3 Ways To Propagate A Begonia

Not so long ago, between Covid 1.0 and Covid-Delta, I stopped in the garden center of a local box store. They have a TLC rack there. When I visit, it’s a lot like stepping up to a slot machine in a casino. You never know if you’ll get a winner.

On this particular visit, I picked up a pink polka dot angel wing begonia. I’m still not sure why it was marked down. Some shriveled leaves made the plant unsellable, but all in all, it was a nice plant. It just needed some — as the sign indicated — TLC.

I’ve become quite smitten with the plant, now repotted and enjoying its new digs. Although it hasn’t flowered — I’m not even sure if it does flower — I’m enjoying the polka dots and its vibrant redness when the morning sun hits it.

The question, though, is how to make more plants — and as if the algorithm gods were reading my mind, a technique appeared on my Instagram newsfeed. The idea was to take a leaf cutting, turn it upside down, make slices along the major leaf veins, and then place the leaf right side up on potting soil.

This process called to mind another technique from Ken Druse’s Making More Plants. In his book, Mr. Druse used a begonia leaf, cut off the section where it attached to the plant so the major leaf vein was opened, and then planted the leaf in soil.

Then, there was my tried-and-true method — just cut off a piece of the stem and place it in water.

I waited for weeks — nothing. Several times, I even considered throwing everything away — but I eventually forgot about them to focus on other gardening tasks. Then, I decided it was time to clean out the propagation section of the yard and noticed that the begonia cuttings in the small glass vase had roots!

The pots with the leaf cuttings, though, had nothing. No growth. No sprouts. No brown. . . No brown? By now, the leaves should have been dead, but the leaves had retained their color and looked relatively healthy. It could only mean one thing.

It was time to dig and explore.

I first examined the leaves on which I had tried the Instagram method — and there were roots emerging from the main vein, but not at the locations where I made cuts. Perhaps those areas weren’t flush against the soil.

I then dug up the leaves on which I had used the Ken Druse method. There were roots there, as well, and they far healthier than the Instagram method.

While all three methods produced roots, I’ve reached a conclusion that works for me. Without a doubt, the Instagram and Druse methods are fascinating — and I can even see situations where it may make sense. A commercial grower, for example, can mass propagate plants using pieces of leaves — as long as each piece has a major leaf vein.

Taking into account I may not have done either method perfectly, it just seems like a long time to wait for a result. In fact, I’m still waiting. After looking for roots, I repotted the leaves to see how long it will take for actual plants to emerge.

For the slightly impatient me, though, I’ll stick with placing cuttings in water. Not only do I get roots in roughly the same amount of time as the leaf cuttings, I also get a plant that’s ready to be potted and to receive some of my own TLC.

14 thoughts on “3 Ways To Propagate A Begonia

  1. My mother was the begonia queen. She had one in a pot on the enclosed porch that reached the ceiling when she died back in 1995. I found one of her garden club friends who came with an SUV and adopted it. Years later, we crossed paths, and she said it thrives.
    Kevin, I cannot imagine you leaving your sweet home spot for a caravan. Although I could never live in FLA, your photos are dreamy and exotic.
    In the past week here in central VA, amidst continued high temperatures/humidity, I hired a great team of nine guys and for two hours. They cut down, stump ground, edited with my direction, and then planted back. Now my “mature” garden is full of blank spots and holes. Change was necessary, overdue, and I just hope that I live long enough to see the newly installed shrubs mature.
    With YouTube’s garden programs my constant inspiration, I am hooked on change here at home. Bunny Guinness’ frequent use of Buxus has driven me to add a row of twenty more here. OMG!!!

