Wax begonias are a very popular smaller plant. It’s a very versatile begonia type that you can use as an annual in colder climates, a houseplant in any climate, or a perennial in warmer climates. They have waxy-looking, glossy leaves that can be bronze, green, or maroon. The flowers come in shades of pink, white, or red. Not only is this plant pretty to look at, but they make very low-maintenance additions to your plant collection, both indoors and out. They’re deer-resistant and only require occasional pruning and deadheading to keep them looking nice.
If you’re considering adding wax begonias to your plant collection, you need to know how to care for them. We’ll outline everything you need to know to keep them healthy and thriving below.
Begonias are a very hardy and pretty plant that comes in a range of colors and sizes to suit your needs.
Wax Begonia Care 101
|Botanical Name:||Begonia semperflorens|
|Common Name:||Wax Begonia|
|Flower Colors:||Pink, red, or white|
|Hardiness Zones:||10 to 11|
|Mature Size:||6 to 18 inches high and 6 to 12 inches wide|
|Native Area:||Central and South America|
|Plant Type:||Annual or perennial|
|Soil pH:||Slightly acidic to neutral|
|Soil Type:||Moist, rich, and well-draining|
|Sun Exposure:||Partial shade to full sun|
Popular Varieties of Wax Begonias
The begonia family has several different varieties, and each one has their own specific growing conditions when you get to different subsets. They offer unique features, and the most popular wax begonia varieties include:
- Paint Splash Pink – This wax begonia type has much showier foliage to it, and each leaf is a green color with creamy marks and spots. The pale pink flowers pop against the foliage to make it very eye-catching.
- Super Olympia – This begonia will start to flower very early, and it stands out because it produces larger-than-usual blooms. The flowers can be red, pink, or white hued.
- Varsity – If you’re looking to add a begonia to a container garden or indoor pots, this is the variety to pick out. It flowers in shades of white, red, or pink.
How to Grow Wax Begonias Outdoors
Luckily, wax begonia care is very easy as long as you make a point to give them enough water and sunlight. These plants are multifaceted, and this means that you can use them outside in your landscape or garden or as an indoor plant.
This plant isn’t super picky when it comes to fertilizer wants and needs. In general, you’ll apply a weaker fertilizer for it with a 10-10-10 ration. Give your begonia a dose of this fertilizer every month during the spring and summer months to help encourage healthy growth and large flowers.
Growing Zone and Facts
As a general rule, you wax begonia does very well in zones 10 and 11 as a perennial, but you can also grow them in other climates as an annual. They will do very well in flower pots or containers, so they make a great indoor houseplant. This plant has been very popular since the Victorian era, and it’s still popular in homes and gardens to this day.
Depending on the species you pick out, this plant will get between six inches and two feet tall. They produce flowers in shades of white, red, pink, or yellow, and you’ll get color variations in the leaves too. These waxy flowers are actually related to melons and pumpkins, you can eat these flowers to get a citrus flavor.
The classic wax begonia has always introduced a welcome splash of color in shaded spaces, but a lot of newer cultivars can tolerate full sun. This plant tends to grow much more compactly and bloom much more with fuller sun as long as it’s not extremely hot.
If you plan on putting these plants outside in full sun, it’s a good idea to pick out a variety that has bronze-colored leaves that will survive direct sunlight much better. A plant that has green leaves likes shadier spots in the yard. Even varieties that are tolerant to the sun can burn under intense light, so you may need to provide them shade during the hotter afternoon hours.
Even though wax begonias aren’t extremely picky about the soil, they do require that it drains very well. The soil will have to be continually damp, but you don’t want it soggy or wet as this can cause the plants to rot. Making sure that the soil is very rich in organic matter will ensure that it drains constantly while giving your wax begonias the nutrients they need to grow.
Luckily, wax begonias aren’t picky about the soil you put them in as long as it drains well because you’ll fertilize it once a month to boost the nutrient content.
Temperature and Humidity
Since this plant is native to South and Central America, they love warmer humidity levels, and if you can get them enough, you can keep them as perennials in your garden. These plants only grow well when the temperature is above 60 degrees, so some gardeners grow them outside as annuals once the frost danger passes for the season.
