Bright, colorful foliage is trending in the houseplant world, with variegated leaves taking center stage. It’s also beneficial outdoors, providing visual interest during cooler seasons when flowering slows down. The king of colorful foliage is the Begonia, producing a range of unique patterns and colors topped with cute blooms.
Once you’ve found a favorite species among the many to choose from, the easiest way to replicate them is to save your cash and try propagation. Straight-forward and easy, multiplying these beautiful houseplants may become your new hobby.
All you need to propagate Begonias is a single leaf, creating a continuous supply of these gorgeous, low-maintenance plants.
Begonia encompasses over 2000 diverse species with unique foliage and flowers.
The term begonia doesn’t describe one single species, although many gardeners probably imagine a specific plant when they hear it. Begonia is a massive genus of beautifully-flowering plants and striking foliage containing more than 2000 species.
This impressive range understandably leads to even more impressive diversity between plants in native areas, growth habits, and preferred conditions. Unique foliage connects them all, often featuring interesting shapes and colors and adorable flowers.
Begonias are usually split into different types to describe their diverse growth habits. According to the American Begonia Society, there are nine different types, although they contend that these categories can be blurred:
- Thick Stemmed
Rex Begonias are the ones most often kept as houseplants. There are many cultivars in other categories, but they’re usually kept as garden or container plants.
Begonias originate from tropical and sub-tropical climates, growing best in warm and humid conditions. They fit right in lush tropical gardens, but their ability to grow and even flower in shady areas have made them popular indoor plants.
How To Propagate Begonias From Single Leaves
Many Begonias can be easily propagated from single leaves, yielding numerous plants.
If you have a particular Begonia species you’ve fallen in love with or want to fill more of your home or garden with these stunning plants, you’re in luck. Many Begonias will grow several adorable plantlets from just a single leaf which can then be separated to grow independently.
There are other ways to propagate Begonias, but single leaves are the most effective method for the strong results it delivers and the number of plants you can grow. It’s also suitable for any Begonia you have – big or small – as you only need one tiny leaf to start.
I used this method to try and fill an entire shady bed under a tree in my garden and ended up with so many plants I had to give some away to friends and family. Use your extras to fill pots indoors and out, or cover your garden in cute flowers and intricate foliage.
What You Need
You’ll need a sharp knife, clean tools, a flat item, and a well-draining tray with soil for propagation.
You don’t need many specialized tools, but you will need to grab a few more items than you may be used to when propagating.
The first essential item to propagate begonias is a sharp knife to remove the leaf and slice into the bottom. I have a small craft knife I like to use for propagating tasks. Ensure it is as sharp as possible, limiting damage to essential transport systems within the leaf. It’s also best to clean tools thoroughly before you start to avoid spreading any harmful bacteria and encouraging disease.
The next item, potentially causing some confusion, is a paper clip. You can also use hair pins or anything small and flat that can be buried in the soil. If you can’t figure out why, you’ll find out later.
Finally, you’ll need a sturdy tray or container with drain holes and a light propagating or seedling mix. I use a combination of equal parts coconut coir and perlite, which drains well but holds onto just enough moisture to promote root growth. Don’t worry about choosing a fancy decorative container early on, as you’ll need to transplant once plantlets have developed.
Rooting in soil delivers better results, especially if you want to grow several plants simultaneously. But you can also root in water if you’re willing to monitor water levels closely and make sure the leaf doesn’t fall into the glass. For this method, you only need a pair of shears, a small glass, and some tap water.
Identify A Suitable Leaf
For successful propagation, select healthy and undamaged leaves with ample surface area.
The first step in propagating Begonias may seem simple, but it sets the stage for later growth – choosing a leaf. A large and healthy leaf will have the highest chance of successful root growth, and a greater surface area increases the space for plantlets to emerge.
Always choose leaves without signs of damage or disease. While some damaged leaves may root, your chances will be much higher if they are healthy with no areas to focus on repairing. In disease cases, the problem will only spread to your new plants, so diseased plants are best removed.
You may want to take several leaves at once to increase your stock. If that’s the case, consider the shape of the original plant when deciding which to remove. Don’t want to take all the leaves from one side, leaving the plant completely lopsided.
