Today we will discuss how to care for polka dot & cane-type begonias, check out a few plants in my collection (some with the infamous spots and some not), and more.
Begonias are a plant that took me time to love. I am typically more of a green plant enthusiast and all of the loud colors from the begonia section never really drew me.
But once I started to recognize their individual beauty instead of what I felt to be collective chaos, I saw how stunning they were and how each plant is so unique and an absolute work of art.
After that, I began to accrue a handful of them and have fallen in love with the way they bring pops of color and interest among otherwise primarily green foliage.
Other plant enthusiasts also recognized the beauty of one polka dot begonia. Begonia maculata ‘Wightii’ became one of the “it” plants in 2019/2020, earning a spot all over social media and people’s wishlists.
In the days of its rising popularity, the prices were skyrocketing and it quickly became THE Polka Dot Begonia. Still, the truth is that there are MANY, MANY polka dot begonias out there.
I don’t currently own a Begonia maculata Wightii, so I included a lovely photo of someone else’s for you to enjoy below.
I personally would argue that plenty of other polka dot begonias are equally as lovely as the trendy plant pictured above, but none are quite as well known of course.
In the days since its height in popularity, Begonia maculata Wightii is now being mass-produced and sold anywhere you can buy houseplants. What was once the price of a small cutting is now the price of a large and beautiful plant.
These plants are often referred to as angel-wing begonias because their leaf shape is so similar to an angel’s wing.
However, not all cane-type begonias have this particular leaf shape and we will look at one that doesn’t later as well.
Regardless, the wonderful part about all of these polka-dot and cane-type begonias is that, generally, if you can care for one, you are very likely to be successful with others.
If you want to check out some fantastic begonias for yourself, please check out Steve’s Leaves (linked directly to can-type begonias).
They sell gorgeous, healthy plants and all of my begonias pictured here are from them. I am not getting paid or getting anything free to tell you this. I just like them a whole lot and want you to get some really amazing begonias too.
Table of Contents
- How to Care for Polka Dot and Cane-Type Begonias
- My Collection of Cane-Type Begonias
- Related Posts
How to Care for Polka Dot and Cane-Type Begonias
What I’ve heard, but don’t agree with: low light, high humidity, and constant moisture.
What I personally do to help my begonias thrive – I’ll tell you below!
Growth and Pruning:
Cane-type begonias have an upright growth habit.
The places on the stems where leaves emerge are slightly swollen or bumpy. This appearance of the upright stem with bumps at each node where leaves emerge gives them a cane-like appearance.
As the stems get taller and taller, especially indoors, they can become too top-heavy and fall over. This can also cause the plant to become too leggy, no longer holding its beautiful compact appearance.
To combat this, it is important to do one of 2 things: Prune or Add Support
#1 Prune the stems back to manageable heights.
I sometimes prune them back to very short heights and let the plant regrow into a fuller form. Other times I may only prune it back to the place I want the plant to stay, perhaps at 24 inches or so.
It is up to you how you’d like to prune, but pruning is typically a very important part of keeping begonias looking beautiful!
#2 Unless you want to add Support!
If you don’t want to prune because you love the growth too much, which is completely valid, then your plant will likely need some stakes or a trellis to support its weight.
I saw an amazing photo on Facebook of a 20-year-old angel wing begonia that was over 7 feet tall and supported by a trellis. So I do know it can absolutely be done.
It just depends on your personal preference and how much space you would like your plant to have.
Begonias like a surprising amount of light. They can enjoy and, at least in my house, need some direct sun in order to grow well.
I have cane begonias growing successfully near west-facing windows, to the side of a south-facing window, and pulled away from a Soltech Solutions grow light with some light also coming from a north-facing window.
They will not grow well or at all if not provided enough light.
You may also notice other cultural issues due to lack of light such as staying wet for too long, leggy growth, losing lower leaves, and duller coloration.
Use code CURIOSITY to get 15% off if you want to try one of Soltech Solutions’s fantastic lights – I make no commission, just love their lights. They make any place in your home into a growing space for plants. It’s amazing.
Begonias prefer to stay evenly moist, meaning they want to be watered before their potting mix has completely dried. I usually achieve this by checking them regularly and watering them when the top 25% of the pot feels dry.
However, I will say that I have let my cane begonias dry out completely and they have survived. Some will lose leaves more rapidly and wilt dramatically, but they do survive if you don’t let them stay dry for too long.
If you let them dry regularly though, be prepared to lose new and old foliage alike.
You will also probably get some leaf tip crisping, which could also be a humidity thing, but it isn’t too bad. As long as you aren’t expecting your plant to be perfect.
Kept too wet, the begonia will also lose foliage and begin to have bare stems down below. This is often because of a lack of light however and not actually because of being watered too frequently.
Any potting mix with some aerating material added will be absolutely fine. A standard houseplant mix with some perlite added would do great.
I have used something exactly like I described above with great success.
I also use the mix I like for my hoya and aroids with great success. That mix lately is about half houseplant potting mix, a quarter pumice/perlite, and a quarter orchid bark.
