Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
The first time that I saw a corn plant, I couldn’t figure out what it was. The stem looked like bamboo but the leaves were all wrong. They looked like the leaves on corn but the stem was all wrong. The whole plant struck me as something that Dr. Seuss might draw.
What is a Corn Plant?
Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is native to tropical Africa. Its resemblance to corn (maize) resulted in its nickname “corn plant”. It is also referred to as “mass cane”, “false palm”, “Chinese money tree” and “fortune plant”. It is related to Lucky Bamboo which is also a dracaena (D. sanderina). Both are members of the asparagus family.
Corn plant is only hardy in zones 10 – 12. In its native African environment, it often reaches a height of 50 feet. Here in the US it is more often grown as a houseplant so it only grows to about 4 – 6 feet. The stems look a lot like bamboo, to which it is not related. The leaves grow from the tops of the stems and look like the leaves on corn (to which it is also not related). The leaves are 2 feet long and 3 inches wide tapering to a point. Originally, they were a glossy green. Newer cultivars sport leaves that are striped down the middle with yellow or lime. A rarer cultivar has white striped leaves.
Corn plant usually doesn’t flower when grown indoors because it doesn’t get enough light. Occasionally, yours may surprise you and bloom. The flowers grow in panicles which means that the flowers are in clusters along branched stems. The flowers are yellow and very fragrant. They are followed by red berries.
How to Grow a Corn Plant
Corn plants like light, but not direct sunlight. They will survive in a room with very little light. They just won’t grow as well. Aim for a room with filtered light. Too little light will result in leaves losing their variegation. Too much light will burn the leaves.
Humidity is key. When we grow our houseplants, we try to mimic their native environment as much as possible. Corn plants grow in tropical regions that are humid so you will need to provide extra humidity to keep yours happy.
The best way to provide humidity is by using a humidity tray. A humidity tray is simply a shallow pan filled with (ornamental) gravel and water. Set your plant on top of the gravel. As the water evaporates, it provides humidity. Be sure to keep your pan full of water.
You can also mist your plant a few times a week. Or simply leave a glass of water next to it.
In addition to providing humidity, you should water your plant at least once a week. The leaves will tell you if you are watering correctly. Yellow, droopy leaves is a sign that you are watering too much. Brown leaf tips means that the soil is too dry and you need to water more.
The kind of water you use is important. These plants are sensitive to the fluoride found in tap water. It is best to use distilled water on your plants. Distilled water has been boiled to remove the minerals and impurities. The steam created when the water is boiled is then condensed back into purified water. You can find distilled water in most stores that sell bottled water.
Corn plants like rich, loamy, well-draining soil. A regular potting mix should work well. Most potting mixes now come with slow release fertilizer in them so it is not necessary to fertilize your plant. If your mix doesn’t have fertilizer in it, you need to fertilize your plant once a month during the growing season (spring through fall) using an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer. There is no need to fertilize during the winter when the plant will be resting.
Corn plants like to be slightly pot bound so you will not need to repot them every year. Every other year or even every three years should be sufficient.
You can put your plant outdoors in the summer. Wait until the night time temperatures are above 50⁰F. Make sure that they get some shade. They are accustomed to the lack of light inside your home so keep them out of full sun. Bring your plant back indoors in the fall when night time temperatures fall to 50⁰F.
How to Grow a Corn Plant From a Stem Cutting
Corn plants that are grown indoors may flower, but their flowers will never be pollinated so no viable seeds will be produced. Luckily, you can propagate your plant using stem cuttings. Cut off a 4 – 8 inch piece of the top of the stem and insert it into some soil. Keep the soil moist. It can take 2 or more months for your cutting to root. You will know that new roots have formed when the plant starts to grow new leaves. Plants that have no roots cannot grow leaves.
When you cut the top off of the stem of your corn plant, it will grow two new crowns of leaves. Your single stem plant will become a multi stem plant.
© 2020 Caren White
Caren White (author) on August 28, 2020:
You are giving your plant way too much fertilizer (compost/cow manure counts as fertilizer). I would repot into regular potting soil. The lanai is blocking the sunlight. I would move the plant to another window either facing north or that gets morning sun only.
Sharon on August 27, 2020:
1). I repot my mass cane with potting soil, compost/ cow manure and 6-6-6-6 fertilizer is this going to damage the roots.
2). Location in front of my sliding door windows a small lanai separate my plant from direct sunlight.
3). I think the bottom of the stem turned darker in color but not soft I’m thinking it’s from the compost.
4). I repotted 4 days ago should I repot with potting soil only?