How to Grow and Care For the Dumb Cane Plant

I love gardening outside and will plant anything I like. I don’t care how complicated my garden options are to grow. It’s the opposite for houseplants. I have two criteria. I want them to be very easy to care for and I want them to look good.

The dumb cane fits easily on both of them. I’ve seen this plant in homes, offices, RVs, and everywhere in between. It is very popular because it is incredibly tolerant of a wide variety of conditions and is relatively unaffected by pests and diseases.

What is a dumb cane?

The dumb cane, or dieffenbachia, is a common houseplant that has a bad reputation that we need to address first. It has been described as seriously dangerous to humans. It’s true that dumb cane is poisonous if you eat it, and people have reportedly used it throughout history to end their lives or kill others.

One man mistook the bite, possibly mistaking it for another plant, and a tracheostomy was necessary to help him breathe again.

But modern reports suggest that it is rarely fatal because most people know how to take care of it. Still, it can be dangerous.

For most people, the most common symptom is a swollen and painful mouth, or paralysis of the vocal cords (making the person mute). This numbness, pain and swelling are caused by calcium oxalate crystals in plant tissue.

Actually, that’s where the name came from. When someone swallows those crystals, they release histamine. Chewing on the plant will irritate the mucous membranes of your mouth and throat, leading to swelling and the inability to talk.

The effects are so powerful that simply getting a little juice on your hands and accidentally touching your mouth can cause symptoms.

In other words, use caution when working with a dumb cane! And keep curious pets away.

dieffenbachia A genus of dozens of species of plants, including pika size letterhandjob amoena, And seguin. All these plants tolerate some dryness and some neglect. They love the climate of indoor environments and don’t require a lot of light, so they also suit those darker interiors.

dumb cane varieties

This list could go on forever, so I’ll cover the popular ones available at your average home store or nursery.

Camilla

D. Bomanni ‘Camilla’ is an attractive specimen with dark green leaves along the edges, which turn white towards the center. ‘Camille’ prefers a shady or dark spot where it won’t be hit by direct light.

tropical snow

d’amoena ‘Tropic Snow’ makes a statement because it is one of the larger dieffenbachia available. A happy tropical snow will give you height and lots of leaves. I have seen them reach 10 feet tall.

The leaves are large, dark green, and oblong with cream or white accents.

exotica

3d picture ‘Exotica’ is extremely popular. The leaves are green on the outside with a mostly white centre. It will grow to about 5 feet, if you wish.

D. Orsteady

If you want an all-green variety, this species is an excellent choice to look for. It is native to central Mexico and Ecuador with solid green leaves in some places.

tropic marian

D. Bomanni ‘Tropic Marian’ is a serious contender for house plant boss. Its leaves can be huge beyond two feet.

how to plant a dumb cane

The dumb cane likes heat, so it is suitable for most homes provided you keep your rooms warm during cold weather. If it is in a room that is not hot or too cold, it will struggle or die.

Between 60-80ºF is best. Anything below 50ºF is great for a dumb cane. The leaves will turn yellow and drop from the plant.

Cold winds are also a deal-breaker. Weird air is fine, like when you open a door, but the constant cold air also causes the leaves to turn yellow and fall. Keep them away from single-pane windows in winter and AC vents in summer.

Use a good quality potting mix that drains well but holds moisture.

In USDA Growing Zones 10 and 11, you can grow dumb canes outdoors, but temperatures should be consistent. It will also need to be fed every few months during the growing season.

propagation by cuttings

Remember my criterion of easy? Well, dumb cane propagation is pretty simple.

Look at an old dumb cane and you often see stems or bare canes at the base of the plant. As these plants age, they lose some of the leaves at the base, and new ones form at the top. These are old, bare canes that you can use to make new plants.

Cut these canes from the plant slightly above the soil level. Cut them into four inch pieces. There must be at least one node on each piece (these look like rings).

Put these two inches deep in the seed growing mix. Place in an area with bright, indirect light. Water well and keep the soil moist for several weeks.

Within a few weeks, you will see new growth at the top of the cuttings. This is a new plant now.

You can also cut off the growing 6-inch end of a healthy plant. Remove the lower leaves but leave the upper ones intact.

