Begonias are some of the most beautiful and diverse houseplants you can grow. They have a reputation for being tricky at times, and I wouldn’t disagree with this. However, if you find your begonia wilting, there is usually an easily identifiable cause that can be fixed. This article is going to show you how to fix your drooping begonia and give you some tips to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Overwatering and underwatering are the most common causes of a begonia wilting. Begonias wilt quickly once their soil dries out, but maintaining excessively wet soil can also result in dramatic wilting due to root rot. Temperature stress, transplant shock, pests, and disease can also cause drooping.
Unfortunately, there are several reasons why your begonia may be wilting, so you’ll need to do a little detective work to find out what has gone wrong. Thankfully, the tips in this article can help you easily work out the cause and fix most problems.
How To Fix A Wilting Begonia
The most important thing to do first is to assess your begonia’s growing conditions and work out if there are any major problems that could have resulted in your begonia’s leaves drooping.
- Check how wet the soil is – Begonias don’t like completely dry or waterlogged soil.
- Check the pot you are using – Make sure it has plenty of drainage holes to let the excess water drain away after watering.
- Think about where your plant is located – Low light conditions make overwatering much more likely, as your plant’s water needs will reduce dramatically in low light. Placing your plant in intense direct sunlight is not a great option either, as this can cause leaf scorching and wilting due to rapid water loss from the plant.
- Consider the soil – Begonias like their soil to hold onto some moisture, but excess water should drain easily. If water pools on the surface of the soil for more than a few seconds when watering, the soil is not sufficiently well-draining.
- Check the humidity level – Humidity below 40% makes wilting much more likely.
- Examine your plant for pests – Many pests like to feed on begonias, accelerating water loss from your plant, causing wilting in the case of a significant infestation.
- Check for infection – Black or brown patches on the leaves may indicate infection. Pathogens such as pythium spread rapidly to the roots, stems, and leaves, quickly resulting in your plant dying.
8 Causes Of A Wilting Begonia And How To Fix Them
Let’s look at each of the common causes of begonia leaves drooping to help you work out what the issue is with your plant. I’ll talk you through the symptoms to look for, as well as what steps to take to nurse your plant back to health.
Let’s start with a fairly simple one. If you let the soil of your begonia dry out completely, it will wilt spectacularly before too long. This will happen quickly with certain types of begonia such as Begonia rex varieties and Begonia maculata for example. Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) tend to be much more tolerant to drought.
If you see your begonia wilting dramatically, just feel the soil. Dig your finger down a few inches into the soil, and if at least the top few inches feel fairly dry, then underwatering is the most likely cause of the problem.
How To Prevent Your Begonia Drooping Due To Underwatering
The most obvious thing is to check your plant every few days and check to see if it needs to be watered. Make sure to dig your finger into the soil to see how dry it is before watering it. I also find it really helps to lift the pot to test the weight. Dry soil feels much lighter than wet soil, and after a while you’ll be able to tell instantly whether your plant needs watered.
It’s not enough to just add a little sip of water to the top of the soil. Often this only gets a tiny portion of the soil wet, and very little gets to the roots. This can lead to you thinking the plant has plenty of water, when in reality, it is parched.
Soak the soil completely until water runs freely out the drainage holes. Bear in mind that very dry soil can sometimes repel water, so you may be better adding a bit of water at a time over the space of a few minutes to ensure the soil is well soaked.
Your wilting begonia should perk up within a few hours and be back to normal within a day or so. It’s generally best to water your begonia before it is showing any signs of wilting, but I’ve generally found that most begonias recover well after occasional wilting due to underwatering.
Watering seems so easy, but it’s really an art that takes practice and skill to get right. You can read my article about watering houseplants for some more tips to get it right.
Begonias have a tendency to wilt dramatically after first bringing them home. Whilst this can happen to any houseplant, begonias are much more prone to this than most.
There are a number of reasons why this happens:
- The sudden change in conditions from the store to your home, including changes in temperature, humidity, and lighting can cause acute stress to the plant, resulting in your Begonia drooping.
- Stress caused by the journey home can trigger plant shock – This is most likely to happen if your plant is exposed to very cold or hot temperatures on the journey home.
- Some plants are not well cared for in the store, and damage can be caused to them that only becomes apparent after bringing your plant home.
