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Begonia Maculata Care (Polka Dot Begonia)

Begonia maculata care can be somewhat tricky, but it’s worth it! I’m sharing everything you need to know to help your polka dot begonia thrive.

All about polka dot begonia care!

If you’re looking for a gorgeous indoor plant, look no further than the begonia maculata. Also known as the “begonia maculata wightii” or “polka dot begonia,” this isn’t your ordinary house plant.

As a matter of fact, it’s rumored that Christian Louboutin made the underside of his heels red to resemble the underside of the begonia maculata plant! If you aren’t into fashion (I’m right there with you).

He’s a world-renowned fashion designer, and the bottoms of his shoes are famous for being red. 🙂 And they are really, really expensive. I prefer my 3-year-old Rocket Dog sneakers, but to each their own. They are gorgeous shoes!

The begonia maculata is commonly known as the polka dot begonia because of the unique silver polka dots on its leaves. The leaves are an olive green with crimson red undersides.

Once the plant reaches maturity after several years, it blooms bell-shaped white flowers (sometimes they are red). Interestingly, its stems look just like bamboo, too. They can grow up to almost 5 feet tall and 20 inches in width.

This exotic plant is sure to catch people’s attention and is a real showoff. But it takes more care than your average houseplant. Here’s what you need to help this stunner thrive.

begonia maculata wightii care

Table of contents

graphic that provides an overview of the polka dot begonia care tips in this post

Where did the polka dot begonia come from?

The begonia maculata was first classified in Brazil in 1982. It is one of the newest members of the genus begonia, which has almost 2,000 different plant species. Charles Plumier, a French botanist, named them “begonia” after a governor of Haiti, Michel Bégon.

Begonia plants are all native to subtropical and tropical climates, and many of them, like the polka dot begonia, are now popular ornamental houseplants. The begonia maculata is native to Brazil and has been introduced around the world.

It was first observed and described by Giuseppe Raddi, an Italian researcher. He used the word macula, Latin for speckled or spotted, to describe its unique leaves.

Begonia Maculata closeup

For more plants with cool foliage, check out the ric rac cactus, the pilea pepermoides, the rhipsalis trailing cactus, the philodendron micans, the string of hearts, the and the elephant ear plant!

How much light does a polka dot begonia need?

The polka dot begonia requires bright, indirect light, similar to other plants native to the tropics. Maintaining the right balance of light will determine how vibrant its colors are. Too much sun will scorch its beautiful leaves, ruining the polka dots and stunting its growth.

If it gets too little light, however, the sharp colors will fade, and it increases the chance of mould growing in the soil. A north or south facing window that receives bright light will work well for your begonia maculata.

My mom’s beautiful polka dot begonia was in her kitchen earlier this year, and then she set it out on her front porch for the summer. It absolutely exploded with growth—I wish I had a before picture! This is right at the end of the summer when she brought it inside. It got bright morning light every day on the porch.

begonia maculata wightii care

How often should I water my Begonia maculata?

Watering is perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face when caring for a begonia maculata because there are a lot of signs to look out for. The soil should be damp but not soggy because, you guessed it, the roots will rot.

Stay on the safe side and do not overwater your plant. Better yet, keep track of the days you do water it and monitor the soil. Signs of overwatering include moldy soil, yellowing leaves, wilting stems, and brown blotches on the leaves.

You never want to let the soil get too dry, though, because crispy brown and yellow patches will grow on the leaves and will lead to wilting. Test the top inch of soil with your finger—if it’s dry, you know to water thoroughly.

When watering your polka dot begonia, make sure you don’t wet the leaves since they could develop mildew. Since the begonia maculata is highly susceptible to root rot, you should prioritize drainage when it comes to picking a soil.

beautiful polka dot begonia

Should I bottom water my begonia?

Bottom watering is a method of watering plants in which water is poured into the tray or saucer that sits underneath the pot. This allows the plant to absorb water through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. While this method can be beneficial for some plants, you don’t need to bottom water begonias.

Begonias prefer to have their soil consistently moist, so it’s best to water them from the top. You can also clean off the foliage when you water your plant from the top—a favorite step in my houseplant care routine. It helps to keep those leaves looking their best!

Can you water begonias with tap water?

Yes, it’s generally safe to water begonias with tap water. But there are a few things to consider. First, if your tap water is very hard, meaning it has a high mineral content, it can lead to build-up of minerals in the soil that can harm the plant over time.

Second, tap water can contain chlorine or other chemicals that can be harmful to plants. If possible, you can let tap water sit out overnight before watering your plants to allow the chlorine to evaporate. I personally do not do this—but you might find it beneficial depending on the composition on your location’s tap water.

Finally, Begonias prefer slightly acidic soil, and tap water usually has a pH of 7 which is neutral. If your tap water has a high pH, you can use rain water or distilled water instead. Just some things to consider if you’re having issues and you think it might be your tap water.

large polka dot begonia blooming with pink flowers

What is the best soil?

Your polka dot begonia will do well with a houseplant potting mix. You can add perlite or extra coco coir or fine moss in to help lighten the soil up and enhance drainage—but only if the soil is too heavy.

