Painted Leaf Begonia (Begonia Rex) Plant Care Guide

Also called Begonia rex, king begonias and fancy leaf begonia, painted leaf begonias are one of the hardiest indoor plants. These perennials are one of the prettiest houseplants growers will ever see. These begonias grow large, gorgeous leaves, ranging from pink to red to silver to purple to white. The leaves have patterns around their edges, making them fun to watch and decorate indoors.

With the right living conditions, their wing-shaped leaves can grow as large as nine inches with blending colors. Since these Rex begonias are rhizomatous, they grow by sending out roots from their leaf nodes, climbing and spreading out. Painted leaf begonias grow well in an office or home, reaching 18 to 24 inches in height once fully mature. 

painted leaf begonia rex plant

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Botanical NameBegonia rex
Common NamePainted Leaf Begonia
Size18-24 inches long, 5 inches wide
DifficultyEasy
Pet FriendlyToxic
Air CleanerYes

Painted Leaf Begonia Origin

Part of the Rex cultorum group, the plants originate from an Indian species called Begonia rex, spreading across South Asia to China and Vietnam. In fact, J. Simons, in Assam, India around 1856, discovered the Rex begonia in the Himalayas. These plants lived on the moderate side of the Himalayas, thriving in the humid and shady areas, preferring the crevices of rocks. 

In 1858, the species began being cultivated for domestic purposes and quickly became popular as an indoor plant. As a result, hybrids appeared with various leaf patterns. Each time a cross happened, unique begonias appeared, and eventually, the painted leaf arrived. 

How to Care for Painted Leaf Begonia

Excellent care of the painted leaf begonia will present a beautiful multi-colored houseplant that keeps giving back. These plants will thrive when given the proper care. Read the following plant care tips and tricks to ensure these begonias live well in any indoor environment.

Light and Temperature

Indirect, bright light makes these beauties happy, whereas direct sunlight will scorch and fade the leaves. Indoors the painted leaf begonias need 14 hours of a day of light during the growing season, spring and summer. Supplement with artificial light if it appears the plants require more light. Not enough light will prevent their flowers from blooming. 

The ideal temperatures for painted leaf begonias are 65° to 70° Fahrenheit. Night time can go as low as 60° Fahrenheit. 

The Rex begonias grow well in an area with relatively high humidity, 50 percent or more. If brown leaves appear, it usually means too low humidity. For this reason, they thrive in a brightly lit kitchen or bathroom where the humidity levels are much higher. Ensure air circulation so mildew doesn’t form on the foliage.

In environments where the air is dry because of a heater, try grouping the plants during the winter to raise the levels. Placing the houseplants on a tray of wet marbles, pebbles, or similar decorative items should help. Ensure the containers sit on the stones and not the water.

Water

These fancy leaf begonias thrive in evenly moist potting soil. However, it’s better to underwater than to overwater because soggy roots cause root rot and other diseases. Ideally, once the top inch or more of the potting mix feels dry when touched, water these houseplants. Avoid waiting until the soil becomes dried out because this will wilt the leaves. Try not to get their leaves wet because that makes them more likely to get powdery mildew.

During the winter, they will go dormant if the painted leaf begonias do not receive enough sunlight. Their growth slows down as the temperatures drop below 60° Fahrenheit. The leaves fall, so reduce the usual amount of water during the spring and summer months. Allow the potting mix to remain barely moist. When new growth appears, days become longer, and temperatures rise, water them more.

Fertilization

Fertilize Rex begonias during the growing season, spring and summer. Stop completely when fall and winter arrive because the plants go dormant. Use 10-10-10 half-diluted fertilizer every two weeks or once a month, depending on how the houseplants take to the food. Most growers feed their begonias monthly.

Flowering

Paint leaf begonias produce small, delicate pink or white blooms with few petals. They bloom many times, but their beautiful leaves overpower the flowers. Growers seem to think the flowers are comparably insignificant.

Pruning

Prune these begonias because it encourages them to reach mature growth. Only prune as needed, removing damaged or dead leaves. Pruning redirects the houseplants’ energy to developing fresh growth instead of trying to revive the dying foliage.

Use sharp, sterilized pruning shears, cleaning them with rubbing alcohol. Prevent any spread of disease and bacteria to these fancy leaf begonias. 

Repotting

Shallow, wide containers work best for these rhizomatous plants. When they reach the sides of the pot, it’s time to repot or propagate new plants. To repot, use a soilless potting mix that is light and well-drained, like potting mixes for African violets. Also, if the soil is slightly moist, that will help mitigate the chance of transplant shock.

Try to eliminate the parts of the plant that appear unhealthy when it’s time to repot. Pick a container one size up to ensure the painted leaf begonia has plenty of room for the rhizome to creep and grow.

Pests

Commonly seen pests on painted leaf begonias are mealybugs, aphids and red spider mites.

Mealybugs can cause a lot of havoc on the houseplants, becoming problematic when they suck the sap and leave their secretion of honeydew. Honeydew is a substance that creates a sooty mold that is black and unsightly.

The worse isn’t over because the secretion attracts flies, making it worse for the fancy leaf begonias. With that, it’s imperative to treat right away. To treat mealybugs, spray the infected plants with insecticidal soap sprays or neem oil. Repeat once a week until there are no more signs of the critters.

Aphids love to land on Rex begonias. They look like tiny pears with wings ranging in color from black, red, green, yellow, brown or gray. Some don’t have wings and look darker—some growers with insecticidal soap and neem oil to remove these little buggers.

