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Begonia Socotrana – A Complete Care Guide

Begonia Socotrana – A Complete Care Guide

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The Begonia socotrana is a rare species of tuberous begonias commonly used to hybridize with other tuberous begonias. But I’ve found this a great species to grow just as it is, for its unique foliage and rich blooms.

The leaves are almost circular and peltate, having a deep green hue and a unique rough texture resembling leather.

They have fine hairlike structures all over the leaf surface. The flowers are a gorgeous shocking pink and the plant blooms generously right through winter.

This species, endemic to the hot and humid Socotra island off the Coast of Arabia, has the most unique conditions in its native environments. They thrive protected from the sun on the northside of limestone mountains in very warm temperatures, bright shade and watering from winter rains. 

That’s how they bloom in winters. The winter-blooming habit of this plant is the main attraction for gardeners who grow Begonia socotrana, similar to most varieties of hybrid tuberous begonias available these days. 

In fact, it is highly unlikely you’ll find the original species of this plant to purchase.

There’s a high chance that the plants sold under the name of Begonia socotrana are hybridized with tuberous begonias to make them suitable for local growing conditions.

Likewise, Begonia socotrana care resembles the tuberous begonia flowering varieties that are available to purchase.

 

 

BEGONIA SOCOTRANA CARE INSTRUCTIONS

 

Soil

The main thing to remember about Begonia socotrana care is that on Socotra islands they grow in no soil at all. Their roots sit cramped between limestone crevices for support but being able to breathe perfectly well.

Regular soil won’t do for Begonia socotrana care because the root aeration is insufficient. Soil additives like pumice, perlite, crushed baked bricks, river sand etc. will be needed. These components should be 50% of the soil.

Of the remaining 50%, you can use a half & half mix of soft porous garden soil and rich fortified garden compost.

Another Begonia socotrana care hack is to simply purchase superior quality succulent mix and improve the drainage further with perlite or pumice. 

The soil acidity level to grow Begonia socotrana should be low. They prefer neutral soil. So avoid peat, moss, leaf mulch in large quantities. 

If you have a hybrid Begonia socotrana that is similar to tuberous flowering varieties then their appetite for acidic soil is better. Check with your nursery before purchasing.

 

Light

In the natural habitat Begonia socotrana hides from direct rays between rocks. But it loves brightness. 

Begonia socotrana care requires that you provide it adequate sun protection. But keep in a bright spot just short of where sun rays fall.

This plant can take filtered light and some sun in winters which is actually their natural flowering season. Although they are shade-loving plants, you can grow Begonia socotrana quite healthy with a bit of morning or late afternoon sunlight. 

They make better outdoor plants than indoor plants, because of their brightness needs. So a porch or a pergola is a great place for it to be placed.

 

Watering

The watering routine for Begonia socotrana care depends entirely on the soil composition.

If the soil has enough drainage additives you can water more regularly. Basically, all the water has got to leave the pot within seconds of watering.

These are hardy tropicals and depend on rainwater in winters. So, overall their preference is limited watering with intermittent dryness. 

When the plant is in its growing/flowering stage water regularly. Remember that intermittent dryness is good to induce flowering. Besides, the fleshy stems hold water as well. 

However, young Begonia socotrana plants with delicate stems need a little more consistent watering. The peat, mulch, compost, etc. used in the soil have very good water retention properties and help in moisture management.

Pro tip: These plants are susceptible to fungal problems. Grow Begonia socotrana away from sprinklers and sprays.

Water only at the roots or water in the mornings allowing the breeze to dry off the leaves during the day. This Begonia socotrana care hack will ensure your plant stays disease-free.

 

Temperature

Your best chances of growing Begonia socotrana are in hardy climes closer to the equator where you can grow Begonia socotrana outdoors year-round.

This plant literally has zero frost tolerance wilting down to pulp when exposed to one. They prefer their native lands of “forever summer”.

The ideal daily temperatures for Begonia socotrana care are around 75°F (25°C) in the day and overnight lows around 64°F (18°C). But they can often tolerate higher temperatures with cover from harsh sun rays. 

These are the temperatures you’ve got to maintain right through the year more or less. Be sure you’re able to do so before bringing home this plant.

 

Humidity

As with all tropicals and sub-tropicals Begonia socotrana loves humidity. On the Socotran mountains where it’s found, humidity is upwards of 60% all through the year.

The misty clouds that surround the mountain provide the plants there with moisture-laden air.

Some humidity enhancing Begonia socotrana care hacks include mulching the surrounding soil heavily and occasional misting.

But mist only in the mornings, please. Otherwise you’ll end up with diseases.

These plants grow in a close huddle. That is their own natural mechanism to conserve humidity around themselves.