    • Hi Diane. I’ve had the standard garden-variety begonias, but this one is my first serious one. In fact, it’s helping to feed my latest obsession: rex begonias! So many from which to choose. How nice that your mom’s plant is still thriving! What a lovely memory. Rest easy — I’m not trading my home in for an RV… at least not in the near or almost far future. I’m glad you’re enjoying my exotic locale… Any major projects are a headache, but so worth it in the end. Best of luck filling the new openings! Think of the shopping! 🙂

  2. Your post is very timely, Kevin. I have several begonias, and in my climate, that’s quite a trick. They never bloom as beautifully as they do on the coast, but they thrive as far as the gorgeous foliage is concerned. Just yesterday I was noticing how big some of my specimen have become and I have previously taken cuttings and started new plants with the “stem in water” method. My biggest issue at the moment is what to do with the plants when they get very large and sometimes a bit leggy. I have a terrible time pinching back and discarding any pieces, and I’m not sure I really want more plants. We were a very dry 90 degrees today. A rather harsh climate for delicate begonias, but I do love them! Your rehabilitated angel wing is gorgeous!

    • Hi Debra. Boy oh boy — do I hear you when it comes to pinching back and feeling guilty about not starting a new plant. I even get that way while pruning! Normally, I try to grow more plants to share with others — but 2020 and now ’21 has taught me a lesson… simplify. Not everyone wants my plants, even when they say they do. I don’t know if they’re being polite or life got in the way, but I have found myself nursing along plants for far too long — and when a hurricane is on the way, I have to hide all of these pots in the shrubs and along the fences. Now, when I pinch & prune, I do so for me. In fact, much of what I’ve planted this year are the plants that I’ve rooted from clippings or grown from harvested seeds over the course of the pandemic. My plan for the begonias — because I live in a very moist area of the country — is to use these new plants as fillers (planted in the ground) in the shady areas of the garden. Congrats on keeping your begonias going — I know that’s no easy task in your part of the country. Stay safe!

  3. Your TLC begonia is a beauty, and very healthy now. I would only be able to grow them in a shady greenhouse here here as we have frosts in the winter.

  4. Kevin, The begonia is lovely. Do you have any special tricks for getting the water roots to make the transition to soil?
    On a different topic, I want to thank you for putting me on to Escape to the Country, which I have been enjoying on BritBox. I’ve also discovered another show there, The Instant Gardener, which reminds me of the old City Gardener show with Matt James that aired on HGTV.

    • Hi Jean. I’m so glad you’re enjoying “Escape to the Country.” I’ll also try “The Instant Gardener.” By the way, another BritBox gem is “McDonald & Dodds.” Oh — and I guess we have to talk about plants here — I really don’t do anything to the water. I just place the cuttings in whatever water comes out of the hose and let nature handle the rest. I wonder if some rooting hormone could speed things up.

  5. Thanks for the tips on propagating. I purchased a Rex begonia at the grocery outlet. It looked a little beat up but it was $6 and nice size 6-in pot. It’s really gotten beautiful and I want to propagate more. The leaves are really large though but I guess I could cut it down?
    I’ve successfully propagated a beefsteak begonia from a piece that fell off that included part of the stem (or maybe rhizome that was above soil?), I think that was easier then the leaf cutting will be but I’m excited to try with the leaf.

    • Hello Rose — that’s some excellent bargain hunting! So far, I’ve found that a cutting seems to root more easily. My leaf cuttings took a long time and the results were mixed. Good luck with your project!

      • Okay thank you! I sort of remember decades ago when I was in Vo-Tech program in the greenhouse and my instructor was trying to propagate a begonia from leaf and it seemed like it took a whole quarter maybe two. So just to be sure, would the stem of a leaf count as “propagating from stem”? Or do I need to chop a larger piece off? I guess I could just try both and compare but sort of running out of space 🙂.

      • Hi Rose. When I’ve used a stem cutting, I place the cutting in a glass or small vase. I trim off any leaves that would be below the water line. Roots will appear from these leaf nodes along the stem. As for leaf cuttings, I was able to take the leaf and cut into about six pieces. I don’t know if the size of the piece matters. I really just went with my gut. I placed these on top of the soil, making sure the cut edges were in contact with the growing media. I found the stem cutting rooted faster than the leaf cuttings — but it’s still amazing to watch a plant grow from a piece of leaf. Good luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s