The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is originally from tropical Africa. It is a slow-going evergreen usually kept as a houseplant in the United States. According to NASA, corn plants help purify the air.
Corn plants are called that because their straight, unbranched trunk resembles a corn stalk. The leaves are ribbons of dark green with white or yellow variegation. The corn plant grows from 3-14.6 feet tall and 1-3 feet wide, depending on the variety of corn plant you grow.
How to Care for a Corn Plant
Corn plants are considered easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants. Here is what these striking plants need to look their best.
Use a heavy pot as the corn plant will get top-heavy as it grows. Make sure any pot you use has drainage holes in it.
Direct sunlight will burn the leaves on your corn plant. Place the plant in anything from dappled sunlight to low light. Low light will make the leaves grow narrower and make the plant grow more slowly.
Use a commercial potting mix formulated for house plants. The potting mix must drain well, so the plant doesn’t sit in soggy soil. Do not use a potting mix that contains a lot of perlite, as the plant is sensitive to fluoride, and perlite contains that. Keep the pH between 6.0-6.5.
Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Let the top of the soil dry out before watering. Use room temperature water as cold water will shock the corn plant. Water the plant until water comes out of the drainage holes in the pot. Let the pot sit for 15 minutes, then dump any water out of the saucer. In the winter, cut back on watering.
The corn plant prefers a humidity higher than the typical house humidity level, especially in the winter. Use a pebble tray to create a microclimate with a higher humidity around the corn plant. Get a saucer large enough to hold the saucer beneath the plant. Fill this saucer with pebbles. Next, fill the saucer with water but leave the very tops of the pebbles dry. Place the corn plant’s saucer on top of the pebble tray. Remember to top off the water as it evaporates.
Corn plants prefer a temperature of 60-70 degrees F during the day and about 10 degrees cooler at night. Do not let the plant get below 50 degrees, or the cold will injure it.
Avoid fertilizers that contain superphosphate as they usually contain too much fluoride for corn plants. During the growing season, feed corn plants a liquid fertilizer once a month as a foliage spray. Use a water-soluble fertilizer designed to be used as a foliage spray for house plants. Too much fertilizer will burn the leaves. Do not fertilize the plant in the winter.
Wipe the leaves with a soft cloth to remove dust. Inspect for signs of disease, pests, or other problems. Turn the pot a quarter turn to keep it from growing crooked toward the light.
If the leaves on your plant have brown on them, prune the leaf back to the stem. The lower leaves will gradually turn yellow. Prune them off when they do. You can prune the top of the corn plant to control its height.
Since a corn plant grows slowly, it only needs repotting when the roots start to grow through the drainage holes. However, you should remove the corn plant from its pot and replace the potting soil every 2-3 years. Even the best potting soil gets compacted and does not hold water or air after this time.
Propagating a Corn Plant
The best way to propagate the corn plant is to take a tip or stem cutting. Cut the stem into an 8-inch piece. Cut the tip below the leaf level. Place the cutting, cut side down, in a clear jar of water. Place the jar in indirect light in a warm place. Change the water once a week. When the roots are one inch long, plant the cutting in soil.
Diseases of the Corn Plant
Indoor corn plants do not generally get diseases. However, Overwatering can cause root rot.
Pests of the Corn Plant
Corn plants are vulnerable to several indoor pests.
These tiny insects are long and narrow and have wings fringed with hairs. They suck plant juices and may leave scars, especially on flowers or leaves. Spraying the plant with water will remove the thrips. If that does not work, you can use neem oil or insecticidal soap listed for indoor use.
Mealybugs are covered by a white waxy substance and have hairs and wax sticking out of their body. They are hard to control, but you can use an insecticidal soap labeled for indoor use. You will probably have to treat once a week for several weeks to eliminate mealybugs. In addition to the damage the mealybugs do, they excrete honeydew. Sooty mold often grows on the honeydew, covering the plant’s leaves. Wash the sooty mold off as you treat the plant.
These insects have shell-like coatings on their backs. Neem oil or insecticidal soap will kill them. Be sure that anything you use is listed for indoor use.
Spider mites are difficult to see with the naked eye. They are not insects but are related to ticks and spiders. Spider mites spin webbing, which is usually what the plant owner first notices. You can treat spider mites in two ways. First, they like hot, dry climates, so watering your plant a little more and placing it in a cooler spot will help. You can also use neem oil or an insecticidal soap listed for indoor use.
The corn plant is sensitive to fluoride in the water and the accumulation of salts in the potting soil. The leaves may turn brown because of this. Use filtered water that does not have fluoride in it. Flush the salts out of the soil by running water through the soil for 15 minutes every month.
Brown leaf tips indicate too little water or humidity that is too low.
A sudden loss of leaves means you are overwatering the plant.
Leaves may also turn brown if the humidity is not high enough. Use a pebble tray, as described above, to increase the humidity around the plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
If properly cared for, corn plants can live for decades.
Yes, it is toxic to pets and people. Keep the plant out of reach of pets and children.
The corn plant is widely available from nurseries, big box stores, and online.
You can, but the recommended propagation method is by stem or tip cutting. Seeds are hard to find and hard to grow.
Corn plants grow slowly. They grow the fastest in bright, indirect sunlight.
Corn plants rarely bloom when kept indoors.
No, they are entirely different plants. Corn plants are named for their resemblance to a stalk of corn but do not produce any edible parts.
In conclusion, corn plants are easy to grow indoor plants. They can grow in dim light, so they are often grown in offices. Corn plants grow slowly but grow faster in bright, indirect light. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and fertilize your corn plant monthly with foliar fertilizer. Use distilled or filtered water without fluoride in it for best results. Well-cared-for corn plants can live for decades.