Basic Help for very old Begonia

begoniasfJuly 29, 2012


I inherited a Begonia last February from my late, and most favorite, Uncle Charlie. The plant had belonged to his grandmother (my great-grandmother) so needless to say it has been in my family for a long time and it's health and survival is very important to me. I will also add that I come from a farming family, love plants, and have a green thumb, as did my most favorite Uncle Charlie.

Luckily for the begonia, it lived for at least 30 years in San Francisco and did not have to change cities when it came under my care. I keep it on a high shelf in my kitchen, next to a window where it receives indirect light all day.

I have not established any routine in regards to care for this plant, which I am ready to amend now.

It is in a medium-sized terracotta pot, which sits inside a medium sized deep bowl. When i took the plant from my Uncle's house, it was sitting in a lot water in the bowl, which lead me to believe that this was its normal state. This feels counter-intuitive to me and so I have waivered for the past year between having it sit in water and letting it dry out before watering.

The plant was initially very full, with lots of big dark leaves that came off 'arms' that extended at least a foot from the pot. Since I got it, it has lost most of those large leaves. Arms are still there though. It has not produced any flowers under my care.

It still has new growth coming from the top, though no new leaves on the arms. Some new growth are green and some are green and red. Some of the leaves start to look halfway dry as they grow. Please see photos.

I do finger prune off the dead leaves regularly.

My questions are:

1. Is my plant still healthy? I regularly get paranoid that is is slowly dying.

2. What should be my watering method and how often?

3. Advice for fertilizing, which I realize should be part of my routine. Is a basic houseplant fertilizer sufficient?

4. Any other tips for caring for a beautiful begonia that is decades old.

Thanks for reading my long post.

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Hi begoniasf, I have seen that begonia before, but am not sure of the name. If you had the name it would help you be sure you were treating it right, by looking it up here and elsewhere. The name 'solanthera' keeps jabbing at my memory but I'm not experienced enough to know it on sight. However, two things I would say, firstly, it looks quite healthy to me, maybe a marked leaf or two but nothing serious, and secondly, you have more than enough leaves there to get spares going in case you do lose it at any stage, one of the great things about begonias in general with maybe one or two exceptions.
No doubt if it is very pot-bound you might want to repot it, and I know you will get lots of advice about that here when your post is spotted by the old hands on the forum. However, as it has lived to this good age no doubt it is quite resilient, and only courage is wanted to repot it into a good proprietary mix suitable for houseplants in general.
Good luck with your plant, it's a beauty.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 8:14AM
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Hi Begonias.

I surely understand the reason you want to keep this plant going.

Marguerite made a great point about rooting cuttings.

A friend had a 106-yr-old Christmas Cactus, given to family from one generation to the next.
She sent cuttings to friends.
In the meantime something went wrong, and her CC died.
She emailed me asking if she'd sent a cutting, but at the time I was too busy w/other plants..I wish I had taken it, to send back to her..
Don't mean to sound like the voice of doom, but it never hurts being cautious..So, please root extra cuttings.

Your Begonia looks great.

Do you know the last time it was repotted, fresh soil added and fertilized?
Also, what type of light was it getting when Uncle Charlie raised it?

Which direction did the window face, and which is it in now?

Also, does your climate differ from SF's?

I grow Begonias but in no way an expert so do not want to give

There are some Begonia pros here; hopefully they respond. Toni

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 2:26PM
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Okay, I am not a pro either, but your plant looks similar to my Beefsteak begonia. Mine looks a little more reddish in color. This is a rhizomatous type. The "long arms" are actually rhizomes that want to crawl along the soil. When the plant gets old, the rhizomes eventually hang over the edge of the pot. I got mine from a leaf of a friend's plant, which I started the same way as you can start a new African violet. I just stuck the petiole into clean moist medium, kept it warm and covered, and it rooted, then tiny little plantlets formed at the soil level. These I separated and potted up once they got to a good size. So you wouldn't have to cut the ends off the "arms" to get new ones, just lose a couple of healthy leaves. Mine blooms every early spring. You might need more light to get this to happen.

Any old plant usually gets happier when it is trimmed roots and branch and given new potting soil. I just did this for my Beefsteak begonia, as it was out growing it's pot and the lower leaves were yellowing and falling off, and it basically wasn't very handsome any more. I gave it a larger pot even though I trimmed it back pretty hard, as I wanted it to have room to crawl, and I put it in a very well-draining mix. I think there are few plants that really want to be left in standing water. The begonias that I have grown I've let the soil dry out before I water. I think it is a tribute to this plant that it did so well under those conditions. Well, I actually think that the fact that I can grow it okay means it must be a pretty forgiving plant.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 9:17AM
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