clue you into its basic needs. Since these begonias come from the understory of tropical forests in Brazil, you can deduce that Begonia maculata care involves bright indirect light and warm temperatures.

Strong filtered light stimulates growth and blossoming. You can increase the amount of light during the active blooming season but avoid direct sunlight.

HAPPY TIP: Depending on where you live, you might give your indoor begonias an eastern or western exposure all year round, or provide a southern exposure during the coldest months. Maintain the room temperatures from 65°F (18°C) to 86°F (30°C). Keep the plant out of drafts because wind is both cooling and drying.

Flowering

Your polka dot begonia will bloom for you from spring to fall, little cascading clusters of white or pale pink flowers with bright yellow centers. Other species and cultivars bloom in additional colors. You don’t have to deadhead them (remove the dead flowers) because they’ll dry up and drop off on their own while more bloom.

A gardening tip: did you know that polka dot begonias and many other plants are stimulated to bloom when they are slightly rootbound? However, you don’t want your plants to become too rootbound because it uses up the soil’s nutrients.

“A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colourful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots can’t stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become movement… Polka-dots are a way to Infinity.”

Yayoi Kusama 

Pruning & Transplanting

Pruning is part of Begonia maculata care. To stimulate bushy growth instead of tall, leggy growth, prune at least twice a year. Although you’ll commonly hear the term “pinching” or “pinching back,” don’t pinch anything.

Use sharp shears sterilized by dipping in isopropyl alcohol. The growing cane tips secrete a hormone that suppresses branching growth, so nipping top tips will redirect the growing energy to the side branches. You can remove old, unhealthy leaves at the same time you prune.

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Repotting every spring before bloom time is another part of Begonia maculata care to prevent the soil from becoming depleted. Unlike the great outdoors where beneficial worms, bacteria, and other critters thrive in the soil, the environment inside pots and urns is very limited without the normal influxes in an outdoor ecological system.

If you can’t repot, at least refresh with new soil and amendments. While a much larger pot will encourage your begonia to grow larger, it will delay flowering because its growing efforts are directed to the root system.

Begonia maculata Propagation: How to Make Babies

polka dot begonia propagation

Now you can learn how to grow more begonias. These plants are easy to propagate. Not only can you divide overgrown plants when you’re repotting them, but you can also start new plants from stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, and seeds.

Stem cuttings in water: With a sterilized knife or pair of shears, cut a piece of healthy stem a few inches long at a 45-degree angle to create more cut surface. Remove the bottom few leaves. The cut stem surface produces rooting hormones so you don’t need to do anything more than place the cutting in a small container of water. Provide good light and change the water every 3-5 days.

Stem cuttings in soil: Dip the end of the cutting in powdered root hormone. Using a chopstick or similar tool, make a hole in the potting soil so you won’t damage the cutting when you insert it into the soil. Press the soil around the stem to eliminate air pockets. Water thoroughly. Put a plastic bag over the top of the container to make a mini-greenhouse, opening it every few days.

Begonia maculata Care: Cuttings And Seeds

Leaf cuttings: Although slower to produce than stem cuttings, one leaf can generate several tiny new plants. Cut a healthy leaf from your begonia. On the underside, make slashes along the main large veins.

Fasten or pin the leaf underside down onto a bed of firm, moist potting soil. Use a plastic bag over the container to conserve moisture. When the new plants have erupted from the slashed areas, gently remove and repot them.

Begonia maculata seeds: The seeds are tiny and fragile. Use a tray filled with sterile potting soil formulated for seed planting to prevent fungal diseases. Mix the seeds with a neutral material such as sawdust or clean sand and gently scatter the seed mixture over the sterile seed starting medium.

This method spreads them more evenly. Gently press them into the soil with your fingers or a piece of cardboard but don’t cover them. They will need 4-6 weeks to germinate and grow before transplanting.

Best Plant Buddies

Choose plants with similar needs: humid air and bright indirect light. To arrange a pleasing design in a container, select a tall plant or two and surround it with bushier mid-level plants. Complete the design with cascading foliage and flowers growing over the edges of the container (often called “spillers”).

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Your color palette can use contrasting or related colors, whatever is most pleasing to you. Unlike paintings, plants grow at different rates so your creation will change over time. Go to a reputable plant nursery and get recommendations from the staff. You’ll have so much fun! Good companion plants for Begonia maculata in urns or in groupings include these:

  1. Begonias: Other begonias
  2. Caladium: Big leaves in a variety of white, pink, red, and green color combinations
  3. Coleus: Bushy easy-care foliage in many colors
  4. Creeping jenny (moneywort): Long, low-growing stems with round leaves
  5. Dracaena (dragon tree): Spiky leaves atop a tall, woody canelike stem
  6. English ivy: Hardy deep green spiller
  7. Purple pixie (loropetalum): Deep burgundy spiller
  8. Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’): Low and bushy with heart-shaped green and silver leaves

Indoors & Outdoors

Unless you live in a tropical location, you’ll have much more control over your houseplants’ environment indoors. You can also move them around easily. Constant monitoring is necessary because containers dry out more quickly than garden beds. You may have fewer pests indoors.

