How to Care for a Begonia pavonina

Introduction

Begonia pavonina, also known as the peacock begonia, is quite rightly famous in the plant world for its phenomenal coloration. With splendid blue leaves that have a metallic shimmer when the light hits them, they are showy and look amazing.

If you can offer the right growing conditions, they will make a fabulous addition to your household. Their blooms are also beautiful, being delicate and simple. While these plants do require quite specific care, it’s perfectly possible to grow them in your home and amaze everyone you know.

High humidity is a big requirement for this plant; they only grow properly if the air is damp, so you’ll need to provide a good environment. They also need reasonably low light levels as they live on forest floors and cannot handle strong light, especially direct sun.

Indoor vs Outdoor Growing

These plants come from Malaysia and they are found in mountainous forests. They thrive best between 55 and 75° F and do not like to be much warmer or much cooler than that. They won’t grow in very cold temperatures, but also can’t handle too much heat, especially at night. You will have to find a way to keep them cool if you live somewhere hot.

Growing them indoors can be a challenge because of their need for plenty of humidity. You will probably have to get a humidifier to have much success with these plants, or grow them in a terrarium in order to keep the moisture levels high.

One good thing about growing these plants indoors is that they don’t require much light, so they are happy to grow indoors even if it’s fairly dark! That is not a sign to put them in pitch blackness, of course.

Best Location For Your Begonia Pavonina

You can grow a begonia pavonina anywhere in your home, but you need to make sure that it has low enough light levels and high enough humidity levels.

Often, bathrooms will be the perfect place to put this plant, because they are frequently humid (if you have a shower in there) and often relatively dark compared to the rest of the house. However, you may feel you don’t get much enjoyment from your begonia pavonina if it’s in there!

Other rooms may be suitable, provided you keep the humidity high and you don’t put the plant in a bright spot.

Soil For A Begonia Pavonina

This plant likes damp but well-drained soil, and it won’t be happy in heavy clay soils. Sandy soil is also not ideal, but the plant will benefit from the use of perlite and sphagnum moss.

The perlite will ensure that the water drains away through the pot and doesn’t sit around the roots for excessive amounts of time. The sphagnum moss will help to retain enough water to keep the roots damp.

You can also buy potting mixes designed for this kind of plant, but it is easy enough to create your own version at home. A good ratio is three parts perlite and two parts sphagnum moss; this will ensure good drainage while not requiring you to water the plant every single day.

In terms of the pH, begonia pavonina plants like somewhat alkaline soils, and if you can get the soil somewhere between 5 and 7, it will be very happy and should grow well.

Those cover its requirements in terms of its soil; as long as you tick those boxes, it should be happy. You do not need to follow the suggested ratios exactly, but they should provide you with a good guide to use.

Watering Your Begonia Pavonina

Begonia pavonina plants are quite thirsty plants, but the amount of water they need will of course depend to some degree on where in the world you are located. If you are in a hot country, more water will be needed than if you live somewhere cooler – although, given the temperature requirement, this plant will always be in warm conditions.

In the summer, you should aim to water two or three times a week, or once the soil is dry to about an inch below the surface. If in doubt, gently push your finger into the soil to the knuckle. If the soil is still moist, the plant shouldn’t need another drink. If it’s dry, it’s time to water it.

In the winter, you can reduce how much you water the plant. You may be able to drop the frequency to once a week or even less, depending on the conditions, the size of the pot, and the ambient temperature.

It’s important not to over-water your plant, as you will leave it vulnerable to root rot and fungus gnats if it keeps sitting in water. Let it dry out for a few days before you give it another drink, and it will be much happier.

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Ideally, because these plants have shallow roots, you should water from the top at all times. While you can fill a tray with water, the roots of the begonia pavonina probably aren’t right down at the bottom of the pot, and it may not get much benefit from water that gets soaked upward. Watering from the top ensures the water floods the roots.

Don’t water its leaves, however; this makes it vulnerable to powdery mildew.

Humidity For Your Begonia Pavonina

This is a plant that really loves humidity, and you may find it’s hard to provide enough! Ideally, you should have a hygrometer around so that you can keep an eye on humidity levels and make sure they stay high enough to keep it happy.

Most people do not recommend growing begonia pavonina plants at below 50% humidity; they say they simply will not be happy at lower than that. Some people do claim to manage at lower levels without an issue, but if you want to optimize your plant’s well-being, aim to keep their surroundings nice and humid.

You might be wondering how to do that. There are a few different options. The first and most obvious is to buy a humidifier. There are all kinds on the market, and they plug in near your plant and emit little puffs of humid air. Simply top them up with water from time to time and they’ll keep raising the humidity for you.

