The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans), native to tropical Africa, is a slow-growing evergreen commonly used as a houseplant in the United States. According to NASA, corn plants have air-purifying qualities.
Corn plants get their name from their straight trunk resembling a corn stalk. With dark green leaves and white or yellow variegation, they can grow 3 to 14.6 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide, depending on the variety.
How to Care for a Corn Plant
Corn plants are considered easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants:
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 four indoor pests:
- Thrips: Tiny insects with fringed wings. Control with water spray, indoor neem oil, or insecticidal soap.
- Mealybugs: Covered in white wax, causing damage and honeydew issues. Treat weekly with indoor insecticidal soap.
- Scale Insects: Identified by shell-like coatings. Use neem oil or insecticidal soap, ensuring it’s approved for indoor use.
- Spider Mites: Small, web-spinning pests. Increase plant watering and relocate to a cooler spot. Combat with neem oil or indoor-approved insecticidal soap.
Corn plants are sensitive to fluoride and salt buildup. Use fluoride-free filtered water and flush the soil monthly. Brown leaf tips suggest low water or humidity. Sudden leaf loss indicates overwatering. Increase humidity with a pebble tray