Begonia maculata is hardy outdoors in USDA Zone 10. In garden beds, your plants will have access to all the benefits of the rich natural soil ecology. You can put your potted babies outdoors during the warm season and move them back inside when the weather turns cold. Once outdoors, though, plants are available to all kinds of changes in the environment including other critters and changeable conditions.

Troubleshooting: Pests, Pestilence, Poor Nutrition, & Other Problems

Preventing problems is usually easier than dealing with problems. Even the best Begonia maculata care can’t prevent all difficulties. Here are a few of the most common challenges to begonia health:
Pests: Mealybugs are white scale-type insects that secret sticky patches of protective white wax.

Although they suck on the sap of their host plants, they’re more unsightly than dangerous. Whiteflies, their cousins, technically aren’t flies even though they resemble them. They cluster underneath leaves and suck on plant juices. Spray these pests off with water or a mild solution of water, neem oil, and liquid dish soap. You can also wipe them off with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

Preventing problems is usually easier than dealing with problems ~

Maple, Master Gardener

Pestilence: Most of the diseases that affect Begonia maculata plants are fungal or bacterial colonies thriving due to overwatering or overly high humidity. Powdery mildew, botrytis, bacterial leaf spot, and root rot are the most common. Adjusting the environmental conditions where they flourish is the best way to prevent them.

Poor nutrition: Although fertilizing as recommended is helpful, begonias aren’t heavy feeders. Using the right potting soil mixture and repotting annually will ensure that your plants are well-nourished.

Other problems: Signs of underwatering include crispy dry brown patches on leaves, leaf loss, and failure to flower. Related signs of faded leaf spots, yellowing, or scorching might indicate too much direct sun.

Treat your houseplants like pets because they are, they are living beings. Check them frequently for abnormal signs. Review their care needs. Isolate them if necessary to prevent contagious problems from spreading. They will thank you later.

How to Buy Polka Dot Begonias

polka dot begonia flower

The polka dot begonia will thank you with 2-3 years of dramatic beauty when you give it the right Begonia maculata care. To start out with a healthy plant, choose a reliable source with a good reputation and knowledgeable, responsive staff.

You can order online, but if you need to return the plant, transactions can be time-consuming. But buying from a local nursery, you not only support businesses in your community, but you can visually inspect the plant yourself.

Are the leaves clean and healthy? Are there signs of new growth? Is the soil free of mineral crust, mold, and crawling, flying creatures? Is the pot severely rootbound? Does the nursery have a refund policy? Some people like to put new plants into temporary isolation to prevent passing any contagious problem on to other plants in the home.

FAQ — Frequently Asked Questions about Begonia Maculata

How Do You Pronounce Begonia maculata?

Since Latin is no longer a commonly spoken language, and since there were several pronunciation differences during the language’s evolution, people say the name of this plant in slightly different ways. This clip demonstrates the most common American pronunciation.

Do Bees Like Polka Dot Begonias?

Not so much. They have almost no nectar. What’s more, bees prefer blue, purple, and yellow flowers. You can learn more about the kinds of flowers bees like best by reading our post here. Begonia maculata care means checking your indoor and outdoor plants every day for evidence of multi-legged invaders.

If Polka Dot Begonias Have No Nectar, Why Should I Put Them In My Garden?

Because they’re pretty. You may want to put them outside but keep them in their urns instead of planting them in the ground. Other types of smaller begonias make attractive bedding plants as annuals just for the warm season. Polka dot begonias provide nectar for the human soul. To find out how to help butterflies and other pollinators with better nectar-producing flowers, check out our Happy Tails article here.

Are Begonia maculata Plants Toxic?

The fibrous roots are the most toxic. The juices of the entire plant contain microscopic needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate that eventually break down into oxalic acid. Chewing causes burning and swelling in the animal’s mouth, soon followed by nausea, vomiting, and even kidney damage. Although some begonia flowers are edible, don’t risk your pets’ health by reading a misleading article.

Polka Dot Begonias: Final Thoughts

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Are you under stress? It’s been scientifically demonstrated that the amygdala, a part of the brain related to the emotional system, responds to gentle round shapes. Having a polka dot begonia in your home might contribute to your mental health by helping release your inner sense of play and fun because you feel safe. In fact, many cultures believe that polka dots bring good luck, wealth, and prosperity. Providing Begonia maculata care to your big polka dot baby might be just the thing to help turn your life around.

Resources

Fun facts about begonias:
https://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/begonia_facts/1067/#:~:text=Interesting%20Begonia%20Facts%3A,of%20its%20dense%2C%20ornamental%20foliage.

General info about begonias:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begonia

Luscious photos of Begonia maculata plants:
https://plantophiles.com/plant-care/begonia-maculata

More about plant and animal classification:
https://nature.ca/notebooks/english/scinames.htm