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 fairly slowly 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. Springtime is ideal for starting new plants, though you can typically pot nursery plants indoors at any time of year.
|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 tall and 3 to 10 feet wide|
|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, rather than in garden soil. Corn plants do best in bright indoor locations that are protected from direct sunlight, drafts, and airflow from air-conditioning and heating vents. Also, maintaining high humidity levels indoors is critical for the plants.
You can bring your corn plant outside during the summer, as long as you place the pot in a sheltered, somewhat shady location. Make sure it is protected from strong winds. You should bring the plant back inside well before temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
In terms of lighting, 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 can cause the plant's growth to become stunted. But direct sun can burn the plant and cause it to wilt. Outdoors, the plant does best in part shade.
A 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 but not soggy during the growing season (spring to fall), and then reduce watering in the late fall to 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 humidity levels between 40 percent and 50 percent, which mimics the plant's native conditions. If you need to raise the humidity, place the pot on a tray of water and pebbles, not allowing the bottom of the pot to touch the water, and mist the plant leaves regularly.
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 stem cuttings. Take a 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.
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. New leaf buds will break out near the cut.
Common Pests 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. With these pests, the leaves can start to look damaged and unhealthy, and you might even notice small bugs moving on the plant. Dust the leaves of the plant regularly with a damp cloth to keep it looking its best and to disrupt the environment for pests.
Varieties of Corn Plants
There are several varieties of corn plants that range in appearance, including:
- Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana': This plant features a lime green stripe down the middle of its leaves.
- Dracaena fragrans 'Lindenii': This variety has a dark green stripe down the middle of its yellowish leaves.
- Dracaena fragrans 'Victoria': This variety has white and cream stripes on its leaves and is rarely seen in garden centers.