Secondly, you can mist the plant yourself using a spray bottle. A good few squirts on the soil in the morning will allow plenty of moisture to evaporate throughout the day, dispersing through the leaves. Do not mist the leaves themselves; again, this could cause powdery mildew.

The spray method is very therapeutic for some people, but it can be a bit labor-intensive if you have a lot of plants.

Another option is to buy a plastic tray with no holes in it and a bag of gravel. Tip the gravel into the tray, and then pour some water in to just below the level of the stones. Stand your plant pot on top of the gravel, so that it is above the level of the water. This will mean the soil can’t soak it up.

Throughout the day, the water will constantly be evaporating, providing humidity to the plant. You can just top up the water in the tray whenever necessary.

If you’re really struggling to keep your begonia pavonina humid enough, try grouping it together with other plants. They will all emit small amounts of humidity and help to trap the moisture in their foliage, so this can work well if you have a lot of greenery.

Keeping your begonia pavonina humid will ensure it is happy and healthy. Remember not to mist too late in the day; while this species really likes humidity, wet leaves overnight is a sure way to invite mold and fungus gnats. Ideally, you should let your plant dry out before night comes, and then mist it again in the morning.

Fertilizing Your Begonia Pavonina

These plants do benefit from being fertilized, and a very balanced fertilizer is ideal for use on them. Look for ones that contain 10% potassium, 10% nitrogen, and 10% phosphorus. You should also aim for ones that include copper and magnesium, as well as calcium. These will help ensure the plant has all the minerals it needs to grow.

These plants like a lot of food, and you should be feeding them every couple of weeks if you want them to grow well. Do dilute the fertilizer thoroughly to avoid over-feeding.

If you notice salts starting to build up in the soil (white crystals on the surface), use some jugs of water to flush these through and clean them out before you next fertilize. These are left over from the fertilizer, and could burn your plant’s roots if you don’t deal with them.

It is better to fertilize too little than too much, so if you think you’ve fed your plant more than you should have, leave it for a few weeks before you feed it again. The worst that will occur if you don’t feed it as much is slower growth. The worst that will occur from over-feeding is plant death – so be careful!

Toxicity

Begonia pavonina plants are toxic to both people and animals. If you have pets or young children, keep them away from its attractive, shiny leaves. You may want to put the plant up out of reach if your child isn’t old enough to understand about not eating it – or if your pet is insistent on having it for dinner.

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Eating it should not be life-threatening, but it can cause a lot of problems. The mouth, throat, and digestive system can all suffer from eating this plant. If you think a child or animal has ingested some of this plant, contact a doctor or vet promptly for advice on what to do, and remove the plant from the vicinity to prevent further consumption.

Propagation

It’s absolutely no surprise that some people want to propagate this extraordinary and stunning plant, and fortunately, you can do so relatively easily. You might find plenty of friends who would be glad to receive a cutting as a gift!

Propagation can be done either using soil or water; both methods are straightforward and require minimal equipment. Remember to sterilize your scissors/secateurs before taking a cutting to reduce the risk of introducing any foreign bacteria to the main plant or the new one.

Water propagation is extremely easy. Get a large, clear jar and clean it thoroughly, and then fill it with water. Allow this to stand for a while to let the chlorine evaporate.

Next, find a nice, healthy stem on your plant, and check that it has a root node, or it will never root. It should also have two or more leaves on it. You want a cutting to be about three or four inches long so there is plenty of energy in the plant, and you should cut directly below the root node if possible.

Once you have taken the cutting, remove any leaves and buds, and then put the bottom of the cutting in the water, making sure the root node is submerged. You should then put the jar in a place that has plenty of bright light, but not direct sunlight (it will burn in direct sun).

Every three or four days, refresh the water so it doesn’t become stagnant, and check for root growth after a week or two. When the roots are a couple of inches long, you can move the cutting into fresh soil, planting the roots nice and deeply. Pack soil around the bottom of the stem, and you have a brand new begonia pavonina plant!

To propagate in soil, you will also want a stem around three or four inches long, with a few leaves, and a cut directly below the root node. Make sure you sterilize your shears.

Once you have your cutting, you need to cure it for this method. Let it sit in the open in a warm room for a week. This might sound an odd way to deal with a plant, but you’re basically hardening the cut end before it goes into the soil.

At the end of the week, fill a pot with the correct soil and then make a small hole in the middle with your finger, deep enough for most of the cutting. Put the stem in and then pack the soil around it, and gently water.