If you want to take it a step further, a mixture of sand, clay, and loamy soil will work best because it will retain moisture while still draining properly. As I don’t have too many begonias, I don’t take it this far 🙂

beautiful polka dot begonia

What is the best temperature?

Since the begonia maculata hails from the tropics, it thrives in higher temperatures and cannot survive in cold conditions. The ideal temperature range is around 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which should be easy to manage indoors. At least in the spring, summer, and early fall.

The plant will go dormant indoors in the lower temps, but that’s ok. Most houseplants have a little rest during the winter and don’t grow much. It will perk back up and begin growing once the temperatures increase. The polka dot begonia does well outdoors for the summer in some shade.

polka dot begonia leaf
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Should I mist my begonia maculata?

As you might imagine, the this plant needs tons of humidity, which might be hard to accomplish if you’re growing it indoors. Most homes do not have enough moisture, so you’ll have to artificially create it. Consider keeping your begonia maculata in a bathroom or the kitchen for maximum indoor humidity.

Misting can also be beneficial for the begonia maculata. Doing so can help to maintain a humid environment around the plant, which can help to keep the leaves looking healthy and prevent them from drying out. However, misting is a very temporary solution to increasing the humidity in the air around the plant.

Keep in mind, you do not want the leaves to be constantly wet because they could develop mildew, so avoid misting it too often. And when you do mist it, try to do it in the mornings when it has a full day or warmer temps and light ahead of it.

You can also place it near a pebble tray with water, by a humidifier, or grouped with other plants to increase the humidity. I also have some of my higher humidity plants in a glass cabinet where I monitor the humidity levels. But polka dot begonias can get pretty large, so that might be an option.

large Begonia maculata

Do begonia maculata grow fast?

Begonia maculatas are relatively slow-growing plants. The growth rate varies depending on the care and environment that the plant receives.

In ideal conditions, with proper care and nutrition, Begonia maculata can grow quite vigorously, forming a bush-like shape with multiple stems and leaves. But if the plant is not receiving the right amount of light, water, and fertilizer, it will grow much slower.

How do you make polka dot begonia fuller?

As your plant grows, you may notice that it is getting leggy looking. If you want to increase your plant’s fullness, there are a few ways to do so. Pruning is a great way to encourage new growth and branching to help make your plant fuller.

Cut back any leggy or spindly stems to encourage new growth from the nearest growth point below the cut area. Repotting to a slightly larger pot can also give it more room to grow and spread out.

begonia maculata wightii care
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Here is a link to the Dropbox folder with the guide!

teaser image of the cover of the houseplant care guide

Polka dot begonia propagation

If you take cuttings from your plant to increase bushiness, you’re in luck! It’s relatively easy to propagate your polka dot begonia. Propagation is best done with stem cuttings (also known as rhizomes) during winter when the plant does not bloom. Using sharp scissors, cut off one of its bamboo-like stems just below a node.

Remove any leaves, and place it gently in a pot with well-draining, fresh soil. The soil should be moist, but not overly wet. Much like mature polka dot begonias like. It should take about 5 to 7 weeks before roots start to form, and you can test them by gently tugging on the stem.

If you feel resistance, then roots have taken hold and you’re on your way to a brand new begonia maculata! I am working on a propagation now and will update with details and pics when I have them (if it’s a success).

pink polka dot begonia flowers

Why are the tips of my polka dot begonia turning brown?

There are several reasons why the tips of your polka dot begonia may be turning brown. Here’s a quick overview to help you troubleshoot.

  • Low humidity: Polka dot begonia comes from tropical rainforests, which have high humidity levels. If the humidity in your home is low, it can cause the leaves to dry out and turn brown. Try misting your plant regularly or placing a humidifier nearby.
  • Underwatering: If the soil is too dry, the leaves can turn brown and crisp. Begonias prefer to have consistently moist soil, so it’s important to water them regularly.
  • Overwatering: If the soil is consistently too wet, the roots can become waterlogged and begin to rot, which can cause brown tips on the leaves. Make sure that the soil is well-draining and that you are not watering too frequently.
  • Temperature: Begonias prefer warm temperatures, but they don’t like it too hot or too cold. If the temperature fluctuates too much, it can cause stress on the plant and cause brown tips. Keep the temperature around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fertilizer burn: If you’ve recently fertilized your plant, it’s possible that you’ve used too much fertilizer, which can cause brown tips on the leaves.

It’s important to note that brown tips on leaves can also be natural for begonia maculata. The plant naturally loses older leaves as it matures. If the browning is limited to the older leaves and new leaves are growing in healthy, then it may be nothing to worry about.

polka dot begonia flowering

Is begonia maculata toxic?

I could not find information about the exact toxicity of begonia maculata. However, it doesn’t appear to be toxic to humans or animals. Despite this, I always recommend keeping houseplants out of reach of children and pets just to be safe. It’s meant to be ornamental.

Keep in mind that some people may have an allergic reaction to the sap of the plant and it can cause skin irritation or rash. If you experience any symptoms after handling the plant, wash your hands and avoid further contact.

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collage that says polka dot begonia care & propagation with pictures of the plant
  1. Dan says:

    Nice photos

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