Begonia Maculata (also known as Begonia Maculata Wightii, Polka Dot Plant, or Trout Begonia) is a perennial flowering plant, in the family Begoniaceae.
Originating in warm, humid subtropical and tropical climates, Begonias are found in South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia. The Begonia genus has over 1800 species! They have been widely cultivated as houseplants across the globe and are known for their unusual leaves which come in a wide array of different shapes, sizes and colors.
Begonias make great house plants because their foliage adds so much interest, all year. They also do well in a wide range of lighting conditions, which makes them a good choice for indoor plants. One of the most interesting to look at and easiest to keep is the beautiful Begonia Maculata or Polka Dot Plant.
Begonia Maculata Description
True to its heritage, Begonia Maculata sports beautiful, angled, leaves that are dark olive green on top, with white ‘polka dots’ that look painted on, and a uniform deep crimson color on the underside. The flowers are showy bunches of small white blooms, growing on a single stem, with bright yellow stamens.
These upright growing Begonias are known as ‘cane Begonias’ because the stems are tall and segmented, resembling bamboo canes.
Begonia maculata makes a wonderful houseplant with stunning foliage that remains all year and beautiful flowers in the summer. The flowers may come several times per season if they are pruned in time.
Where to plant your Begonia Maculata – Location, Space, Light, Container, and Potting Mix
Begonia Maculata will thrive in warm, humid conditions with bright, indirect light and plenty of air circulation.
Finding the ‘sweet spot’ for it will make a big difference to how happy the plant is and how much ongoing maintenance it needs, so it’s worth your while to put a little thought into the initial placement of your plant.
Each home is a little different and you will need to play around and see that works best for you and your Begonia but you can use the following as a starting point:
In the right conditions, Begonia Maculata will grow happily to 1 meter high and about 50 to 60 cm wide. The tall, straight canes will need some support and the plant likes to be a little root bound so make sure you account for upright support and base weighting when you’re planning where to put your Begonia Maculata.
As a warmth and humidity loving plant, it is important to allow for sufficient air circulation around the plant. Adequate air circulation will help prevent mildew/fungal infections that also thrive in warm, moist environments.
Begonia Maculata needs plenty of bright, indirect, light. It will survive in lower light conditions but it does best in bright light. Indirect natural light from a nearby window works best.
It can tolerate a little direct sunlight, as long as it is brief and not too hot (early morning or late afternoon). It will not tolerate hot, direct sunlight and the leaves will scorch and burn if it gets too much sunlight. If you do not have a suitable location, you can use a netting curtain or shade cloth to filter the sunlight.
In locations where natural light is not available, you can use a grow light, as long as it is not too close to the plant.
These plants like a warm and relatively humid environment. Temperatures ranging from 20°C (68°F) and 30°C (86°F) are best but it will tolerate higher temperatures, as long as there is sufficient humidity.
It will not tolerate cold and does not do well under 18°C (65°F) and should be protected from cold drafts from air conditioners, fans and open windows during the autumn and winter.
Begonia Maculata needs relatively high humidity. It does best around 50-60% and up but it will do well as low as 45% too. If you are not in a naturally humid environment, you can use a humidifier or pebble tray to increase the humidity around your plant.
Choosing the right container
The most important feature to look for when choosing a container for your Begonia Maculata is drainage. As a water-loving plant, Begonias need to be watered frequently so it is essential that the container drains well and drains quickly to prevent waterlogging and root rot.
In terms of size, Begonia Maculata prefers a smaller pot and likes to be a little rootbound. This can make it tricky to find a pot that is both small enough and heavy enough to prevent the tall, top-heavy, plant from toppling over. You can use a small plastic pot inside a larger, heavier, cover pot or you can choose a small pot made from a heavy material like ceramic, terracotta or cement.
Using the right potting medium
The best potting medium for Begonia Maculata is a light, well-draining potting medium that is relatively rich in organic matter and has a pH level, mildly acidic to neutral (6.1 to 7.5). Store-bought potting mix amended with a little compost and some stone chips for added drainage will work well, as will store-bought ‘African Violet mix’.
Begonia Maculata Care – Watering, Feeding, Pruning and Pest Control
Once you have found the ‘sweet spot’ for your polka dot begonia and you’re all set, the ongoing maintenance is very simple!
Begonia Maculata loves frequent watering! It can dry out a little between watering but never completely. Aim to water it whenever the top 2.5cm of soil/growing medium is dry.
That said, avoid letting the soil/growing medium get too wet, for too long. It is best to water it thoroughly and let all the excess water drain away immediately. If you have a small plastic pot inside a larger cover pot, make sure all the excess water has drained out before you place it back into the cover pot.