If the cutting won’t stand up, use a stick or something similar to provide it with some support while the roots establish themselves. Place the plant in bright, indirect light and let it grow, treating it as you would the main plant. Fertilize, water, and care for it as normal.

Either of these propagation methods should work for you, but if you’re having trouble with one, switch to the other and see if you have more success. Sometimes, what works for one person does not work well for another.

Repotting

Begonia pavonina plants do not really like being repotted, so you should minimize the repotting – but it will need to be done as the plant grows. They can get quite large, up to around sixteen inches high and eight inches wide, so you can’t leave them in the same pot forever.

Usually, you will need to repot growing plants once per year, or every two years at the most. The best time is in spring, around March, when the plant is starting to become more active.

Don’t try and skip a pot size; plants don’t like being in massive pots, so it’s best to just plant it in one that is only a little larger than the pot it was already in. Go up one or two increments, not ten.

Leaving your plant in a tiny pot is also not an option. They will tolerate slightly cramped conditions, but not indefinitely, and they will also be vulnerable to getting dried out if their pots are full of roots, not growing medium.

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Use fresh growing medium, rather than the material from the old pot. This will help ensure your plant stays healthy, leaving behind any disease or bacteria, and giving your plant fresh nutrients. Fill the new pot up ready before you take your begonia pavonina out of its current pot.

Remember, the plant likes alkaline soil, so consider adding just a little lime or something similar to the pot to alter the pH. You can also add fertilizer while repotting, ensuring the plant gets a good feed to help it deal with any transplant shock or damage, and to encourage it to grow and fill the new pot.

F.A.Q.

Like all plants, begonia pavonina plants do occasionally run into problems, so we’ve tried to cover some of the common issues you might encounter and how you may be able to fix them.

Why Does My Begonia Pavonina Have Blisters Beneath Its Leaves?

If you notice odd, blister-like swellings under the leaves of your plant, it’s something to pay attention to. These are indicative of Bacterial Leaf Spot, which is a result of the plant being too wet.

They are very fast spreading and will cover the plant extremely quickly if you don’t take action. You need to remove every single infected leaf to prevent further spreading, and isolate the plant. Check all your other plants (these spots can appear as brown with a yellow ring around them or as blisters) and treat any that are affected in the same way.

This disease will very quickly kill your plant if you don’t take action, and there’s little you can do beyond removing affected leaves. Routinely checking the underside of your begonia pavonina plant’s leaves is a good idea, because the moist conditions these plants prefer make them vulnerable to this infection.

What Pests Do Begonia Pavonina Plants Suffer From?

Sadly, these plants are quite popular with pests, and quite vulnerable to them too. You might, for example, find aphids sucking the sap from the plant’s leaves and stems. You also might see whiteflies and mealybugs, which will damage the plant as well.

Thrips are another common predator, and they are so small, they are very hard to detect. Their saliva is toxic, and also often carries viruses that will make your plant sick. They will quickly move to other plants, transmitting the diseases and weakening the plants. Thrips pose major dangers to your plant.

Most pests that will attack a begonia pavonina can be dealt with using mild insecticide soaps or something like neem oil. You can use vodka to treat scale insects, but you should never use harsh chemicals on the leaves of your plant, or you could damage it yourself while trying to remove the pests.

Neem oil can be sprayed onto the plant and it will coat the insects, suffocating them.

What Causes Powdery Mildew?

Powdery mildew is a kind of fungus that will spread over the leaves of your plant and make them look dusty and powdery. It’s usually a result of warm and wet conditions – exactly the conditions that a begonia pavonina likes.

It spreads via spores and can easily affect other plants too. If you notice it, you should isolate the plant and try and treat the mildew. It is not always easy to treat, but removing heavily infected leaves can help.

You can spray the plants with a diluted milk solution both as a curative and preventative measure, and this will help in some cases. Spraying Neem oil on the plant can also be effective, as it will prevent spore production and mess up the fungus’s metabolism.

Powdery mildew affects many kinds of plants and is a common name for several types of fungus. However, the treatments mentioned should help regardless of what variety of fungus you have encountered, so try them as soon as you notice your begonia pavonina has been infected.

Why Are The Leaves Iridescent?

It’s thought that the iridescent blue helps the plant to absorb more of the low light that is available to it. This gives the plant more energy to grow and out-compete other plants. However, this only speculation, and the reason for the plant’s extraordinary and stunning coloration is not yet proven.

You might be tempted to try and increase the iridescence by reducing the light levels and encouraging your plant to produce more blue pigments. You can attempt this, but it’s a fine balance to strike as very low light is not good for this plant, and it may become sickly and straggly.