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With begonias, whether they be Rex Begonias, Wax Begonias or Tuberous Begonias, there is always something interesting to look at. This is especially true for one famous cultivar – Escargot.
Escargot Begonias are not the easiest plants to care for but can be kept long-term with some specialized care. They grow best outdoors in tropical or subtropical zones, but can also be brought indoors to grow as a houseplant.
Avoid the biggest mistake in Begonia care – overwatering – by increasing drainage and only watering when the top layer of soil has dried out. Give them bright indirect light and plenty of fertilizer for large leaves and even a few red or pink flowers. Begonias are popular plants and will make a beautiful addition to your home or garden!
Rex Begonias, otherwise known as painted leaf begonia, are ornamental plants beloved by both indoor and outdoor gardeners for their interesting foliage. Patterns, textures and even shapes are varied between rex begonias, with these flowering plants creating an impressive range to choose from within the group.
They are also one of the few plants that will reliably produce flowers in the shade, or even indoors in the right conditions. The begonia plant blooms in a wide range of colors, combined with the fascinating foliage, mean there is always something to look at when growing these plants. Particularly, when the plant blooms red or pink flowers, it contrasts nicely with the silver leaves. Some popular varieties include tuberous begonias, wax begonias, angel wing begonias and the Escargot begonia.
Let’s focus on the Escargot variety. Named for the spiral shape and pattern of the leaves, Escargot has become one of the most popular Rex Begonias on the market. The leaves are shaped like a snail’s shell, accentuated by a contrasting silver and green spiral pattern. The leaves also have a pink or red tinge to them, especially as they emerge, thanks to the fine hairs covering the surface of the leaves.
Rex Begonias are usually grown outdoors as shade garden plants. However, the Escargot Begonia is a popular houseplant and hanging plants. They can be slightly tricky to care for indoors, but with knowledge of how to make them happy, you’ll have an abundance of spiraled leaves filling your home in no time.
An important detail to note, is that begonias are toxic to many pets such as cats and dogs. While, the plant isn’t directly toxic to humans, it can cause allergic reactions and you should wear gloves when handling the plant.
Rex Begonias are found in tropical and subtropical forests in Asia. They grow underneath the protection of shade, receiving dappled light throughout the day. Although the Escargot Begonia is a cultivar of this wild plant, it still appreciates the same conditions, whether you’re planting indoors or out.
When planting the Rex Begonias outdoors, it’s best to replicate this native environment by planting underneath trees or in a well-shaded spot. The leaves are sensitive to high light levels and the plant will burn quickly in direct sunlight. Some direct sunlight is okay, such as light from the morning sun, but you want to avoid planting in a spot that gets direct afternoon sunlight. Although they can grow in deep shade, dappled shade is better if you want your plant to produce flowers.
Indoors, the best growth will come from matching these outdoor conditions as best as possible. Bright indirect light indoors most closely matches the dappled shade outdoors, providing enough light to grow and flower without the risk of burning the leaves of the Rex Begonias.
Bright indirect light can be found in front of east-facing windows without additional protection, or south and west-facing windows that are filtered by sheer curtains. You can also place them further away from windows to protect them from harsh rays, but you may not find many flowers when these plants are left in moderate to low-light areas.
Look out for signs of high, bright light exposure, like brown patches on the leaves and dull colors. In excessively low light, the plant will not put out many new leaves and may begin to wilt and yellow if conditions are severe. When adjusting light levels, do so slowly if possible (when planting in containers), to allow the plant to acclimatize slowly.
Soaking up the moisture from tropical rainforest floors, Rex Begonias appreciate consistent moisture to look their best. However, they are also sensitive to rotting (especially when planted in containers) and cannot sit in waterlogged, moist soil for long periods. A fine balance is needed to keep these plants happy – one of the reasons why they are generally considered tricky to take care of.
When planted outdoors, watering times will depend on your climate and conditions. These plants should be watered when the top layer of soil dries out. As long as they are shaded and in the right environment, you can usually water around once per week along with the rest of your garden. If the soil dries out quickly or temperatures are high, increase the frequency of your watering to stop the roots from drying out completely.
When growing in containers, particularly for indoor plants, overwatering is a serious risk. While they enjoy plenty of moisture, one of the most common mistakes new gardeners make is to water these plants when the soil is still moist, leading to waterlogging. Excess moisture in the moist soil stops oxygen from reaching the roots and leads to fungal growth, resulting in root and stem rot.
