Caring for Mass Cane (Corn Plant, Dracaena Massangeana)
A Favorite Large House Plant
Mass cane (Dracaena fragrans Massangeana, or Dracaena massangeana), also called "corn plant," is a very widely used interior plant. It is one of several popular varieties of Dracaena, including Dracaena lisa, Dracaena marginata, and Dracaena compacta.
There are a number of reasons why mass cane is so popular.
- Mass cane is tolerant of most indoor lighting conditions.
- It is inexpensive. It's usually the cheapest Dracaena, and very inexpensive compared to other house plants.
- Slow growth means mass cane will fit a particular space for a long time with little maintenance.
- Long strap-like leaves make the plant easy to clean.
- Watering is easy.
- Mass cane has the height and look of a tree but can fit indoors and requires less maintenance than other tree house plants like Ficus, Rhapis, or mahogany.
All of these qualities make mass cane an ideal choice for a tall indoor floor plant.
Native Habitat: Upper Guinea
Choosing a Space
Mass cane tolerates a wide variety of indoor light conditions. Ideally, choose a space with moderate natural light or beneficial artificial lighting.
Moderate light will provide all this plant needs to support itself. Since it is a slow-growing plant, mass cane will maintain its height and shape for some time. It's a great choice for office spaces with fluorescent lighting.
In strong light, the plant's growth will speed up, and it will need fertilizer more regularly so as to avoid symptoms of chlorosis. There is also a greater chance of developing mealy bug in bright light. Beyond these side effects, there's no problem in putting the plant in a space with lots of light.
Low light is the least desirable lighting choice. Some mass canes can survive in low light. However, because low light slows the plant's process of photosynthesis, you will need to dramatically reduce the amount you water the plant. Otherwise, your plant will continually display symptoms of overwatering. Controlling the moisture level in this setting will become more difficult.
Watering is fairly simple. If placed in moderate light, the plant should be watered when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Water enough to moisten the soil throughout the pot. In most moderate conditions, there is no need to leave excess water in the plant's liner. Allow the soil surface to become dry to the touch before watering again.
- In moderate light, the plant should be watered every week or two.
- In areas with strong light, it may be necessary either to leave some water in the liner or water more frequently.
- In low light, you will want to water less frequently. Be sure to allow canes in low light a period of drying.
Remember that mass cane is a slow-growing, slow-reacting plant. It may take weeks for the plant to show symptoms of either overwatering or underwatering; by then the damage will already have occurred. Don't let confusion from this delay cause over-correction.
What's Going on Under the Soil? Potting and Roots
Mass canes usually have multiple stalks. Canes in pots with diameters of 10" or larger are tapered in height above the pot and below the soil surface. The tallest stalk's roots will be deepest in the pot, and the shortest stalk's roots will be closest to the soil surface.
Keeping these depth differences in mind can help you troubleshoot any watering issues.
- If the shortest cane shows symptoms of underwatering, but the tallest cane is fine, you may need to water more frequently as the shallow roots are likely drying out between waterings.
- If the tallest cane shows symptoms of underwatering, but the shortest cane is fine, it is likely that you need to make sure that you're watering enough to moisten the bottom layer of soil.
- If the tallest cane shows symptoms of overwatering, but the shorter ones seem fine, then it's likely that too much water is being left in the liner, thus overwhelming the deep roots in the pot.
As easy as caring for this plant is, there are some very typical issues associated with mass cane.
- Mealy bug is the most common pest. The best treatment is to keep your plant healthy, wipe away any visible bugs from the leaves, and remove new leaf crowns if needed.
- Brown spots along the leaves, especially on new growth, are common. There are a few possible causes for this. An older plant may have roots that have grown outside the pot, which need to be cut away. Also, salts from the water can build up in the soil; if that happens you need to add more soil. If new growth shows spots, you can cut the crowns to catalyze new, healthier growth. The video link below shows how to prune the foliage crowns.
- Overgrown stalks can be found on older plants and can get spindly and out of control. The stalks should be cut back. Use the video below as a pruning guide.
- Tilted, leaning, or crooked canes are usually the result of either the plant leaning toward a light source or uneven watering. It can also be a result of a plant being tipped over or forcibly moved. Straightening a cane is simple: just push the cane back into its upright position and pack soil as backfill for stability. Also be sure to rotate your plant regularly to provide balance and to water evenly across the soil surface.
- Brown leaf tips are most commonly a result of overwatering or inconsistent watering. Even very experienced plant professionals create brown tips. The distinctive strappy leaves are very accommodating to being trimmed back, so prune in order to restore the look of healthy foliage.
- Yellow leaves may be caused by acclimation, underwatering, or age. There is a trick to removing Corn Plant leaves. Starting at the tip, split the leaf in the middle and begin to tear right down the center all the way back. The two segments should then peel easily away.
- Wrinkly stalks are due to severe under watering or root damage.
- Rotten stalks, or mushy canes, are due to extreme overwatering or root damage.
- Fungus gnats can be an issue for any indoor plant. They are most commonly caused by over-watering.
A little bit of understanding can go a long way in making mass cane a very easy and long-lasting house plant for just about anyone in any space.