Caring for Dieffenbachia Plants
Dieffenbachia plants are beautiful and many home gardeners choose them for their homes. These plants are often grown because of their unique, striking foliage. If you wish to grow these plants for the first time, here’s a good news: it’s easy to learn all the basics pretty quickly so you can start growing your Dieffenbachia plants very quickly.
This plant is also known as “dumb cane” on the market. The name comes from the plant’s toxic sap. Keep in mind that ingesting it can cause a temporary inability to speak. Another, shorter name for a Dieffenbachia plant is “Dieff”, and it’s often used because it’s easier to spell.
Before you start, you need to know that there are many varieties of the “dumbcane” plants on the market. Some varieties are very small, almost dwarf. On the other hand, there are also very large varieties you can find, such as Dieffenbachia amoena. The choice is all yours and it depends on your preferences. Both varieties can easily be grown indoors.
One great news about all home gardeners is that “Dieffs” can easily be grown indoors for years. They can easily reach a height of about 4 to 5 feet (if you don’t choose the dwarf variety).
Dieffenbachia Plant Care Requirements
Here are some basic requirements Dieffenbachia plants need to thrive.
Temperatures and Lighting. The Dieffenbachia plant can do well outdoors, but it’s also easily grown indoors. It generally thrives on year-round temperatures around 65 to 75 degrees F. Keep in mind that this plant is not a fan of low temperatures and it shouldn’t be kept on temperatures below 60 degrees F. When it comes to light, it’s important to remember that it can’t handle full sun but it does thrive in good lighting. It will do well on a kitchen window, for example. Make sure to never expose it to very bright light. It can make it sickly and weak.
Watering. When deciding on how much to water your “Dieffs”, it’s important to keep in mind that they are from the aroid family. Their cousins are Aglaonema, Spathiphyllum and Philodendron. It means that Dieffenbachias like himidity a lot. During the summer, it’s also importnat to provide a lot of water. Soil has to stay moist but never fully wet – being wet can promote the root rot. During the winter, all the watering should be reduced.
Feeding. This also depends on the growing season. During the growing season, meaning, March to October, you should feed it every other week, when watering. It’s best to use a complete liquid food. During the winter months you should not fertilize at all – this is when you should water only, and make sure to reduce even that one.
Soil Requirements. The Dieffenbachia plant likes a well-draining soil. It’s best to use 2 parts peat moss and 1 part perlite. Another good choice is to use an African violet mix.
Potting. Even a large variety such as “Tropic Snow”, capable of growing 4-5 feet in height can be grown in a relatively small pot. What can often make a problem is not the pot size itself but the plant size making the plant top heavy. If this is the case for your Dieffenbachia, make sure to use a cachepot to stabilize the top heavy plant.
Repotting. Potting and repotting are best done in spring, just before the start of the growing season. Make sure to never overpot your Dieffenbachia plant!
Propagation with Dieffenbachia is usually done when a plant gets too big and leggy. You will know that it’s leggy due to the stems becoming “naked”. The plant will look like a bunch of stems with foliage up top. It’s not a pretty sight in any case, shape or form. This is when you should do the propagation.
To propagate, cut off the topshoot. Root it by placing it in a pot with moist, well draining soil. It’s good to use 50% peat moss with 50% perlite.
It’s also possible to use stem cuttings for propagating your Dieffenbachia plant. These can easily be rooted. To use them for propagation, stems must have an “eye” from wish new leaves and stems will emerge, so keep this in mind when choosing stems for propagation.
To propagate, place stem cuttings on their side, wish about half of the stem buried in the soil. Make sure that the “eye” points upwards. It’s best to use some type of a “mini greenhouse” for rooting. Soda bottle planters are a good choice here. They will speed up the rooting process.
Typically, roots will start forming in about 2 to 4 weeks. You should keep the temperatures around 72 degree range, to accommodate the cuttings.
When taking cuttings, it’s best to use a razor blade because Dieffenbachia plants are very sensitive to bacteria.
Pest and Problems
As mentioned above, Dieffenbachia plants are very sensitive to bacteria. This is one of the main reasons for your plant not growing as much as it should. Bacterial infections can pose a serious issue for your plant, and they can even make it rot. You will see the leaves becoming smelly and steamy and stems becoming soft. Keep in mind that bacteria can spread quickly across the stems and leaves.
Bacteria grow well in humid, wet conditions. This is why it’s always important to monitor your plant for any sign of infection. Unfortunately, if your plant does get bacteria, there is no much that can be done. Such plant should be thrown away before it infects other plants. The only thing you can do is to take a cutting, but only if you are sure that said part of the plant is healthy. You can use this cutting to start a new plant. The good news when it comes to bacteria is that it rarely occurs indoors.
Another common problem are winter brown spots. There are several things that can cause them. One of the most common cause is over-fertilizing. Another problem is the plant drying out too much between waterings. If you notice brown spots, make sure to stop fertilizing for a while or increase watering (depending on the problem causing brown spots).
Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell a difference between brown spots and problems caused by bacteria. There is one easy way to tell: with bacteria, the spots will be “wet” but with brown spots condition, the spotting will be dry.
Pest pose another problem. They can often be found during dry, hot conditions indoors, particularly during the winter months. Red spider mites can often be found on the undersides of leaves during this period. Mealybugs and aphids may also pose a problem. They suck juices from the plant. To get rid of pests, use sprays and other insecticidal products specially formulated for these pests.
There are many varieties of Dieffenbachia commonly found on the market. Probably the most popular of them all is “Tropic Snow” variety. Other common ones are “Compacta”, “Splash”, and “Topic Honey”, though there are others you can find on the market.
Health Warning: Dieffenbachia is Poisonous!
The Dieffenbachia is a very beautiful plant but it comes with one downside: it’s poisonous! You need to understand this and to use all precautions if you wish to grow this beautiful plant in your home.
First of all: what parts of the plant are poisonous? Dieffenbachia leaves and stems are poisonous if eaten. If ingested, it can paralyze the voice, and larger quantities can paralyze the whole body or to even be fatal. Therefore, it’s important not to play with this plant!
The sap from this plant is toxic and it can cause allergic reactions, painful rashes, numbness and other problems. When handling the plant, avoid getting any of the sap in your eyes or mouth. It’s always best to wear gloves when working on this plant.
It’s also vital to keep it away from children and pets. Never put your Dieffenbachia somewhere where a child or a pet can reach it (and never underestimate kids and pets – they are curious and can reach places you wouldn’t think they can).
Never allow your animal to chew on Dieffenbachia leaves! For some reason, cats like them, but you should never allow them to eat the leaves.
However, even with this downside, the Dieffenbachia is a very beautiful plant you will love to grown in your home. As long as you stick to warnings and don’t allow anyone to ingest any part of this plant, it will bring beauty and happiness to your home. Seriously: it’s not so difficult to stick to the warning; it’s just important to make sure children and pets can’t reach your Dieffenbachia to “try it”.