Instead of watering with a set frequency on a schedule, test the soil with your finger daily. As soon as the top inch of soil has dried out (or the top two inches of soil for established plants in larger pots), you can water again. Never leave the soil to dry out completely as this will quickly lead to wilting and browning leaves.
How you water is equally as important as when you water. The fine hairs on the leaves are known to trap water, quickly resulting in the proliferation of disease. Always water the soil directly, never the foliage, to keep the leaves looking their best.
The begonia plants appreciate relatively high humidity that matches that of their native habitats. But, when airflow is limited (as it often is indoors), excessively high humidity can become problematic. Excess moisture in the air encourages several diseases in these plants like powdery mildew that can be difficult to resolve once it sets in.
Aim for humidity of around 50% to strike the ideal balance between making the plant happy and preventing disease. If your humidity is well below 50%, raise it using a pebble tray or humidifier if you need something stronger. Again, avoid pointing the humidifier directly at the plant to protect the foliage – use it to raise general humidity in an enclosed room instead.
One humidity hack you should avoid with a begonia plant is misting. While this practice is recommended for some tropical houseplants, it can be detrimental to the fuzzy Begonia leaves that instantly trap water. Just like African Violets, misting will lead to unsightly spots on the leaves that ruin the patterned look.
The Escargot Begonia is very sensitive to cold temperatures and sudden changes in conditions. Warm temperatures around 75F are best for this plant, not dropping below 60F for long periods. Leave your Escargot Begonia in the warmest room of the house and move it away from any drafts or hot, dry air, depending on the season.
If you’re planting your Escargot Begonia outdoors, make sure temperatures don’t drop too low in winter. If they frequently drop below 50F during the colder season, consider planting in containers and bringing the plants indoors for the winter months. This will protect them from any potential cold damage, helping them last longer than one growing season.
For lush leaves and plenty of blooms on these plants, fertilizing is essential. Start your routine in early spring as growth kicks off to help the plant put out new leaves. Continue fertilizing with a balanced houseplant, liquid fertilizer around once a month – or every two weeks when using a low-concentration fertilizer – until fall. Water-soluble fertilizer is also an option to consider.
Stop fertilizing in winter to avoid encouraging new growth when temperatures are low. New growth is much more vulnerable to cold temperatures and can quickly die off if not looked after.
Once you’ve fallen in love with the foliage of the Escargot Begonia, it’s hard not to want to fill your home or garden with more. Luckily, as long as you’ve got one established and healthy plant, you can make many more with a bit of time and some extra patience.
The easiest way to propagate is by division. Once you’ve removed the plant from its existing pot, you should see areas where the large rhizome can be split into two or three sections, creating brand-new plants instantly. Simply repot these divisions into individual containers such as hanging baskets, window boxes, or flower beds and continue to care for them as normal.
It’s also possible to propagate from just a single leaf if your Escargot Begonia is too small to divide. Remove a leaf at the base of the plant and score the underside of the leaf with a sharp knife along the veins. Lay the leaf on a bed of moist coconut coir or peat moss and pin it flat to the soil. Cover the container with a propagator lid or clear plastic bag to retain moisture and wait several weeks for roots and new growth to appear.
Whether you’re keeping your Escargot Begonia indoors or planting in containers outside, you’ll need to repot at some point. This provides more space for further growth and refreshes soil that can slowly degrade over time.
Escargot Begonias need repotting every year or two, depending on age and current size. Don’t wait more than three years to repot as these plants appreciate high-quality, fertile soil.
When repotting, the first step is to use light and well-draining soil, a potting mix designed for houseplants. This prevents root rot and waterlogging. Also, make sure the new container you choose has drainage holes. Some potential containers include hanging baskets and flower beds.
A potting mix containing coconut coir and perlite is best to balance water retention and drainage perfectly in the right ratios.
Another element of Escargot Begonia care that makes these plants tougher to manage is pests and diseases. These plants are prone to problems with pests and diseases, especially when growing outdoors. Indoor environments provide some protection, but it’s still best to keep an eye out for these common issues and tackle them as soon as possible:
Good garden hygiene and improving airflow and conditions around your Begonia can go a long way to preventing pests and diseases from settling in, and keeping your plants as protected as possible. Make sure to try a cotton ball soaked in insecticidal soap or neem oil as a long-term solution!