 

Fertilizer

You really don’t need to bother much with feeding if you want to grow Begonia socotrana. Just scatter a layer of balanced organic manure all over the soil where you expect to grow Begonia socotrana.

The hybrid varieties of Begonia socotrana respond well to regular fertilizing. I prefer using dry organic pellets in the soil while potting the plant.

Post that you can top it up with any balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10, but make sure you dilute it four to five times its prescribed strength.

Be warned that too much nitrogen in the soil can cause Begonia socotrana to grow excessively vegetative at the expense of flowering. Stop feeding before the onset of cold weather.

In the natural habitat, Begonia socotrana thrives on air and sunshine and flowers abundantly. So keep that in mind and don’t overdo nutrients. 

 

Propagation

The best thing about Begonia socotrana care is that the plant self-propagates by tiny bulblets or bulbils which form at the base of the plant close to the roots.

These tiny asexual formations about the size of a small pea fall to the ground and sprout the following growing season. 

You can harvest these bulblets from the roots and plant as desired. But I prefer letting nature take its own course and letting them fall wherever they would naturally.

I have observed that when they spring back next season, the cluster is surprisingly evenly spread out.

This a great way to grow Begonia socotrana into a naturally beautiful cluster. You can even collect the tubers from the soil for storage during winters.

If you’re not sure about handling bulbils and tubers just follow the stem cutting method. It’s very reliable for Begonia socotrana propagation.

 

Growth

Begonia socotrana has a compact low growing habit with good branching. The bushy look comes when you have several plants growing together. 

You can grow Begonia socotrana clusters to as tall as 8 to 12 inches. The best way to exploit this tendency is to grow Begonia socotrana outdoors in shady corners of your garden.

Begonia socotrana displays loose floppy bright shocking pink blooms. As the days grow short, the plant goes dormant and the leaves turn yellow.

Although aggressive pruning isn’t required for these herbaceous plants, deadheading the flowers is a good Begonia socotrana care hack to induce flowering.

This also goes a long way in disease prevention.

 

Potting

The best potting advice to grow Begonia socotrana is not to pot them at all! Yes, it’s true. They are great for ground cover when left to grow outdoors to spread as they like.

Their weedy colony-forming habit is their strong point. Potting them simply doesn’t deliver that aesthetic result.

But if you want to grow Begonia socotrana and outwinter them during cold months then choose wide shallow pots.

The ideal outdoor location is a spot where the soil is very loose and porous, the ground level is raised for better drainage, and where there’s plenty of shade.

 

STEP BY STEP GUIDE ON BEGONIA SOCOTRANA PROPAGATION

Most people grow tuberous begonias as annuals just buying the baby plants in early spring until they die in late autumn.

Some gardeners collect seeds to germinate in the next season. You can grow Begonia socotrana as annuals or perennials.

I find saving the tubers or corms a very effective way. Bulbils too are nature’s unique plan for Begonia socotrana propagation.

Finally, begonia’s herbaceous stems take root very easily. Let’s examine each method in detail.

 

Begonia socotrana propagation through corms or tubers

  • At the end of winter place the tubers an inch (2.5 cm) apart in a shallow tray filled with moist potting mix
  • Make sure to have the hollow side of the tubers facing up. The tubers should be visible above the soil and not buried deep.
  • The tray should be placed in a dark room maintaining at least 65°F (18°C) occasionally misting the soil.
  • In a month you’ll see each tuber sprouting from the hollow.
  • Once the frost has passed 100% you can transfer the sprouted tubers in your garden 3 to 4 inches apart or in individual pots.
  • Again, the tubers have to be concave up and planted at the surface and not deep in the soil.
  • Adequate ventilation is needed throughout Begonia socotrana propagation or it can catch mildew.
  • At the end of the season dig out the tubers when the foliage begins to turn yellow. Wrap them in soft paper or dry peat moss and store them in temperatures between 40 – 50°F (4 – 10°C), until next season.

 

Begonia socotrana propagation through cuttings

  • You can grow Begonia socotrana from stem cuttings if more than one sprout appears from a tuber.
  • Remove the extra sprouts when they are about 5 inches high and plant them in a well draining potting mix like 50-50 perlite and peat moss. Keep the soil just moist
  • Use a plastic bag to block out drafts and maintain high humidity levels. Humid conditions reduce wilting and promote faster rooting.
  • Keep this indoors in a somewhat dark spot, undisturbed until established.
  • When the roots are established you can transfer this to your Begonia socotrana spot

 

Begonia socotrana propagation through bulbils

  • Bulbils that form in base are my favorite way to grow Begonia socotrana.
  • At the end of the growing season, when the plants die away these bulbils fall around the area. At this point, I cover the entire patch with a thick layer of mulch for frost protection.
  • These bulbils are actually nascent tubers that will produce new clones of the parent plant the following season. Small little saplings pop through the debris once the frost goes away.
  • This is how I end up with a whole colony of Begonia socotrana shrubbery every summer.