If you want to have your wax begonia bloom all year-round, they make great houseplants during the winter months. Just make sure that you keep them away from any drafts. If you have it inside, put the pot on top of a pebble tray and fill the tray with water before setting your pot on top of it. The water will slowly start to evaporate and increase the relative humidity right around your plant.
The waxy, thick leaves help to minimize evaporation, and even though this plant adores consistent moisture, they are more drought-tolerant if the weather is cooler. You don’t want to water on a schedule with these plants, instead you want to wait until the top inch of soil dries out. This will keep a small amount of moisture around the root system. However, you should remember that it’s easy to overwater and it can cause root rot. Never allow your begonia to sit in soggy soil conditions. Allowing the surface of the soil to dry out will deter pathogens that cause decay, and it can help reduce gnats. They need damp conditions to reproduce.
Water them thoroughly each time and allow the excess to drain out completely. A younger wax begonia will need more attention from you while well-established plants don’t need watering as much. The best way to water your plant is to put a garden hose or watering spout right up to your plant’s base below the leaves. Overhead watering can promote fungal growth and issues with leaf spot of powdery mildew.
Growing Wax Begonias Inside
Begonia is actually a very large genus that has more than 2,000 perennial, annual, and woody shrub species that are native to subtropical and tropical climates throughout the world. The wax begonia group has several varieties that people commonly use as bedding annuals. However, they are technically warm-weather perennials. This fibrous root plant comes with a bushy, compact mounded shape with fleshy stems, bronze or dark green waxy leaves, and loose flower clusters that bloom throughout the summer and into the fall.
Wax begonias are one of the immensely popular bedding plants in landscaping, and they can easily create lush flower beds in the spring and summer months. The reasons why so many landscapers or gardeners reach for wax begonias is obvious. These plants are durable, come in a range of looks, and they give you single or double blooms.
Wax begonias are normally planted right in the spring months from potted plants or bedding plants that started in a greenhouse. You can also plant them from seeds, but they are very slow-growing at first. It can take a few months for them to mature. For this reason, seeds usually get started indoors roughly three months before the last frost of the season. Most people think that wax begonias are outdoor plants exclusively, but they also make great indoor plants where they turn into perennials.
Indoor Wax Begonia Care Requirements
Since it’s a tropical region native, this plant is well-suited to grow in humid, warm growing conditions. They will do best when you give them consistently moist conditions, but they react badly to extreme cold or drought. Well-drained, moderately rich soil in full sun to partial shade locations will allow your wax begonias to do well with minimal care.
These plants aren’t difficult plants to grow indoors, and they can be included in a massed windowsill planting to keep the colors bright. To keep the plants looking stunning, you’ll pinch off any old blooms and remove any old or brown leaves.
You want to feed your indoor plants once a month with a balanced liquid or granular fertilizer. For the indoor wax begonias, you’ll feed them weekly at a quarter strength liquid fertilizer or biweekly at half strength. Every third or fourth time you feed them, switch out to a phosphorus based fertilizer.
The bronze-leaved wax begonias will tolerate more harsh sun conditions than the green-leaved varieties. This plant can bloom all winter long as long as it has adequate light. A western or eastern exposure is the best option, or you can put them in a south-facing window as long as you provide protection from the afternoon sun.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Even green-leaved wax begonias won’t bloom as well in dim environments. If you’re not seeing enough flowers on your plant, consider giving it more light.
The light is arguably one of the most important factors to consider when you’re trying to grow your begonia as this will dictate how much it flowers.
Your wax begonias aren’t hugely fussy in the garden with their soil as long as it drains well. In containers, you have to be aware of dense soils. You can improve the soil by sitting in peat moss or an organic amendment before you put it into the pot. They prefer to have light, airy, fast-draining soil. You can get hits by adding a general-purpose, standard potting soil.
