I have more than eight years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and like to share many tricks of the trade.
Mass Cane Plant: A Low-Maintenance Beauty
Mass cane (Dracaena fragrans "Massangeana" or Dracaena fragrans) is also known as "corn plant" and is one of several popular varieties of Dracaena, including Dracaena lisa, Dracaena marginata, and Dracaena compacta. It has stalky stems and long, green leaves with light-yellow/light-green stripes running through them. It is an easy-to-grow houseplant that requires little maintenance (and even puts up with neglect), making it a great choice for beginners.
Although originally from Africa, the mass cane is popular throughout many homes and offices in the U.S. and the U.K. because it is a low-maintenance beauty. For those who are lucky enough, the corn plant may even produce clusters of fragrant white flowers, though this is very rare. Below are care instructions for diligent gardeners who want to grow mass cane in the most ideal conditions.
Facts About Corn Plant (Mass Cane)
4 to 6 feet tall
60°F (15°C)–75°F (24°C)
Indirect bright is best; no direct sunlight. It can tolerate low light.
Once a week should be enough. Let the soil be a little damp or slightly dry.
Any soil with good drainage.
Non-toxic to humans, but toxic to dogs and cats, especially smaller ones.
The ideal temperature for mass cane is 60°F (15°C) to 75°F (24°C). Conditions below 55°F/12°C will cause the leaves' edges to turn light grey or brown. Guard it from the wind and cold by keeping it away from open windows in the winter.
In summer, move the plant away from any window with direct sunlight filtering through or minimize heat with a curtain. If you see that the leaves begin turning towards the inside of your house or curling, then it is a sign that the plant is trying to guard itself from sunburn.
Mass cane tolerates a wide variety of indoor light conditions, but ideally, it thrives in an area with bright, indirect sunlight. Moderate bright light will provide all this plant needs to grow and produce healthy-looking leaves. Placing it on a porch or near an eastern-facing window is best.
In strong light, the plant will grow faster, but the leaves may become bleached or burned, and the soil will dry out too quickly, which causes dehydration. If you cannot avoid growing the corn plant in an area with copious amounts of sun, then the plant needs to be regularly fertilized to avoid symptoms of chlorosis. However, too much sun creates a greater chance of the plant developing mealy bug. If you cannot move the mass cane to another location, filter the light with a curtain.
Mass cane is very tolerant in low-light conditions, but it will grow much more slowly and the leaves may yellow or brown. If growing in low light, you should water less frequently to avoid root rot and browning leaves.
Ideal Humidity Level
Because the mass cane is a tropical plant, it prefers high humidity. However, it does just fine in normal humidity. If leaves begin to brown and you suspect low humidity, spray the foliage daily to keep the leaves damp. Mass cane also benefits from having other plants around, which helps create humidity.
How Often Should You Water a Mass Cane?
Watering is fairly simple. If placed in moderate light, the plant should be watered when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Water the mass cane just 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.
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What to Do When the Leaves Turn Yellow or Brown?
When your mass cane's leaves turn brown or yellow, it is commonly a symptom of overwatering or underwatering. The leaves will begin to show signs of discoloration around the edges but then spread to the middle. Similar symptoms show when the plant is too cold. Keep your mass cane away from drafty areas and move it to a warm location with ample indirect sunlight.
Yellowing or browning leaves is also a sign of fluoride toxicity. If you are fertilizing your plant, stop immediately. Fertilizers contain more fluoride than the mass cane likes or can handle. Tap water also contains fluoride, so water with bottled water or rain water if you suspect that fluoride overdose is the problem.
Common Mass Cane (Dracaenea) Problems
As easy as caring for this plant is, there are some very typical issues associated with it.
- 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 encourage new, healthier growth.
- Overgrown stalks can be found on older plants and can get spindly and out of control. The stalks should be cut back.
- Tilted, leaning, or crooked canes are usually the result of either the plant leaning toward or away from 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's surface.
- Brown leaf tips are most commonly a result of overwatering or inconsistent watering. The leaves are very accommodating to being trimmed back, so either cut off the brown parts of the leaves or cut the brown leaves off altogether 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 away very easily.
- 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 overwatering.
What If One Stalk Is Healthy but Another Shows Symptoms?
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.
What's the Best Soil to Use?
Mass cane is not picky, so any soil with good drainage is fine. I recommend multipurpose potting mix or indoor potting mix. Potting soil that contains peat moss will also improve drainage. Make sure the pot has a draining hole because mass canes will get root rot if water sits.
Should I Fertilize My Corn Plant?
Corn plants do not take well to excess fluoride or baron, both of which are found in fertilizers, hence, fertilizing could cause leaves to brown. This plant does just fine without fertilizer, but if you believe the plant needs a boost of nutrients, then only fertilize once a year.
Pruning Mass Cane
Nothing can be simpler than pruning dracaena. Simply take some garden shears and trim any discolored or sick-looking leaves at the node (the point where a leaf attaches to the cane). Trim up any new sprouts or side shoots to help the plant maintain its shape. If your plant is getting too tall, lop off a part of the top by cutting horizontally across the stem. You can propagate the cutting if you wish to have another mass cane tree. The good news is that it's super easy to propagate a dracaena cutting.
How to Propagate Mass Cane
When planting a mass cane from cutting, make sure to do it in the spring and summer when the parent plant is actively growing so that the part that gets cut off will experience new growth.
- Choose a healthy stem with little buds present. These small buds will grow into shoots.
- Using gardening scissors or a sharp knife, cut off at least 3 inches of the stem. Cut just below the horizontal groove.
- Stick the new cutting into the soil of a new pot, making sure that the buds remain above the soil. Water around the stem right away.
- (Optional) Dip the end of the cutting in some rooting hormone powder to improve its chances of budding.
Why Is the Mass Cane a Popular House Plant?
- It is tolerant of most indoor lighting conditions.
- It is inexpensive. It's usually the cheapest variety of dracaena and very inexpensive compared to other house plants.
- Slow growth means the mass cane will fit a particular space for a long time with little maintenance.
- The leaves are long and strap-like, making it 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 houseplant trees, like ficus, rhapis, or mahogany.
- It cleanses the air. According to the NASA Clean Air Study, dracaena plants remove formaldehyde from the air in your home, as well as other substances, such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and xylene.