How to Grow and Care for Corn Plant (Dracaena)

Dracaena fragrans by a window

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is a tropical African evergreen tree popular in Europe as an indoor plant since the mid-1800s—and in the U.S. since the early 20th century. They grow fairly slowly, from thick canes or stems that produce long, narrow leaves like stalks of corn, growing upward. This growth habit also makes them look a lot like palm trees, which is why they’re sometimes called “false palms.” They make good houseplants because they are tall and narrow, typically only reaching around 4- to 6-feet tall in containers. These plants aren't high maintenance once you get their growing conditions right. Springtime is ideal for starting new plants, though you can typically pot nursery plants indoors any time of year. if you have cats or dogs, pass on this plant as dracaena is toxic to both.

Common Names Corn plant, dracaena, false palm
Botanical Name Dracaena fragrans
Family Asparagaceae
Plant Type Broadleaf, evergreen, shrub/tree
Mature Size 15–50 ft. tall, 3–10 ft. wide outdoors; container-grown plants can grow up to 6 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Partial
Soil Type Moist, well-draining, loamy
Soil pH 6.1 to 6.5 (Acidic)
Bloom Time Late fall and then again in late spring; nighttime bloomer
Flower Color White, yellow
Hardiness Zones 10–12 (USDA)
Native Area Africa (tropics)
Toxicity Toxic to dogs and cats
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Watch Now: How to Take Care of a Corn Plant (Dracaena Fragrans)

Corn Plant Care

Home gardeners usually grow corn plants as large potted plants indoors since they are tropical plants that require climate-controlled conditions. Corn plants do best in bright indoor locations protected against direct sunlight, drafts, and air conditioning and heating vents. These plants also prefer a high humidity environment.

You can put corn plants outdoors during the summer if they are in a sheltered, somewhat shady location. Protect them against strong winds. Bring the plant indoors once the temperatures start to fall into the 60s F.

closeup of dracaena fragrans
The Spruce / Cara Cormack
closeup of dracaena fragrans leaves
The Spruce / Cara Cormack
closeup showing stalk texture
The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Light

The ideal indoor location for this plant is near a window with filtered sunlight. Too little light will result in the leaves losing their color variegation and might stunt the plant's growth. Exposure to direct sun can burn the plant's leaves and cause them to wilt. Outdoors, the plant does best in a shadier spot.

Soil

A loose, loamy potting soil mix is the best option for growing corn plants. Make sure the soil has good drainage because its roots don't do well in standing water.

Water

Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy during the growing season (spring through fall). Reduce watering in the late fall to winter. However, never let the soil completely dry out. Soil that is too wet or too dry will lead to plant health issues.

Temperature and Humidity

Corn plants do best in temperatures from 60-75 F. Avoid exposing them to temperatures in the 50s F. If you temporarily moved your corn plants outdoors for the summer, make sure to bring them indoors before temperatures reach this point.

Maintain humidity levels between 40 to 50 percent, which mimics the plant's native environment. To raise the plant's humidity, use a humidifier or place the pot on a tray of water and pebbles. Do not let the bottom of the pot touch the water. You can also mist the leaves regularly.

Fertilizer

Corn plants prefer organically rich soil. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer every other month throughout the growing season and feed sparingly, if at all, over the winter.

Types of Corn Plants

  • Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana': This variety is the most common and features a yellowish lime-green stripe down the center of its leaves.
  • Dracaena fragrans 'Lindenii': The leaves of this variety have yellow edges rather than a stripe down the center.
  • Dracaena fragrans 'Victoria': This variety is very similar to 'Massangeana'; a yellow stripe runs down the center of its leaves, but it has smaller, wider, and almost triangular leaves. It is rarely available in garden centers.
  • Dracaena fragrans 'Lemon Lime': This variety has leaves with white-yellow stripes around gray-green centers.
  • Dracaena fragrans 'Limelight': This cultivar has glossy yellow-green leaves that gradually turn lighter lime-green as they mature.

Pruning

The lower leaves on the corn plant will begin to yellow in approximately two to three years, a leaf's natural lifespan. Once the yellowing leaves become unsightly, remove them. If the plant grows too tall for your space, cut the tops of the canes; new leaf buds will appear near the cut.

Propagating Corn Plants

It's best to propagate corn plants in spring or summer, but if you keep your plants indoors in a climate-controlled room, you can propagate these plants any time of year. A great time to propagate this plant is when it starts to grow taller than your room. You can make another plant by cutting the top off the original parent plant. Also, top cutting is a nice way to rejuvenate the leaf growth of the plant. Top cutting or stem cutting is the best method of propagation. Here's how to do it:

  1. Both propagation methods involve using clean hand pruning shears, a jar of water, a pot, and moist peat moss.
  2. If top cutting, snip the top off the plant just below the leaf line and include one node (round white bumps on the stem). If stem cutting, snip an 8-inch stem segment.
  3. In a clear jar of fresh, preferably filtered water, submerge the cut end in the jar of water, allowing the other half of the stem to remain uncovered. Place it in a warm, partially sunny spot. Watch for root growth at the leaf nodes underwater and some leaf growth at leaf nodes at the top end.
  4. Top off the water every few days as it evaporates. Every other week, change the water entirely to discourage algae or bacterial growth.
  5. Once the stem produces roots over 1-inch long, pot the rooted end in moist, peat moss. Place it in a warm, partially sunny spot.
  6. Optionally, you can plant a fresh-cut stem cutting in moist peat moss and watch and wait for new leaf growth. It will likely root, but you can't see the root growth, unlike the clear jar of water. Propagation is more successful when rooting the stem in water. To increase your likelihood of soil rooting, you can put a rooting hormone on the cutting end.