Red spider mites make life miserable for these indoor plants. They suck the fluid out of the plants, eventually killing them. Horticultural oil works well to control pests. Spray a coat on the plants every four to five days until the buggers have left.

If the begonia plants have a mild case of pests, rubbing alcohol, a clean, dry cloth or cotton swabs will do the trick. For any sign of critters on these houseplants, owners must immediately help prevent their spread or do more damage to the plants. 

Disease

Thanks to the Rex begonias’ love for humidity, they are susceptible to bacteria and fungi. These diseases include botrytis, root rot and powdery mildew. 

Botrytis is a fancy word describing gray mold, a fungus that forms on the surface of the leaves. Growers identify botrytis by noticing black, gray patches or spots on the foliage. The fungus will cause leaves to drop. Remove the infected parts of the painted leaf begonia right away. Then spray with a fungicide. 

Also, separating the infected plant from other plants prevents the disease from spreading. Prevention always works best, so try to keep reoccurring damp conditions by giving the plant more indirect sunlight and ensuring air circulation. 

Root rot is a common problem among all houseplants. The culprit is overwatering. The leaves turn yellow and then fall off, one by one. To handle root rot, stop watering and give the plant more indirect sunlight light. Let the roots dry out, then check to see if they have irreversible harm. Also, if the root rot is super bad, pull the plant out of the pot to dry the roots out faster. 

Powdery mildew is white, powdery spots on the stems and leaves. Cut off the infected area the moment the fungi appear. Then, cut off all the infected parts of the plant and spray with a fungicide. Remove the infected plant from other plants to avoid the spread of disease. 

To avoid mildew, keep the environment from being overly damp with low temperatures. Air circulation is a must. Creating air circulation is accessible by setting up a fan that doesn’t blow directly on the plants. The fan needs only circulate the air in the room. If the painted leaf begonias are near a window, they should have enough air circulation since the temperature fluctuation creates a slight breeze. 

Creating a healthy environment for painted leaf begonias solves the pitfalls of pests and diseases. Unhealthy plants attract pests because they are vulnerable. With that, give them good light levels, ideal humidity levels and proper watering.

How to Propagate Painted Leaf Begonia

As a rhizomatous, leaf cuttings are one of the best ways to propagate these beauties. Most growers prefer this method over others. To keep these plants around, it’s a good idea to propagate these attractive plants because they have a life expectancy of a year or two. 

Steps to propagate Rex begonias:

  • Use a sharp pair of sterilized pruning shears and cut off a healthy leaf from the base of the central plant stalk.
  • Using a sharp, sterilized knife, turn the leaf over, showing its underside. Gently cut across the primary and secondary veins about an inch apart. 
  • Fill a seed tray with healthy rooting compost and gently lay the underside of the leaf flat on the compost. If needed, place small pebbles or marbles to weigh the leaf down. 
  • Place the leaf in a warm location and can receive bright, indirect sunlight. 
  • Keep the rooting compost moist by misting enough so it doesn’t dry out. 
  • When a new plant grows, place it in a pot that’s not too big. 

Stem Cuttings is another successful way to propagate painted leaf begonias. Try these straightforward steps:

  • Find a mature leaf cutting using a sterilized pair of pruning shears, and cut it at the baseline. Ensure the stem is two to three inches long and healthy and undamaged. 
  • Dab the cut-end into rooting hormone powder to help raise the odds of roots developing. 
  • Gently bury the stem, cutting into potting soil with peat moss and perlite. The leaves remain above the soil for air circulation.
  • Ensure the potting mix remains moist with light misting. Never soak the plant. Leave the container and its cutting in a space that receives bright, indirect light with temperatures of 75° to 78° Fahrenheit. 
  • In about a month, rooting will occur. Check for rooting by gently giving the stem a little tug. If there’s resistance, roots have formed, and the cutting is now a plant. 
  • After two to three leaves grow, transfer the baby plant to a full-size planter. Begin caring for the new plant following the plant care tips in this article. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Painted Leaf Begonias bloom?

Yes. These houseplants will flower many times a year. Though, the Rex begonia flowers are tiny and insignificant, with just a few petals. The vibrant colors of the leaves overshadow these indoor plants’ pink or white flowers. 

Do Painted Leaf Begonias clean the air?

Unfortunately, these beautiful plants are not on the top twenty list of the best plants for filtering the air. However, all plants clean the air if only to make oxen from carbon dioxide. 

Does Painted Leaf Begonias grow fast?

Within three to six weeks, growers will notice their begonias have grown, but it depends on the overall growing conditions. Follow these place tips, and the begonias will thrive. 

Is Painted Leaf Begonia toxic to pets?

Yes. These lovely plants need to say away from pets because they are toxic. Rex begonias contain calcium oxalate, which is very harmful to pets if ingested. The substance causes a horrible sensation in the mouth and throat. 

Final Thoughts

With the right living conditions, painted leaf begonias can grow as large as nine inches wide with vibrant and magical colors that blend. Since these are rhizomatous, they grow by sending out roots from their leaf nodes, climbing and spreading out. They grow well in an office or home, reaching 18 to 24 inches in height once fully mature, ensuring they receive proper care, as described in this article.

Fancy leaf begonias intend to live about one to two years. So, it’s a good idea to propagate them. That way, growers will have the colorful houseplants around forever, adding a spark of beauty to the indoors.

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