What To Do When Your Begonias Look Terrible

We love our begonias for their spectacular floral displays. However, these tropical plants are somewhat fussy about their growing conditions. They are not very forgiving of neglect or oversight and look terrible if you don’t give them the TLC they demand. 

When your begonias look terrible, inspect them for problems like overwatering, humidity, and pests. Once you’ve determined the problem, you can begin to treat it. For example. Overwatered soil will need to be dried or changed.

In this article, I will explain the reasons why begonias can look sickly and what to do to nurse your beloved plants back to health.

Why Begonias Can Look Terrible

A wilting and shriveling begonia looks terrible and does not flower, which is a pity because you bought the plant for its showy flowers. 

These are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Drooping and curled leaves.
  • Brown and papery leaf tips and edges.
  • Yellowed leaves 
  • Mushy stems

Most symptoms usually have a reason, so matching the symptom to the problem is the first step in understanding why your begonia looks terrible and fixing the problem. Here are some of the most common problems begonias face:


Many plant parents are guilty of giving their babies too much love and care. We can sometimes get too enthusiastic and overwater our begonias. 

Some people might believe that begonias need more water because they originate in the tropics, where it rains abundantly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Begonias originated in moist and cool subtropical forests and tropical rainforests. Forest soils are porous and light and have excellent drainage. 

So, begonias have not evolved to tolerate wet feet, and leaving them in water or waterlogged soil for a prolonged period can cause root rot.

Yellow or wilting leaves, brown leaf edges, and rotting stems are some common signs of overwatering in begonias.  


Like overwatering, underwatering can also stress a begonia and make it look terrible. Although most begonia varieties can tolerate drought-like conditions for a few days, they wilt if the soil remains bone dry for too long.

Many begonias have originated in moist, cool environments. So, while they don’t do well in waterlogged soil, it still needs to be consistently moist. 

Low Humidity

Some begonias have evolved to survive in dry climates. However, most still come from tropical and subtropical rainforests and prefer high-humidity environments. 

Unfortunately, our homes are much less humid than the outdoors, and the humidity level falls even more in winter when we power the room heater. 

Begonias show signs of stress in these excessively dry environments. The leaves develop brown edges and wilt.  

Heat or Cold Shock

Begonias cannot tolerate scorching heat or frigid temperatures. They thrive when the temperature is between 59℉ and 74℉ (15℃-24℃).

Any temperature above 85°℉ (29℃) can cause begonias to wilt. Freezing temperatures can also have the same effect,

Pest Attacks and Diseases

Begonias are susceptible to mealybugs and whiteflies attacks. A severe infestation of either insect can cause your plant to wilt.

A mealybug infestation looks like a downy, cottony growth on the plant. 

On the other hand, Whiteflies resemble aphids. They are winged insects and can usually be found clustered on the underside of leaves. 

Some pest infestations worsen overnight, while some are difficult to spot at a glance. This is why it is essential to examine your plant closely every day.

Begonias are susceptible to diseases like botrytis blight, Pythium rot, and fungal leaf spots. These diseases are mainly caused by overwatering.

They usually have the following symptoms:

  • mushy, blackened stems
  • black or brown patches on the leaves
  • wilting petioles

Transplant Shock

Begonias are vulnerable to transplant shock. If you’ve just repotted your store-bought begonia or moved an existing plant to a larger container, the plant might shed leaves or not flower as a result.

How To Fix a Begonia That Looks Terrible

After identifying what’s causing your begonia plant to look terrible, you must fix the issue promptly. Here’s how:

Repot The Plant if It Has Been Overwatered

You can save your begonia plant from a bout of overwatering if root rot has not completely set in. Since the symptoms of overwatering and underwatering can be similar, you should first check the moisture in the soil to be sure what problem you have.

If you’re sure overwatering is the problem, here’s what to do:

  1. Remove the plant from its pot. Tilt the pot, and shake it gently to loosen the roots of the plant. Hold the pot in one hand and the plant in your other hand. Gently pull out your begonia plant.
  2. Check for signs of root rot. Foul-smelling soil is a telltale sign of root rot. The roots may also appear reddish brown instead of a healthy white. If your roots are completely healthy, you can skip the next step.
  3. Prune the affected parts of the root. Use sharp scissors to prune the affected parts of the root. While you are at this, snip off the affected stems and leaves.
  4. Replant the begonia. Gently shake away all soil from the root zone of the begonia. Prepare a fresh potting mix and repot the plant. Ensure that the planter has adequate drainage holes at the bottom.
  5. Be mindful about watering. Create a watering schedule based on the size of the plant, ambient humidity level, and temperature. 

Besides overwatering, poorly-draining potting mix and insufficient or blocked drainage holes are common reasons indoor plant soil stays wet and causes waterlogging issues in begonias. Read my article here about the other causes and how to fix them: What to Do When Indoor Plant Soil Stays Wet

Hydrate Underwatered Plants

If your begonia is wilting because you have neglected to water it, you can immediately fix the issue by hydrating the plant. 

If the soil is bone dry and caked, it can’t absorb the water if you pour it all at once. The pot will overflow, or the water will leach out of the pot without soaking the soil. 

So, pour water little by little till it runs out of the bottom of the planter. You can also increase the ambient humidity level to prevent soil from drying quickly.

Your begonia will perk up soon after it is hydrated.

Keep the Plant Where the Temperature Is Ideal

Protect your begonia plant from extreme temperatures to keep it healthy. This means keeping it away from the following spaces:

  • Heating appliances, such as the room heater and boiler
  • Air-conditioning vents
  • Leaky doors and windows through which cold drafts can enter the room
  • South- or west-facing windows and porches, especially if you live in a hot and sunny climate

Control Pests

You don’t have to resort to harsh and toxic chemical substances to eliminate mealybugs and whiteflies. Here are some gentle ways to get rid of pests on your begonia plant:

  • Hose down the pests. Make sure that you direct the stream of water around the leaf joints, underneath the leaves, and at the base of the plant.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol to the pest colonies.
  • Apply neem oil. A bottle of concentrated neem oil will go a long way. Mix the oil with water and mild liquid soap, and spray the solution all over the plant. Neem oil also prevents pest infestations.
  • Spray an insecticidal soap solution.
  • Make your own pest spray. Mix a teaspoon of mild liquid soap with a liter of water. However, test the solution first on a few leaves before spraying it over the whole plant. Some soaps can be too harsh for a begonia plant.
  • Apply horticultural oil or hot pepper oil.

Whatever pest control method you use, remember that you may see results only after several applications. So, be diligent.

Also, spray during the cooler part of the day, such as in the evening, to avoid accidentally spraying on pollinators and beneficial insects. 

Minimize Transplant Shock

Transplant shock is inevitable when you repot a plant. However, you can minimize it with the following tips:

  • Try to disturb the roots as little as possible.
  • Ensure the root ball remains moist throughout the entire transplanting process.
  • Water the plant thoroughly after repotting. 
  • Prune a few flowering stems, so the plant can focus its energy on growing a robust root system instead of producing flowers.
  • Use a small amount of a dilute sugar-and-water solution to help the plant heal quicker from a transplanting shock.


Overwatering and underwatering are two of the most common causes of begonias wilting, losing leaves, and looking terrible overall.

Consequently, a healthy watering routine is the best way to keep your plants looking as good as possible. However, it’s also important to watch out for other factors like humidity levels and pests.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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