Strawberry Begonia—How to Grow Saxifraga stolonifera indoors

Saxifraga stolonifera
Forest & Kim Starr [ CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

These are really eye-catching plants. They have the basic leaf structure of a true begonia (although they are not true begonias), but as they mature, the plants send out very long, thin runners that end in clusters of leaves. When allowed to hang over a sill or edge, they form a very interesting display of hairy, red-hued leaves. You can even let the leaf runners scatter on the floor, similar to the outdoor gardeners who use them as ​ground cover.

They will happily form a clump of plantlets at the base of the container. Over time, as the runners multiply and begin to look a little cluttered, you can easily take cuttings to start new plants and give them to your friends or use them to start new plants. The flowers are insignificant. In all, these are easy plants to grow and very rewarding.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: Strawberry begonia prefers bright, but not direct sunlight. An east- or even west-facing window is perfect. Be careful of letting them get too hot; they dislike heat.
  • Water: These fast growers like a lot of water during the growing season. As with other hairy-leaved plants, avoid getting water on their leaves to reduce the risk of fungal disorders. During winter, reduce watering but don't let it dry out completely. Don't be alarmed if growth dramatically slows down or stops during the winter.
  • Fertilizer: Feed weekly during the growing season with a weak liquid fertilizer that includes micronutrients and encourages blooming. Controlled release fertilizer pellets are also excellent.
  • Soil: A light, fast-draining potting soil is perfect. You can use fortified soils.

Propagation

These are very easy plants to propagate with offsets. To propagate, gently push plantlets into soil, either in the same pot as the mother plant or in a nearby small pot, and wait a few weeks. The plantlets will quickly develop roots of their own.

Once they have their own roots, snip the runner to the mother plant and you'll have a clone ready to go.

Repotting

These are fast-growing plants that will rapidly fill up their original containers. To keep up with its rapid growth, repot every spring into a larger pot. Over time, however, your mother plant will likely begin looking a bit bare in the center or develop woody stems. If this happens, just propagate the mother plant from its plantlets and replace it.

Varieties

The Saxifraga stolonifera is the most common of the Saxifraga. It has green leaves with light silver leaf veining and red runners. The 'Tricolor' variety is slightly smaller and has a creamy halo around the leaf margins. These are bit more difficult to grow and require more careful attention to watering and temperature (in general, lower is better). These plants are sometimes labeled S. sarmentosa, which is the same species. Although these are similar in appearance to begonia, they are not actually begonias.

Grower's Tips

These are not terribly difficult plants to grow and are highly rewarding. They dislike too much humidity and warmth, which can encourage fungal problems, and are susceptible to root rot if they are watered too heavily.

They are also more cold tolerant than people often assume, able to withstand temperatures down to 45˚F and still recover. For best results, it's important to faithfully repot every spring as they also don't like being pot-bound and will not look their best. As with many fleshy plants, they are susceptible to mealybugs and aphids, so treat infestations as early as possible.