Plant it two inches deep in seedling mix and spray with a mist bottle, keeping moderately moist, until new roots form. You can tell this has happened if you give the plant a little tug and it resists.

root in water

This is by far the easiest method and is my method of choice. Just keep in mind that water-contained plants have weak root systems and will need time to adjust to the soil when you plant them.

Cut off a six-inch stem and remove the lower leaves. Place it in a glass or jar filled with water. Change the water every week until roots appear.

Once roots have formed, plant in a peat-based potting medium. You want to do this before too many roots form in the water because the more time you leave the roots to grow, the less likely they will be in the medium.

dumb cane care

Use a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) and feed your dumb cane every twelve weeks except in winter. Alternatively, use a slow-release fertilizer in early spring.

If your dumb cane is growing in bright light, it needs more fertilizer than one growing in limited light.

You are after a balance of keeping the plant healthy and letting the dumb cane grow slowly and maintain a good shape.

Keep the soil in the container moist. Water the pot thoroughly, then wait until the surface is dry. Spray occasionally with a fine mist.

Dumb cane will tolerate most lighting conditions, but the darker the area in your home, the slower the growth. However, don’t put it in full sun, as it’s a bit too hot for it and dries out the soil very quickly. These plants like little moisture.

As dumb canes mature, they shed their lower leaves. It makes them look a bit like a palm. If you don’t want that look, you can cut the plant down to your desired height and this will cause the dumb cane to sprout new growth.

You can cut to size and height at any time.

Companion Planting for Growing Dumb Sugarcane

The following plants can grow in the same location as a dumb cane because they have similar growing requirements.

  • dragon tree
  • Chinese evergreen
  • cast iron plant
  • Boston Fern
  • spider plant

Common problems and solutions for growing dumb sugarcane

Dumb cane is actually an easy plant to grow, however, sometimes things go wrong.

leaves turn yellow and fall

This is usually due to overcast. The medium should be kept moist, but not soaked. Also, make sure you use a vessel that can drain the water.

Make sure where you put the pot there are no cold drafts and that the room temperature is adequate.

If that all checks out, it could be a fungus issue. Treat with a copper-based spray.

stem rot disease

This is a fungal infection that affects the stem. When you overwater and the dumb cane is in temperatures that are too cold, this disease can strike.

Remove infected stems. If the top part of the stem is fine, you can use it to propagate new plants.

red spider mites

Dumb cane loves moisture. When humidity is low, spider mites can become a problem. They feed on plant sap and cover the cane in webbing.

The first sign is usually sticky webbing. You will then see small brown dots on the mottled leaves. These are the dead leaf cells after the red spider mites pierce them and suck the goodness out of the plant.

If you don’t cure red spider mites quickly, you may have problems eliminating them.

Spider mites hate water and moisture so spray the foliage with a mist bottle to increase the humidity. Wipe the leaves also with a wet cloth. An insecticidal soap can help you eradicate them.

scale

These little creatures are annoying and usually require a few treatments to get rid of your plant.

The first sign of scale if you haven’t noticed the organisms is the sticky honey they excrete that turns into a black sooty mold.

Pat them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and you may even need to gently remove them.

Fungus Gnats

These little flying insects are just as annoying as the fruit flies swirling around your head. They don’t cause much damage, but you will often find them around the base of the plant because they live in moist soil.

Make sure you remove any leaves that fall on the soil and do not over water the container.

stag beetle

Thrips on your houseplant are irritating and harmful, and you should deal with them as soon as possible. See our guide on thrips for more information.

Tips for Growing Dumb Sugarcane Well

Here are some helpful tips for the healthiest dumb cane plant.

inside

  • Use a pot a few inches wider than the pot the plant came in.
  • Fill the pot with a good quality potting mix.
  • If your dumb cane is struggling, feed regularly in early spring to fall and move to a sunny spot.
  • Put the dumb cane into a larger container if it becomes too heavy.

Outside

  • Dig in well-rotted compost before planting.
  • Use a seaweed based fertilizer.
  • Mulch in hot climates to retain moisture.
  • Divide clumps and transplant.
  • Do not plant in full sun and protect from wind.

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