Trim and Slice The Leaf
For trimming, use a sharp knife to cleanly remove leaf portions.
Once you’ve decided which parts of your Begonia to trim for propagation, grab your sharp knife and get ready to remove.
You only need a small part of the petiole (the leaf stem), as the leaf will eventually lie flat on the soil. But if you don’t want to leave long and empty petioles on the plant, slice them off at the base and shorten the petiole after removal.
Make as clean a cut as possible, avoiding damage to the parent plant or the leaf.
Once your leaf or several leaves have been removed, flip the leaf over so the underside is visible. Then, as scary as it may seem, you’ll need to make small cuts into the central veins of the leaf. Using your knife, slice about half an inch cuts into the veins close to the base of the leaf. Keep the cuts small. You only need to expose the vein, not remove chunks of the leaves.
Pin To Soil
Fill your container with a well-draining mix, premoisten, lay leaves on top, and gently anchor petioles.
Next, grab your chosen container and fill it with your propagating mix. It should be light and well-draining rather than compacted, so don’t press the soil into the container too tightly. Ensure nothing is blocking the drainage holes. Then, add water to the container to premoisten the soil.
Flip your leaves back around and lay them on top of the soil. If you’re rooting multiple leaves at once, leave a small space between each one. Press the small part of the petiole gently into the soil to anchor it.
Now it’s time for the paper clips (or any pins you have). Twist them so you’re able to press them into the soil. Then, pin the leaves down into the soil close to the cuts you made. This helps the leaf stay in contact with the soil and limits any movement hindering root growth.
Even slight movement or a gentle breeze can shift the delicate leaves, potentially uprooting any growth trying to establish itself. Ensure the pins are firmly in place, and don’t allow the leaf to move to increase your chances of success.
Cover With Plastic
To encourage root growth, create a humid environment by covering the container with a plastic bag.
The final step involves creating the perfect environment to encourage root growth – namely, warm and humid. To increase humidity around the leaves and keep moisture in the soil for as long as possible, create a mini greenhouse by covering your container in a clear plastic bag.
Seedling trays are easy to slide into a plastic bag, or you can drape the bag over a container and hold it up with skewers. The bag should be relatively tight but not completely closed to improve airflow. If you have a propagator handy, you can skip this step and pop them in, opening the vents to prevent mold growth.
Lift the bag daily to check on the leaves and air them out. If the soil looks dry, mist the top to increase moisture levels or add water from the bottom. When propagating begonias, soil should be lightly moist, not wet, as excess moisture will cause the leaves to rot.
Propagating In Water
Water propagation is simpler but yields fewer plantlets compared to soil propagation.
Propagating in water doesn’t have the potential to produce as many plantlets. When leaves are pinned to the soil, they can grow plantlets at any of the slits in the vein, while leaves propagated in water only produce roots from the bottom of the petiole. But it does have the benefit of ease, taking much less time and materials to complete.
The first step in the process is the same – identifying the perfect leaf. But when you remove that leaf, include a longer section of the petiole and keep it attached. A shorter petiole is harder to keep in a glass without the leaf falling in.
Once you’ve chosen and removed your leaves, grab a glass with a narrow opening. If you don’t have one that lets you keep the leaf dry and out of the water, cover a regular glass with plastic wrap and make a small hole in the center to hold the leaf in place.
Fill the glass with water and drop the leaf inside so only the bottom of the petiole is under the water. As your goal is to get a plantlet to emerge from the bottom, it’s best to leave only that small section covered so the leaves can grow above the water line.
Place the container or glass in a warm, bright area with indirect light for successful root growth.
Your container or glass needs to be in a warm and bright area to promote root growth. While indirect light is essential, keep the leaves out of the intense direct sun to prevent damage.
For leaves rooted in soil, maintain even soil moisture and replace the cover to increase humidity. For leaves rooted in water, top up the water whenever the water line drops and replace it completely when it gets cloudy. Clean the container to prevent bacterial build-up.
Plantlets can take several weeks to develop, requiring some patience. But if you maintain ideal conditions and keep up with care, you should see baby Begonias in under two months. Look after these baby plants until they have enough roots to stand independently. Then they can be separated, transplanted into new containers, and placed wherever you want them around your home and garden!