Temperature and Humidity
Wax begonias prefer temperatures that are average to warm. As with any begonias, they don’t like cold drafts and they can’t tolerate freezing temperatures. They’ll do well with temperatures in the 60s, and while they thrive in humid outdoor conditions, they don’t like very high humidity indoors as it can encourage mildew growth on the leaves.
When you plant them in the garden, they’ll need one inch of water at a minimum a week. Applying a layer of mulch will help retain your soil moisture level between watering sessions. Indoor potted plants should get watered when the top ½ inch of soil dries out. You want to water them thoroughly and allow the pot to drain all of the way.
Established begonias require much less water, and they can go weeks between watering. When you do water them, make sure it’s a very thorough watering session before allowing it to drain out. Don’t let them sit in water as this encourages root rot.
Propagating Wax Begonias
Wax begonias are very easy to propagate using cuttings. To do so, you’ll:
- Clean a pair of scissors with alcohol to sterilize them before cutting three or four inches from your plant in the spring months. Make sure any cutting you take has a few nodes on it.
- Remove the bottom leaves roughly two inches from the cutting’s base.
- Dip the cut end into rooting hormone.
- Bury the cut end with the rooting hormone into two inches of well-draining soil and keep the soil moist.
HappyDIYHome Tip – You can place a plastic bag over your potted cutting to help trap moisture in while it forms roots. Another option you have is to skip the third and fourth steps and put your cutting into a jar of water until roots sprout. Once the roots reach an inch long, transfer them to the soil.
Growing Wax Begonias From Seed
It’s possible to start your wax begonias from seed. If you’d like to try this method to get more plants, you can:
- Roughly 12 weeks before the last frost of the season, you’ll start your seeds inside. Sprinkle them on a rich, well-draining potting soil in a seed tray.
- Use your fingers to press the seeds into the soil, making sure you don’t cover them completely. They need bright light to germinate.
- Cover your seed trays with a plastic bag or a humidity dome to trap the moisture in. Remember, patience is key at this stage. Begonias can take a long time to germinate, so don’t give up on them.
- Keep the seeds warm with grow lights and keep an eye on them. Putting them on a heating pad can help them germinate quicker.
- Once the seeds grow their first set of leaves, you can transplant your baby wax begonias into their own containers and harden them off before transplanting them outside.
It is possible to grow your wax begonias from seed, but this is a slow process because they take a long time to germinate.
Potting and Repotting Wax Begonias
When you grow them indoors in pots, wax begonias will settle in and be durable houseplants that don’t need a lot of care. A lot of people put smaller potted plants out on the deck or patio during the summer and bring them back indoors when the weather cools in the fall months.
Use a general-purpose potting soil with a peat base to grow your wax begonias, and use a smaller pot. Wax begonias prefer to be slightly root bound, and they won’t require a lot of repotting. You’ll typically repot them once or twice in their lifetimes. In most instances, it’s better to take cuttings of older plants then to try and repot and rehab leggy plants. If you do want to repot them, do so in spring with fast-draining, fresh potting soil that is very richly organic in a larger pot.
Pruning Wax Begonias
A great thing about the low-maintenance wax begonia is that you won’t have to remove or deadhead spent flowers. They will shed their own blossoms without any slowdown in production. Routine grooming will allow you to remove damaged or dead foliage while keeping the plant pristine and healthy, but pruning them isn’t strictly necessary. This plant will respond to a nice trim. Pinching the tips will encourage a bushy growth habit and stimulate growth, and cutting back leggy plants will make them grow back bushier.
Make any cuts you want roughly an inch above the leaf node. The nodes will face in different directions, and some are on the outside of the stem while others face inside. Pick outward-facing ones to prune so that the future branches will grow out and keep an open structure.
Winterizing Wax Begonias
Wax begonias are a great plant to winterize, no matter if they’re houseplants that you bring inside when the temperature starts to drop in the fall or if they’re bedding plants you bring inside.
These plants readily adapt when you bring them indoors before the first frost hits. Light levels will be lower than they are used to, but they’ll keep blooming in a sunnier window. To make the transition easier, you should:
- Check the plants for diseases or pest infestation when you bring them inside. It’s a good idea to wash your plants thoroughly as a precaution because it’s almost a 100% certainty that they will bring some form of pest indoors.
