The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is an oldie but goodie in the houseplant industry. Europeans have been using these tropical African evergreens as indoor plants since the mid-1800s, and they’ve been popular in the United States since the early 20th century. Corn plants grow from one or more thick canes (stems) that produce long, narrow leaves (like those of corn) toward the top. This gives them a similar appearance to a palm tree, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as “false palms.” They make good houseplants because they are tall and narrow, typically only reaching around 4 to 6 feet high in containers, and they can withstand a fairly significant amount of abuse from casual indoor gardeners.
|Botanical Name||Dracaena fragrans|
|Common Names||Corn plant, cornstalk dracaena, happy plant, false palm, fragrant dracaena|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen shrub/tree|
|Mature Size||15 to 50 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Neutral to slightly acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 12|
|Native Area||Tropical Africa|
How to Grow Corn Plants
Home gardeners usually grow corn plants as large potted plants. They do best in bright indoor locations that are protected from direct sunlight and drafts. Also, maintaining high humidity levels indoors is critical; this can be done by placing the pot on a bed of wet pebbles and misting the plant leaves regularly.
You can bring your corn plant outside in the summer, as long as you place the pot in a sheltered, somewhat shady location. But you should bring the plant back inside well before temperatures begin to fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
As is typical of houseplants, growing corn plants is largely a matter of providing for their essential needs in a balanced manner. Try not to expose them to extreme conditions in any form, whether that means bright light, overly cold or warm temperatures, or strong winds.
The ideal location for this plant indoors is near a window with filtered sunlight. Too little light will result in the leaves losing their stripes, and it could cause the plant's growth to become stunted. But direct sun can burn the plant and cause it to wilt.
Loose, loamy potting soil mix is the best option for growing corn plants. The roots don't like to sit in water, so make sure the soil has good drainage.
Keep the soil evenly moist during the growing season, and then reduce watering in the fall to late winter. However, the soil should never be allowed to dry out fully. Soil that is too dry can cause brown leaf tips on the plant. Moreover, like other dracaena species, corn plants are sensitive to fluoride and boron, which can be found in tap water. Thus, it's best to water with distilled water to avoid leaf tip burn, stunted growth, and even plant death.
Temperature and Humidity
Corn plants do best in temperatures around 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid keeping them in temperatures below 50 degrees. Also, try to maintain a humidity level of around 40 percent to 50 percent, which mimics the plant's native conditions.
Corn plants prefer organically rich soil. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer roughly every month throughout the growing season, and feed sparingly or not at all over the winter.
Potting and Repotting
Repot your corn plant every year or two into a larger container with fresh potting soil. To repot this plant, remove the loose soil around it, carefully lift the plant from its base, and place it in its new container, making sure not to damage its roots in the process. Then, fill the space around it with fresh potting soil, but don't pack it too tightly to ensure that the container maintains good drainage.
Propagating Corn Plants
Corn plants root readily from cuttings. Take a stem cutting that's at least a few inches long, and push its end into warm, moist soil. You can also root cane pieces directly by pushing them into soil and keeping them upright. Rooting hormone can help in this process. Don't be discouraged if it takes some time for new cuttings to root; propagating corn plants is an inexact science and even experienced gardeners can have trouble with it sometimes.
Varieties of Corn Plants
The true Dracaena fragrans has solid green leaves. But most people prefer the D. fragrans 'Massangeana' variety, which features a lime green stripe down the middle of the leaf. Moreover, the D. fragrans 'Lindenii' variety has a dark green stripe down the middle of its yellowish leaves. And the D. frangrans 'Victoria' variety has white and cream stripes but is rarely seen in garden centers.
The lower leaves on the plant will begin to yellow after around two to three years, which is roughly their natural lifespan. Once they become unsightly, you can prune them off. In addition, if the plant grows too tall for your space, you can cut the tops of the canes, and new leaf buds will break out near the cut.
Common Pest and Diseases
In addition to brown leaf tips from fluoridated water, temperature fluctuations, inadequate watering, and calcium deficiency all can cause leaf discoloration. Also, watch out for spider mites, thrips, and scale, which can be a problem with many houseplants. And be sure to dust the leaves of the plant with a damp cloth to keep it looking its best.