Table of Contents
- What is a Polka Dot Begonia?
- Polka Dot Begonia Requirements
- Winter Protection
- Common Problems
- Repotting a Polka Dot Begonia
- Polka Dot Begonia FAQ
A statement-making houseplant, the Polka Dot Begonia makes a unique addition to any home. These beautiful plants can be grown outside, but they are most commonly used as indoor plants thanks to their love of warm temperatures.
What is a Polka Dot Begonia?
The Polka Dot Begonia or Begonia Maculata has unique leaves with silver polka dots and gorgeous autumnal red undersides. It was discovered just a few decades ago, but has swiftly become a firm favourite in homes thanks to its unique appearance.
Discovered in Brazil in 1982, this plant grows predominantly in the Atlantic rainforest. It produces gorgeous white and pink flowers in the spring and summer and, provided it’s looked after properly, can grow up to a metre high.
Fashion gurus may know that it’s rumoured Christian Louboutin was inspired by the Polka Dot Begonia, creating his iconic red-soled stilettos after being inspired by the red leaf undersides.
You’d be forgiven thinking any plant which inspires fashion icons such as Christian Louboutin is going to be pretty high maintenance. But while the Polka Dot Begonia may look dramatic, it’s a surprisingly easy plant to take care of.
Let’s take a look at how best to care for the Polka Dot Begonia plant.
Polka Dot Begonia Requirements
Looking after a polka dot begonia is fairly straightforward, even for those considerably lacking in green fingers!
Like many houseplants, there’s a balance to strike between underwatering and overwatering.
Polka Dot Begonias like moist soil, meaning they need frequent and consistent watering. However, they shouldn’t be left sitting in water, as this can lead to root rot. Allow the excess water to drain each time you water.
A good way to test whether your plant needs water is to put your finger into the soil. If the top inch feels dry, give your plant a good water, allowing it to drain through.
If the top inch of soil feels moist, your plant has enough water and doesn’t need any more.
Like most houseplants, you’ll need to water more in the summer months and less in the autumn. Use the soil test to check, but you shouldn’t find you need to water more than once every couple of weeks in the winter.
Originating in the rainforest, Polka Dot Begonias prefer bright indirect light, although they can also live in low light conditions (as they would be naturally covered by other trees).
The plant will grow a lot quicker if it’s placed in a bright spot, but you shouldn’t leave it in direct sunlight. Too much sun can scorch the leaves, especially during a period of hot weather.
The corner of a bright room tends to be the best spot for a Polka Dot Begonia.
While not an essential, if you want your Polka Dot Begonia to thrive, it needs a more humid environment than what most homes can offer. In the rainforest, these plants will have at least 45% humidity.
An easy way to increase the humidity levels in your home is to place your Polka Dot Begonia on a shallow tray filled with pebbles. Keep the pebbles well watered. When the water evaporates from the pebbles, it will rise and increase the humidity surrounding the plant.
You could also mist the leaves every so often. While this will increase the humidity, you should take care not to do it too often, as the leaves dislike being very wet.
Soil and Feeding
Polka Dot Begonias like well-draining soil that holds moisture. A light commercial potting soil, mixed with a couple of handfuls of perlite will give your Polka Dot Begonia the best chance of thriving. Perlite will help keep the soil aerated.
To enable your Polka Dot Begonia to grow, you’ll need to fertilise it every so often. Adding a liquid fertiliser every 2 weeks during the growing season is a good rule of thumb. It doesn’t need any feeding in the winter months, when it’s dormant.
If your plant is adequately cared for, it may produce white flowers during the growing season. These won’t last long but should reappear the following season. The flowers appear in small clusters.
For your plant to flower, it’s essential that it has enough indirect light. You should also feed it regularly during the growing season. An all-purpose fertiliser every couple of weeks during the growing season should be enough to encourage your plant to flower.
Prune the flowers once they have finished blooming, and they should reappear the following spring.
Pruning will ensure that your plant grows outwards instead of up, leading to a fuller looking plant.
Removing the tips of the canes can stimulate a bushier growth. New stems will grow from where you prune. Use your finger and thumb to remove the small stems that branch off.
Cut back long stems in the autumn to help your plant conserve energy for the winter ahead.
Propagating a Polka Dot Begonia is very easy; you can either put it in water or into soil.
Cut off a part of the stem and a few leaves, then place the stem cuttings in a small jar of water. Do this during the growing season, and the cuttings should grow roots within a couple of weeks. Once the roots have grown a couple of inches long, place them in a pot with potting mix.