- When you bring it inside, place it in a location that gets as much light as possible.Even if you don’t have sunny window space available, you want to try putting it in the brightest available spot to allow it to acclimate. This will help to avoid leaf loss or other shock damage.
- Gradually reduce your watering session. If the air is very arid, you’ll increase the plant’s local humidity.
Dig up your plants very carefully to avoid damage before the first frost to help preserve them and get a head start on the spring growing season. To make winter storage as successful as possible, you should:
- Cut back foliage lightly and the buds to help conserve the plant’s energy.
- Allow the plant to enter a dormant period naturally by exposing them to lower light conditions before you bring them inside. Dig up your begonias and pot them before putting them in a shaded area a few weeks before the first frost of the season.
- Gradually reduce your watering routine.
- Store your plant in a very cool location indoors with indirect but bright light.
- To bring the plant out of this dormancy period in the early spring months, put it in gentle sunlight to coax it out.
Since these plants are so pretty and hardy, they’re commonly used throughout landscaping schemes in yards all over the United States.
Wax Begonia Care Top Tips for Care
There are a few things you can to to maximize your wax begonia growth rate all year round, and they include:
- If your plant isn’t flowering well, increase the light exposure.
- Light can impact leaf size. Any plants in direct sunlight tend to have much smaller leaves and plants grown in the shade have bigger foliage.
- Ensure that your plant has plenty of warm air circulation to minimize disease issues.
- Thoroughly inspect your plants before they come inside. The waxy, thick leaves can hide pests.
- It can be helpful to add a fertilizer with a higher phosphorus content every third or fourth session.
- Compact growth with your wax begonias is usually what you want, but stunted plants are a danger. Planting in soil that is below 50-degrees can cause stunting, as can prolonged drought or excessive heat.
Also, be aware that using Plant Growth Regulators can make your begonias stunted. Many large nurseries use Paclobutrazol to make the plants grow compact, but these ones react very poorly to large doses. You want to strip away any diseased or dead branches before you overwinter them as they won’t come back and they can house pests.
Common Problems with Wax Begonias
One of the most common issues with this plant is root rot. This is because the plant likes a large amount of moisture and humidity to grow, but when the moisture sinks into the soil, it can cause root rot and this can severely damage or kill the plant.
When your begonia leaves are wet, this also allows fungus to form on the leaves. This will look a lot like powdery mildew, but you can easily correct it by adjusting the moisture level and watering your plants from below the foliage. Spots will form on the leaves, and pests are not a really common issue. However, you should keep an eye out for spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, and scales as they can all cause leaf deformities and discoloration.
Wax begonias are excellent bloomers. Outdoors, they’ll start to bloom as soon as the weather starts to warm up in the spring and they’ll flower until the fall months. When you grow them as houseplants, they can bloom throughout the year in bright conditions. However, they aren’t a foolproof plant, and two common issues can cause dropping flowers, including:
- Higher Temperatures – Elevated, prolonged heat exposure can trigger dropping flowers. Shelter your begonia from the hotter midday sun and add mulch to protect the roots. Watering at noon can help cool down the soil.
- Overwatering – Too much water is one of the biggest issues for wax begonias when you’re caring for them. This can cause the plant to drop the buds, and poor draining soil is usually the main problem. The solution is to swap out your soil with materials that will aerate the soil and water your plants only when the soil’s surface dries out.
Wax Begonia Toxicity
Wax begonias are slightly poisonous to horses and pets. They have calcium oxalates that can cause vomiting, and if they eat large quantities, it can cause kidney failure. The roots of this plant are the most toxic part. But, this toxicity isn’t a problem for people. The sap can irritate your skin, but the plant is not considered a danger by themselves. In fact, many people eat the flowers in desserts or salads for a citrus taste.
Now you know all about wax begonias and how to care for them. This is a very pretty beginner-friendly plant that can look impressive with very little care on your end, and you can get a range of colors and sizes to create stunning planters or flower beds.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.