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Why your angel wing begonia is dropping its leaves

The angel wing begonia (Begonia coccinea) is one of those houseplants that absolutely lives up to its name. The polka dot heart-shaped leaves really do resemble folded wings – it’s uncanny!

angel wing begonia dropping leaves

Easy to grow indoors, the cane stemmed plant produces clusters of flowers in red, orange, pink or white. But it’s that distinctive foliage that draws the most attention.

Unfortunately, if the plant isn’t completely happy with its conditions, those wonderful decorative leaves are prone to shedding. 

The most likely reason for an angel wing begonia losing its leaves is overwatering. Less often, leaf drop can occur due to issues with humidity, light, repotting or simple old age. Checking off your plant against the list below and looking for other symptoms should help you diagnose it.

5 causes of leaf drop in angel wing begonias

1. Overwatering

As a begonia owner (try saying that 5 times quickly), you’ll soon realise how easy it is to overwater them.

They like regular, even watering, so a feast and/or famine approach is likely to make them sulk. That sulking often takes the form of falling leaves, as well as leaf droop.  

To avoid problems, keep compost consistently moist while your plant is actively growing, between spring and autumn.

Now that doesn’t mean you’ll need to water your begonia every day. You only need to water when the surface of the compost feels slightly dry to the touch.

In the winter months you’ll find the plant uses much less water, so you can top up less often. Giving the plant more water than it needs, whatever the time of year, will only saturate the soil. 

Sitting in soggy compost will starve the fibrous roots of oxygen, and make root rot infection more likely. 

Besides leaves dropping off, look for other symptoms. Are some of the leaves turning yellow or brown? Or perhaps going limp or soft, especially the petioles (stalks)? 

Hold back on the watering and make sure the pot has adequate drainage. If leaves are going soft, you may also want to check the roots for signs of rot. 

If any roots are soft/brown, remove with a clean sharp knife and repot into fresh clean potting soil.

FUN BEGONIA FACT – the begonia was named after Michel Bégon, patron of botany and one-time Governor of French Canada.

2. Not enough light

Angel wing begonias like a bright spot with plenty of indirect sunlight. This applies all year round. A few hours of morning or evening sun in winter will really benefit the plant. 

If your plant is in a shadier spot, it may be that it isn’t getting the light it needs to photosynthesise. A lack of energy could be the reason for your plant’s leaves dropping.

Look at where the plant is now. Is it bathed in bright indirect light, or could it be moved to a brighter spot?  

Has it recently been moved around the room, or to a new room altogether? Your plant might be losing its leaves as a reaction to the change in light levels. 

If it has, it’s quite likely that it will continue to drop leaves until it has acclimatised to its new position.  

Given time the plant will put on new leaves to make up for the leaf loss. This new growth will be better adapted to its new location. 

You might also like: 12 common African violet leaf problems – with fixes.

3. Lack of humidity

An angel wing begonia, like all begonias, prefers humid (though not stuffy) conditions. The plants are native to South America, so naturally adapted to tropical and subtropical climates. 

Keeping your plant in a room with warm, dry air (as many centrally heated rooms are) could be parching the leaves. Over time, this can cause leaves to fall.

There are a few ways you can tackle this. The cheapest way is to invest in an atomiser/ misting spray and spray the air around your plant with tepid water daily.

Avoid getting it on the leaves if you can as they don’t like their leaves wet. The last thing you need is another reason for the plant to sulk! 

If you’re unsure about your misting skills, a more controlled way to up the humidity is by sitting the pot on a pebble tray. 

All you need do is periodically top up the tray with water. Evaporation will take care of the rest. 

If you have more than one humidity-loving plant and are in this plant parent thing for the long haul, you could go one better. 

Splashing out on a humidifier will keep your plants constantly surrounded by moist air – and give them one less reason to complain! 

4. Repotting

Indoor begonias tend to tolerate – in fact thrive on – being slightly pot-bound, so it’s wise to only repot when absolutely necessary. 

This might be if the plant is looking lacklustre, perhaps with yellowing leaves, which suggests a lack of nutrients.

Or perhaps the top growth is too heavy for the size of the pot, and keeps tipping over. 

In any other circumstances, repotting your begonia can do more harm than good. The stress of the move could be what’s bringing about the dropping leaves. 

If you’ve used a pot that’s much bigger than its previous pot, or repotted when it’s in peak growth, this may be the issue. 

The best time to repot is in early spring, before the plant has really got its growing boots on. It’s definitely best avoided when the plant is in bloom.

If the leaf fall is down to repot shock, give the plant time to settle and it should adjust to its new home.

5. Old age

If it’s solely at the base of the plant that the leaf loss is happening – good news. There’s probably nothing you need to address.

There’s only likely to be a problem if it’s healthy new leaves higher up the plant that are dropping.

As angel wing begonias age, in common with lots of plants, they have a natural tendency to lose their lower leaves.  

This will leave bare stems lower down on the plant, which isn’t harmful at all but might not be the aesthetic you’re going for!

If you really can’t live with your bare-legged begonia, it’s a great opportunity to propagate some fresh new plants. 

Using a clean sharp knife or snips, take a couple of cuttings around 4-5 inches long from the top of the plant. 

Aim to cut just below a leaf, and ideally choose leggy leaf tips that have sprung up in spring. Remove any lower leaves from the cuttings so you’ve a good length of bare stem.

You can apply rooting powder to the cut ends to speed things along if you want to, but it will work just fine without. 

Push the cut ends into fresh compost, keeping it nice and moist until the cuttings take root and start to grow.  

A quick recap

Leaf drop can seem to come out of nowhere, especially with begonias, but hopefully this checklist gives you something to work with. Keep an eye on those moisture and humidity levels and make sure the plant is enjoying bright indirect light. If you’ve recently repotted, give it time to settle. And if it’s old leaves dropping off, take some cuttings and get yourself some brand new bushy begonias for free!

Photo by Pomax on

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