How I Grow Beefsteak Begonias and Other House Plants

Some time ago, I discovered a tiny, neglected Beefsteak Begonia (BB) that reportedly had been kept indoors, in the same pot, for a decade. Though the pot’s soil was lime caked, I thought the plant had potential.

A Magical Plant

I placed a cutting in water and it quickly rooted. Soon I had a small BB and still later I received many pleasant surprises as suggested by this amazing post:

[The BB] might possibly be the best begonia houseplant available. . . . If you treat it well–bright, indirect light; fluffy and airy soil with steady moisture; a mild dose of balanced fertilizer with trace elements once in a while; and occasional repotting–it will grow into the largest, lushest and most beautiful of specimens. It will be the plant that visitors to your home will comment on and ask about. People will beg for a start. Guests, even those who “know about plants,” will overlook all the other exotic rarities in your home and make a bee-line to check out your beefsteak begonia. This is truly an amiable, heirloom quality hybrid. (Jul 25, 2009, Ispahan from Chicago, IL (Zone 6a), https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/62923/)

Surprisingly the author had not mentioned how BBs produce many small beautiful flowers with green, pink, and blue aspects when kept in bright indirect light,

Over Watering

Importantly, when kept in heavy soil, BBs can easily be over watered and suffer root rot!. Early on, when this happened, I would cut away the rot, and re-root the remaining plant in water.

Of course, I tried to avoid over watering! I used both the wetness of a wooden skewer, that I had embedded deep in the BB’s soil, and the turgor of the BB’s leaves to decide when to water. When I watered, I only watered lightly. When in doubt, I didn’t water because though dehydrated BBs can easily recover, over-watered BBs cannot.

Over watering is a threat to all house plants; so I was often anxious as I had so killed many plants.

Better Ways to Water and Grow BB’s and Other Houseplants

One day while searching for advice regarding growing orchids, I discovered much horticultural wisdom at “Here But Not.”

Different Soils for Different Plants

Dustin, the site’s maven, recommends potting plants in soil appropriate to the plant’s water needs. So, a plant like a Pothos might be kept in less porous soil than a plant like a BB which benefits from fluffy, sandy soil. By so adjusting the soil, and pot size, Dustin reports watering all his plants on the same day!

Water in the Reservoir

When watering, Dustin also recommends drenching the soil to clear mineral accumulations such as calcium. But to where will all that water drain? Must you carry each houseplant to the sink?

My watering technique requires a deep saucer and a platform as illustrated in Figure 1. The deep saucer functions as a reservoir to contain the overflow from drenching the soil. The platform, here an inverted saucer, keeps the plant’s container above water.

Figure 1. Reservoir and platform. The platform, the inverted terracotta saucer, was drilled to help water drain from the plant container.

The saucers above are resting below my specimen BB as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Beefsteak Begonia.

My specimen Bamburanta is clearly resting on an inverted terracotta saucer that has been set in a large terracotta saucer as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Bamburanta resting on a platform, an inverted terracotta saucer, that is resting in a deep terracotta saucer.

Of course the platform need not be an inverted terracotta saucer. Figure 4., below, reveals my delightfully fragrant, Phaleanopsis cornu-cervi var. chattaladae resting on the top two-thirds of a plastic, paint bucket that had been painted orange.

Figure 4. Phaleanopsis cornu-cervi var. chattaladae resting on a platform, a painted, plastic paint bucket.

By the way, the 12 inch saucer (10.2 inch base) above was manufactured by Beloit Plastics. Early in 2021, I had purchased a case of 10 for just $20.58. The company has a virtual booth here and sells other sized saucers.

A plant ensemble, including a Variegated Bamuranta, appear in Figure 5. The Bamuranta, far left, is resting on the remaining one-third of the painted, plastic paint bucket.

Figure 5. Plant ensemble.