How to Grow Corn Plant From Seed

To enhance germination, soak the seeds in room-temperature water for three to five days. Sprinkle two to three seeds in a small pot of moistened seed starting mix. Cover the seeds lightly with the seed starting mix. Place the pot on a warm, germinating mat and cover with clear plastic wrap. Maintain soil temperature between 68-80 F under a grow light or bright, indirect sunlight. The soil should remain slightly moist. If the soil is too damp, the seeds can rot. Once you notice some growth (it can take as long as four to six weeks), remove the plastic. Transplant once the seedling develops two true leaves into a 3-inch pot using potting soil.

Potting and Repotting Corn Plant

Repot your corn plant every year or two into a slightly larger container (2- to 3-inches larger and deeper) with fresh potting soil. When you are ready to repot the plant, remove the loose soil around it and carefully lift the plant from its base. Put a couple of inches of fresh soil at the bottom of the new container and center the plant in its new container, making sure not to damage its roots in the process. Fill the space around it with fresh potting soil, but do not pack it too tightly, ensuring the container maintains good drainage.

Overwintering

Bring your dracaena indoors when temperatures start to dip below 60 F. Or, if you have the plant in the ground, you can dig out the root ball (if you have a planter large enough for it) and pot it. If you live in an area cooler than zone 10 and leave the plant in the ground, the plant will die. However, before the first frost, you can take a stem cutting or cut off the plant top, propagate it indoors during winter, and plant it again in spring once the threat of frost is over.

Common Pests

Monitor the plants for spider mites, thrips, and scale, which are a common problem with many houseplants. These plants can cause leaves to look damaged and unhealthy, and you might even notice small insects moving around on the plant. Dust the leaves of the plant regularly with a damp cloth to keep it looking its best and to disrupt pests from colonizing.

How to Get Corn Plant to Bloom

Dracaena fragrans are not reliable bloomers, but when growing conditions are right, and the plant is mature (more than 5 years old), it can bloom one to three times per year. Chances of blooming reduces when kept as an indoor plant. The flower stalks emerge out of the center of the leaf whorl and can grow up to 3-feet long. The flowers look like white spike balls, and as its botanical name suggests: it has a sweet fragrance when it blooms. The scent can smell like a combination of jasmine, lilac, honey, and freshly cut grass. It blooms as the sun sets, each night for about a month. Each bloom drops at daylight, spurring another bloom to open the following evening.

Common Problems With Corn Plant

The corn plant is an easy houseplant to keep once you get the growing conditions correct, namely water, light, and humidity. It also doesn't like cold temps, high heat, or drafty spots. If any of these conditions are off for a prolonged period, the plant will likely exhibit some health issues.

Dry Leaf Tips

Plants that get too little water or too much dry air can get dry leaf tips and edges. Add a humidifier or mist the plant regularly to increase humidity. Increase the plant's water, but never let the soil get soggy. Yellowing tips can also be caused by too much plant food or fluoride in the water. Use distilled water to avoid leaf tip burn.

Sudden Loss of Leaves

Too much water and poor drainage can cause a sudden loss of leaves or root rot. Make sure the soil is well-draining and the plant's pot has several drainage holes.

Dry Patches on Leaves

If you put these plants in direct sun, your dracaena plant may get round dry patches and streaks on the leaves. Move the plant to a spot with less sunlight.

Foul Aroma

If you notice the bottom half of the plant blackening or smelling foul, it has likely developed soft rot, a bacterial infection with no remedy. The plant will start to look and smell like it's rotting. The plant is not salvageable; discard it.

FAQ
  • Are corn plants easy to care for?

    Corn plants are easy to care for once their climate, sun, and water needs are met. Maintain those conditions, and your plant can live for many years.

  • How fast does corn plant grow?

    The corn plant is a slow-to-moderate growing plant. Its conditions are usually tough to nail correctly, so it may slow down its growth rate when the conditions are not perfect.

  • How long can corn plant live?

    Under the right conditions, dracaena fragrans can live for decades.

  • What's the difference between corn plant and sweet corn?

    The corn plant is entirely unrelated to sweet corn—the stalky vegetable that's grown for food. They are similar in name only.

Article Sources
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  1. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Dracaena.Aspca.org. N.p., n.d. Web.