Alternatively, dip the end of a cutting into a growth hormone, then plant it in potting soil. Water thoroughly then put the soil into a sealed bag. Keep it well misted, give it enough light and keep it warm.
Roots form slightly slower in soil than water, but both methods work very well. For best results, keep the leaf cuttings in bright, indirect light and warm temperatures.
When the temperature drops in the autumn, the plant will go dormant. It won’t grow very much, but it will start growing again once the temperatures warm up.
In terms of care, there’s not much you need to do differently. You’ll need to water it less often and it won’t need fertiliser. You should aim to keep it in a room of 15°C or warmer.
Despite their intricate appearance, Polka Dot Begonias are surprisingly easy to take care of. However there’s still a few issues you might encounter.
If the leaves of your Polka Dot Begonia are turning yellow, it may be that you are watering it too often. Give the soil some time to dry out a little, and don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry.
Brown and Dry Tips
If the tips of the leaves have become brown, dry or brittle, your plant may be thirsty! Check the soil to see if it’s dry, and if it is, give it a good drink of water. Spraying the leaves with a mister or placing the plant on a tray of wet pebbles can improve the humidity.
Brown Patches on the Leaves
If you’ve placed your Polka Dot Begonia in a very sunny spot, you may find brown patches start appearing on the leaves. This is due to sun scorch. Remember that these plants like bright but indirect sunlight. Move it to the corner of a bright room instead, where it doesn’t get direct sunlight.
If you’re getting white fluffy spots on the undersides of the leaves, the plant has mealybugs. These feed on the sap of houseplants and can lead to a number of problems. Wipe the leaves with cotton wool and organic insecticide.
A white substance appearing on the leaves is powdery mildew. This is often due to the leaves being too wet for too long a period of time. Instead of misting the plant, place it in a pebble tray to increase the humidity.
Remove affected leaves and try to water from the bottom of the plant to prevent the other leaves from getting wet.
Improve air circulation around the plant by moving it away from other plants or objects.
Repotting a Polka Dot Begonia
You’ll need to repot your Polka Dot Begonia at some point, as the roots grow too large for the pot. Repotting will also increase the nutrients in the soil and air aeration, improving the health of your plant.
You should repot your plant when it’s fully root bound. This is when the roots hold onto all of the soil, and there is no loose soil left. You’ll also know it needs repotting if the roots are poking out of the drainage holes of the current pot.
Even if your Polka Dot Begonia hasn’t grown out of its current pot, annual repotting in the spring is recommended in order to give it fresh soil.
To repot your Polka Dot Begonia you will need:
- A new pot around 2.5 cm larger than the previous pot with adequate drainage holes
- A planting medium which is equal parts peat moss, perlite and vermiculite
Mix the planting medium together and moisten them with water.
Fill the bottom of your new pot with the potting mix, tall enough so that the begonia remains at the same height as it did in its previous pot.
Remove the Polka Dot Begonia from its current pot, and transfer into the new pot taking care not to damage the roots. Fill the sides and empty spaces with leftover potting mix.
It’s important you don’t increase the size of the pot too drastically. A container that’s too large can lead to root rot, as the soil stays wet for longer.
Polka Dot Begonia FAQ
Are polka dot begonias toxic to pets?
Like many of our beloved houseplants, Polka Dot Begonias are in fact toxic to cats and dogs. The most toxic parts of the plant are under the soil.
While a cat or dog could eat a small amount of the plant and get away with it, too much of the plant could cause vomiting.
Can polka dot begonias go outside?
Polka Dot Begonias do well both inside and out. They require bright, indirect light, fast draining soil, warm temperatures and high humidity. As these conditions are easier to create when potted and indoors, they are most commonly used as houseplants.
If you are growing your Polka Dot Begonia outside, you should bring it indoors if the temperature drops too low.
How long do polka dot begonias live?
Compared to many houseplants, Polka Dot Begonias don’t live for a particularly long time. With the right care and conditions, you should find your plant lasts for around three years.
If you are growing your Polka Dot Begonia outdoors, it will last just a year.
How do I make my Begonia bushy?
Polka Dot Begonias can look a little ‘leggy’ if they are not properly pruned, with gaps at the base. Pruning your plant can help it grow thick and bushy.
Pruning should be done in the spring with clean shears. Pinch back or trim off the stem tips, repeating this process every month to encourage more growth. Where you remove one tip, two should grow back in its place.
How big do Polka Dot Begonias get?
With good care and the right conditions, your Polka Dot Begonia could reach up to one metre in height.