Sometimes it is more or less a houseplant potting mix depending on what kind of plant I am potting up and how much moisture the plant needs.
Begonias can be grown successfully in all kinds of pots. I have them growing in plastic nursery pots and terra cotta pots in my home currently. I like both.
The benefit of plastic is that it doesn’t dry out rapidly. The benefit to terracotta is that it is beautiful and you can upsize quite a bit and not worry too much about root health because it does dry out pretty quickly. But, you have to be on top of watering!
What kind of pot is basically a choice for the grower depending on their preference of decor and how often they want to attend to their plants.
Any balanced fertilizer for indoor plants applied according to the directions on the package would be fine. I tend to apply less than what the package describes, to ensure my plants do not burn.
I personally use Osmocote slow-release fertilizer with all of my begonias at half strength and reapply every few months. This seems to have kept them very happy and has been extremely easy for me to maintain.
Osmocote’s NPK is 15-9-12, meaning that it concentrates on growing the plant and not on blooming. If you wanted the plant to be more likely to bloom you could look for a product with a higher phosphorous or middle number.
To read more information about fertilizers and the meaning of NPK, click here.
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Some people will tell you that these plants absolutely must have high humidity. I do not agree.
There may be some varieties of cane begonia that require high humidity, but I don’t own them.
All of the plants that I own and have grown do just fine with household humidity in Michigan which can range from pretty darn dry to very humid, depending on the season.
I’m not saying that the leaves will always be perfect. If you want perfect leaves, you may want to keep the humidity high.
But if you are like me and are okay with your plants being imperfect, household humidity seems to be just fine.
Growing issues (Pests, Diseases, Etc):
Begonias are susceptible to many of the common pests, though I have been lucky and haven’t had any of them on my begonias so far.
I’ve seen others complain of mites, mealybugs, and more. So it’s definitely worth checking your plant if you see other telltale signs of pests, like discolored leaves, sticky reside, or deformed growth.
I have had issues with diseases, however. Begonias are susceptible to powdery mildew and botrytis.
Powdery mildew is a white powdery sheen that coats and damages the plant. It thrives in stuffy, moist conditions and seems to love my begonias indoors and my squash plants outdoors.
When my youngest daughter was still a tiny baby and life was even crazier than it is now, quite a few of my begonias had powdery mildew.
I decided to compost them because I knew I didn’t have the time to properly treat them and didn’t want it to spread further in my collection. That’s why I’m starting over with some younger plants again. 🙂
Botrytis is another fungal disease. It leaves gray unsightly spots on the plant.
The leaves then slowly begin to melt away into these gray patches.
I had purchased a clearance Begonia Escargot a couple of years ago which only had a couple of tiny leaves that were fuzzy and looked great at the time.
A day or two later, the leaves began to develop these gray, dry-looking spots. I suspected it was a fungus of some type and sprayed it with a fungicide, but it continued to spread.
After repeated sprays, the fungus still spread and jumped to another rex begonia, whose leaf I cut off immediately.
At that point, I composted the plant because it wasn’t worth risking my other plants. When I pulled it out of its pot, I realized that the root system was way too small to be in a pot of that size so the plant was staying far too wet, which was exacerbating the issue.
A couple of days later, I went back to the greenhouse where I had purchased the Escargot, and the entire table of plants was covered in it. I had brought it home with me. Ah well.
My Collection of Cane-Type Begonias
I bought Begonia Amelia from Steve’s Leaves. It is a gorgeous hybrid. The description said that it could be grown as a hanging basket so I took that literally and gave it a try.
Now I have a waterfall of polka-dot leaves that I absolutely love which have been growing over the past couple of years.
I just purchased another Begonia Amelia baby for a backup plant. Both because it is my favorite and I’d like to try growing it upright this time.
Begonia Donna is also from Steve’s Leaves. It is an absolute jaw-dropper. The pictures don’t fully do it justice, but this was the best I could do after many tries. 🙂
The leaves are super dark but emerge a dark crimson. I have this plant nestled among a couple of flamingo anthuriums, peace lily, and other common plants, as well as a Raven ZZ.
Begonia Donna and the Raven ZZ add this layer of richness with their nearly black foliage that I love.
Begonia Pink Minx
Begonia Pink Minx is another new addition that came with the baby Amelia. I’m very excited about this one because it is a different leaf shape and pattern from the others. I can’t wait to see what it will look like over time.
I should mention it is also from Steve’s Leaves, as they all are.
Begonia Flamingo Queen
Begonia Flamingo Queen has huge green leaves with larger, silvery spots across the middle of the leaves and tiny spots that line the edges of the leaves. It also flowers dark hot pink flower clusters that stand out against the foliage.
The new leaves emerge a pinky orange. You can kind of see a new leaf peeking out from between two of the main leaves in the center of the plant. This is a well-rounded plant currently so there is new growth around each side.
This particular plant can get huge and I’m super excited to see when that happens!
I also have a few on my wish list that I would love to have someday as space, budget, and availability allow!
How do you feel about begonias? Do you grow any? Which are your favorite?
Let me know in the comments below!