The mechanism for your begonia wilting in this situation is due to the roots ceasing to function temporarily. Without water absorption, the delicate stems lose turgor pressure rapidly, and your begonia will wilt dramatically.
How To Fix A Drooping Begonia Caused By Acclimation
I have experienced this situation several times, and there are a number of things you can do to improve the chances of your plant making a good recovery.
- Buy your plants from reputable sellers. Ask staff how long the plants have been in the shop and how they have been cared for.
- Make sure to pick plants that are in perfect condition. Don’t be tempted by less healthy-looking plants that are discounted.
- Try to maintain comfortable temperatures for your plant on the ride home, and don’t delay getting your plant home if possible.
- Place your plant in bright, indirect light, provide high humidity, and keep the soil slightly moist. Avoid saturating the soil or letting it dry out completely.
- If your begonia is drooping badly, carefully check the roots for signs of rot. If root rot is present, the affected roots will need to be pruned and the plant should be repotted in a fresh pot and soil.
- I normally increase humidity around any wilting begonia as much as possible. I also water a little every day or two, to keep the soil slightly moist.
- Make sure lighting is optimal. Bright light, close to a window is best, but avoid direct sunlight, which may cause excessive water loss from the foliage.
- Even with the best treatment, some foliage may not survive. I prune dead leaves off at the base and focus my attention on the healthy foliage.
Any newly purchased begonia needs close observation for at least the first few weeks. Things can go bad really quickly, and catching a problem early makes a big difference.
Begonias have a reputation for being difficult houseplants, but I’ve found that if you can nurse them through the first few weeks, and provide conditions they like, that they tend to be happy, low maintenance houseplants.
Begonias can be prone to diseases such as Pythium rot, Botrytis blight, and bacterial and fungal leaf spot diseases. Pythium and botrytis in particular can develop rapidly and cause your begonia to wilt dramatically within as little as 1-2 days.
Look for soft, black stems, collapsed petioles, black or brown spreading areas on the leaves, or sudden collapse of the plant.
Diseases are more common in a plant that is already stressed, and are particularly likely if your plant is overwatered.
How To Fix A Diseased Begonia That Is Wilting
It is really important to provide conditions conducive to healthy growth to reduce the risk of disease. Make sure the soil drains well, avoid overwatering, and ensure adequate lighting and ventilation. This should mean you won’t often have to deal with disease problems.
If you suddenly notice your plant has developed mushy black stems or has spreading black or brown areas on the leaves, follow these steps.
- Isolate your plant from any other plants.
- Prune off all affected foliage with sterile pruning shears.
- Check the roots for any evidence of root rot.
- If root rot is present, prune off all affected roots, and rinse the old soil off the healthy roots.
- Consider treating the roots with a fungicide, or dilute hydrogen peroxide solution.
- Repot your begonia in fresh soil and a new pot
- Keep the soil slightly moist and try to optimize conditions to let the plant recover.
If you don’t act quickly enough, your drooping begonia will not recover. If almost all of the plant is affected, it would be best to dispose of the plant and start again. Sometimes mistakes happen, and you’ll often learn far more about houseplant care from things that go wrong, than when everything goes well.
I’ve had a few good successes rescuing begonias from disease. I was able to follow the steps above to rescue a beautiful Begonia Rex ‘Inca Flame’ that was badly affected by disease. I had to prune off all but 3-4 leaves, but the plant eventually recovered to become one of my favorite begonias in my collection.
You can also read this article about identifying, treating, and preventing houseplant diseases if you’d like to learn more.
Many begonias thrive in similar temperatures to our homes, and you generally won’t have any problems if you can keep temperatures between 59-75°F (15-24°C). Where you’ll run into issues is if you keep your begonias outside, where they may be exposed to temperatures considerably outside this range.
Temperature stress can also be a problem if you position your begonia within range of a drafty window, air conditioning vent, or heating appliance, this may cause sufficient temperature stress to result in your begonia wilting.
Temperatures below 50°F (10°C) can cause direct damage to your plant, resulting in wilting, whereas hot, arid conditions lead to rapid water loss and wilting due to an imbalance between water absorption and water loss.
I find it very helpful to use a digital thermometer near my houseplants, that records the current temperature, as well as the maximum and minimum recorded temperature. As a result, I am usually able to identify a temperature issue immediately and move my plant to a more comfortable location.
