February 16, 2013

1 - Angel wing begonias do become leggy, but they may be trimmed back and the cuttings used to produce new plants.

Yard and Garden February 16, 2013


We have an old angel wing begonia that was grown from a cutting. Lately it has lost many leaves, become very leggy, and has few blossoms. What is the best way to revive this plant? Should we cut it back and root the cuttings, or just leave it alone? It stands about 4 feet high.

Jer and Judy M.


Angel wing begonias are very prone to becoming leggy. For gardeners who are not familiar with this houseplant, it is a begonia with large, asymmetrical leaves that look like angels' wings. They are often green and silver on top with purple or burgundy colors on the underside. If they are grown in bright light, they may have some burgundy colors on the upper portion of the leaves, but this is dependent on the variety of angel wing begonia grown. There are also varieties of angel wing begonia with smaller leaves that may remain somewhat more compact. Most angel wing begonias will produce large clusters of pink flowers which are quite attractive. The fact that the large-leaf forms rarely branch and develop long stems with leaves only on the upper portions of the stems only is their main drawback. They are fairly succulent and can tolerate some drying, but that speeds the loss of the lower leaves.

I have good luck growing them, but often put them in large pots so that they can grow large. I put pots of lower growing, more compact plants in front of them to hide the leafless portions of the stems. I keep them in a room with bright light during the winter to enhance flowering and to help maintain the attractive coloration of the leaves.

When the stems become excessively long, I cut the stems and root them in pots of a well-drained potting soil. I cover the pots of the cuttings with long plastic tubes (like those used to deliver newspapers, or other clear plastic bags) while the roots are forming. I have also had success by placing the cuttings in a large resealable plastic bag with moist sphagnum moss in the bottom of the bag. When roots form, I take the cuttings from the bags with any moss that remains on the roots and put them in pots with moist potting soil. This is best done during the warmer season since the begonias are often slow to form roots when they are cold and the cuttings may rot. I have had success rooting the cuttings using rooting hormone powder and using no rooting hormones. The hormones speed the formation of roots.

It is common for the stems left after taking the cuttings from the begonia plants to produce a single branch below the point where the cuttings were removed. This renews that plant while the cuttings form new plants. I have also had new shoots develop from buds below the soil line in several cases. The results is some shorter stems (when they are new) with leaves at the base where the older stems have lost their leaves.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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