Make sure you have a pot that drains well and a growing medium that releases water well too. If the roots sit in water for too long, they will develop ‘root rot’ and die. This often kills the whole plant. If you notice that the plant has become waterlogged, allow it to dry out completely or re-pot it and cut away any dead roots before re-potting it.
Begonia Maculata is a perennial, evergreen plant so it does not need to be pruned in the traditional sense. It does not die back or go completely dormant in the winter so it does not need to be cut back at all.
However, it does need to be trimmed back a little to maintain a nice shape and prevent it from becoming too leggy, especially in lower light conditions. Pruning flowers at the stem as soon as they’re starting to go over can also result in a second flush of flowers that season
Use clean, sterilized clippers and clip away any leggy stems just below a node or at the base of the stem. New growth will shoot from there.
Begonia Maculata needs regular feeding with balanced liquid fertilizer. Look for one that contains a more or less equal ratio of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (look for equal NPK numbers on the bottle) diluted to a half or a quarter of the recommended strength.
In the spring and summer, feed your polka dot begonia frequently – about once a week – with water. In the autumn you can reduce the frequency and then reduce it even further in the winter when it doesn’t need to be fed at all.
In a very controlled environment, where the plant experiences no real seasonal change in terms of light and temperature, you can continue to feed it all year and it will keep growing all year. However, if you keep feeding and notice that it is not growing in the winter, reduce the frequency again. Overfeeding will harm the plant if it is not actively growing and utilizing the nutrients.
Preventing Pests and Diseases – Good Practices to Keep
Like most plants, keeping them clean, fed and correctly watered is usually enough to keep them safe from pests and diseases. Keep the following tips in mind to keep your polka dot begonia healthy:
- Water from the bottom and avoid letting the plant sit in water for long periods, both around the roots and on the leaves.
- Keep the container clean. Wherever possible, wash it with soap and water to kill any viruses, bacteria, or fungus.
- Clean and sterilize your hands and tools before you handle the plant.
- Keep it away from other plants, especially new additions to your collection, until you are confident that they are not carrying any diseases or pests.
Treating Pests and Diseases
The following are common problems faced by Begonia Maculata plants:
- Root Rot will occur in overly wet conditions. Roots will go soft and mushy and then die off, cutting off the plant’s access to water and nutrients from the soil. Leaves will wilt and fall off. Cut away any affected leaves, stems or roots immediately. If necessary, re-pot the plant into a clean container and ensure that the potting medium drains freely and quickly.
- Fungal Infections, such as Anthracnose and Powdery Mildew are common problems due to the heat and humidity required for these plants to thrive. Curling leaves and white patches indicate Powdery Mildew, while leaves yellowing and curling, with brown patches, indicate Anthracnose. Treatment consists of removing the affected leaves as soon as you see them (dispose of them away from other plants) and applying a store-bought fungicide.
- Pests (Thrips, Aphids, and Spider Mites) are commonly found on indoor foliage plants like Begonia Maculata. Treatment consists of manually cleaning them off the leaves with a damp cloth and warm, soapy water. Natural remedies, such as Neem Oil, are another safe and effective method. Spray the leaves and stems with the Neem Oil mixture and then wipe them down gently with a washcloth to remove the insects. More stubborn infestations may require several treatments to clear up. Take care to isolate the affected plant to prevent them from spreading to other plants in the vicinity. It must be noted that the sensitive leaves on a Begonia Maculata may not tolerate an oil spray well and it is recommended that you test your oil spray on a single leaf to see how it reacts. If it is fine in 24 hours, you can go ahead and use it on the rest of the plant. Otherwise, try diluting it more or use a non-oil-based alternative.
In conclusion, Begonia Maculata (also known as Begonia Maculata Wightii, Polka Dot Plant, Trout Begonia or Cane Begonia) is a truly stunning houseplant that is easy to care for.
It is a flowering, evergreen, perennial plant that grows tall cane-like stems and stunning ‘angel wing’ leaves that are dark green with bright while ‘polka dots’ on the top and a deep crimson on the underside. It flowers with bunches of small, showy, white flowers in the summer.
Caring for Begonia Maculata is easy once you have the basic conditions right. It will grow happily for many years with little on-going maintenance, aside from regular watering and feeding in the growing season.
If you are interested in learning more about a similar looking plant, check out our article on How to Care for Begonia Corallina (Angel Wing Begonia).
Where to Buy Begonia Maculata
The Begonia Maculata is for sale on Amazon and Etsy. Click below to check the prices on each website.
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