 

COMMON PROBLEMS WITH BEGONIA SOCOTRANA

Spots or patches of white to greyish talcum-powder-like growth: This is powdery mildew, a fungal disease that shows on the top and underside of leaves.

It needs moisture and humidity to spread. Proper Begonia socotrana care requires that you water the soil around the plant and avoid splashing the leaves.

Water in the morning so that droplets evaporate during the day. Immediately cut away affected leaves and do not compost infected debris.

There are commercially available sprays that are useful in treating this disease such as sulfur-based fungicides or neem oil.

Colorado State University research suggests the application of fungicides at 7- to 14-day intervals to provide continuous protection throughout the growing season.

They also recommend an alternative nontoxic control for mildew viz. baking soda combined with lightweight horticultural oil.

They have tested the fungicidal properties of this combination against powdery mildew on roses.

They advise that applications of 1 tablespoon baking soda plus 2.5 tablespoons of Sunspray oil in 1 gallon of water are still experimental. It may be worth a try if the situation demands it.

Burn marks: Dark brown, crisp looking marks on leaf edges are usually caused by low humidity or exposure to the midday sun. Cover the area with a shade cloth. Water deeply whenever you water.

Buds dropping off: Buds may dry, turn brown, and drop if the temperature is too high or if the plant is exposed to heavy sun. You should ideally grow Begonia socotrana in temperatures between  65 – 75°F (18 – 24°C) under shade.

Neglect and dried-out soil can also result in bud loss too. Shade cloth and watering are usually solutions to this problem.

Poor drainage can also cause buds to drop. In this case, the center buds usually drop first.

Few flowers: This variety isn’t a heavy flowering type in the first place. That said, fewer flowers often result if plants are in too dark a spot.

Deadheading and pinching of the shoots can induce flowering as well. Overfeeding with Nitrogen-rich fertilizers can also result in a few flowers and makes the plant vegetative.

Plants rotting: Rotting can happen due to water-logging which can easily be avoided if you follow the Begonia socotrana care instructions for soil.

The other reason is a fungal infection. Keeping the plant surroundings clean is important. Remove dead leaves, flowers, and any other decaying matter immediately.

 

TIPS TO KEEP BEGONIA SOCOTRANA PROBLEM-FREE

  • Grow Begonia socotrana in bright shade. Protect from midday sun or heat
  • Deadhead the flowers to extend bloom period
  • Feed established plants every two weeks during the growing season with a high potassium plant food
  • Avoid late-season applications of nitrogen fertilizer to limit the production of fleshy stems, which is more susceptible to infection
  • Intermittent drying is a good idea for flowering in Begonia socotrana
  • Avoid overhead watering to help reduce the relative humidity that can lead to mildew and other bacterial infections
  • Prune a few branches on overcrowded clusters if you feel air circulation is low
  • Save the tubers before winter
  • Save the same spot for the next growing season so that the bulbils can sprout back.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT BEGONIA SOCOTRANA

 

Is the Begonia socotrana annual or perennial?

You can grow Begonia socotrana as a perennial, saving up the dormant tubers at the end of every season. The plants produce seeds and bulbs as well. Begonias propagated from seeds are like annuals.

 

Is Begonia socotrana suitable for indoor growing?

Of all the begonias out there, the tuberous varieties are those that I’d strongly recommend for outdoor growing. Use the same spot year after year to create a lush colony of these plants.

 

Is Begonia socotrana suitable for potting?

A shallow wide pot is good for potting Begonia socotrana but I have got great results from planting in the ground directly mainly due to the tubers and their love of bright light. If you live in moderate weather condition you should go ahead and try that.

 

Is deadheading necessary to grow Begonia socotrana?

Deadheading is not a necessary part of Begonia socotrana care, rather a best practice often adopted by gardeners mainly for a tidy look and to induce flowering. It also helps to control diseases like mildew.

 

CONCLUSION

Begonia is a genus of over 1,000 species native to tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. Botanists often crossbreed and hybridize begonias to create a variety of colors, textures, and sizes we enjoy today.

There are three types of begonias based on their root structure – fibrous, rhizomatous, and tuberous. In general, fibrous and rhizomatous begonias make the best indoor plants.

Tuberous begonias like Begonia socotrana do best as annual outdoor flowering plants rather than long-term indoor plants because their growth cycle includes a dormancy period when flowers and foliage both die back.

If you’re looking for indoor growing varieties I would strongly recommend that you try growing indoor succulent varieties like Begonia Rex or the very unusual Begonia acetosa. Your Begonia journey is going to be an endless one!

Happy growing!

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