Most begonias can survive the occasional drought, but overwatering is usually deadly. It is one of the most serious causes of a begonia wilting, and you are best to learn to avoid it, rather than have to deal with the consequences.
Most types of begonias like to grow in slightly moist conditions. Excessively wet soil reduces the amount of aeration to the roots, which is essential for their survival. It may come as a surprise to learn that a steady supply of oxygen is essential for the survival of the roots of most plants. Without ventilation through the air spaces in the soil, the roots have no access to oxygen, and this leaves the roots stressed, and vulnerable to infection.
Consistently soggy soil causes root rot, and unless you catch this early, your plant is unlikely to survive. Root rot prevents the roots from functioning and will result in your begonia wilting dramatically.
What Do Overwatered Begonias Look Like?
Look for the following symptoms and conditions that make it more likely that overwatering is the cause of your begonia drooping;
- Yellowing leaves, particularly affecting the lower leaves first.
- Brown leaf tips despite good humidity and soil moisture.
- Leaves dropping from the plant, often with soggy, limp petioles.
- Your begonia is wilting despite the soil feeling wet to the touch.
- Overwatering can result in begonia stems breaking easily.
The following conditions make it much more likely that your begonia will end up wilting due to overwatering.
- Your begonia is in low light conditions – water use is reduced and the soil will stay wet for a long time after watering.
- Your begonia is in a large pot relative to the size of the plant.
- The pot has no drainage holes, or you regularly forget to empty the drip tray after watering.
- The soil drains poorly.
How To Save Begonias That Are Wilting Due To Overwatering
This is my process for fixing a begonia that is showing signs of being overwatered.
- Gently remove the plant from the pot. check for signs of root rot and prune off any affected roots.
- If root rot is severe, follow this step-by-step guide to fixing root rot. Bear in mind that severe root rot is sometimes fatal for the plant.
- Make sure the soil is well-draining – Consider repotting in fresh soil that is suitable for begonias. A mix of 2/3 houseplant potting mix and 1/3 perlite is a simple, effective option.
- Plant in a pot that is just large enough to accommodate the plant. An excessively large pot greatly increases the amount of water that the soil will hold after watering and significantly increases the risk of overwatering issues.
- Place your freshly repotted begonia in bright, indirect light.
- Only water your begonia once the top 1-2 inches of soil feels quite dry.
- Your plant may take a few months to recover and grow healthy new roots before starting to grow new foliage.
Begonia Drooping After Transplant
Bear in mind that repotting a begonia is a stressful time for your plant. Whilst some houseplants don’t miss a beat when being repotted, begonias can sometimes wilt dramatically after being repotted. This normally happens within 24-48 hours of being repotted.
Make sure to optimize the growing conditions, and keep the soil slightly moist. I normally create a mini greenhouse with a plastic sheet over any plant that suffers transplant shock to maximize humidity. This reduces water loss and buys the plant time to recover.
Minor pest infestations usually don’t cause too much trouble, but a severe pest problem can result in a begonia wilting badly, and can even be fatal for the plant.
Inspect your plant regularly for pests – I like to check my plants every time I water them as it means I can spot most pest problems before they become a major issue.
As well as the pests themselves, look for irregular yellow or brown spots on the leaves, mottled yellowing, holes in the leaves, or leaf damage.
Isolate your begonia immediately and treat every 5-7 days with isopropyl alcohol, neem oil, or horticultural oil spray until you are confident all the pests have been dealt with. Read more about identifying, treating, and preventing houseplant pests here.
Low humidity is more likely to cause brown leaf edges and tips, but prolonged arid conditions can make wilting much more likely, particularly in combination with other issues such as underwatering or pests.
Try to keep humidity levels above 40% to reduce the risk that humidity will result in your begonia drooping. If you are struggling to increase humidity levels for your houseplants, you can read this article which has some helpful suggestions.
Hopefully, this article has helped you work out why your begonia is wilting, and given you some tips to nurse it back to health. Growing houseplants can be tricky at times, but every time you run into a challenge, you’re developing the knowledge and skills you need to prevent the same problem in the future.
If you’d like to learn a little more to reduce the risk of problems with your begonias and other houseplants, check out the following articles I’ve written.