If you are looking for an easy-care yet ever-stunning indoor plant, corn plants are absolutely worth considering! Learning how to care for a corn plant won’t take you too long – and compared to many other greens inside your home, you won’t have to do much to keep them growing and looking great.
Corn plants are even forgiving if you forget about them for a few days! There is no ‘downside’ to this beauty – so, let’s dive into what you need to know about Dracaena fragrans houseplant care.
Building your plants’ natural environment
When planning for any plant, consider whether you can offer what they need – in terms of light, temperature, space, and nutrients. Corn plants are natives of tropical Africa – which means they thrive in lots of sun and in warmer spots of the home. Beyond that, you’ll need to consider corn plant watering, feeding and space. Let’s crack on.
How to water a corn plant
Your corn plant needs to be kept moist, but not soaked. Try using pots with plenty of drainage, and think regular, gentle rainfall rather than a full-blown downpour! As a tropical plant, it has evolved to begin life under the canopy of larger siblings in its natural habitat. Their bigger leaves will deflect water like an umbrella, and their mature roots will gobble up the surface water competitively.
Therefore, we can easily understand how, in the wild, young corn plants become accustomed to ‘little and often’ with watering – rather than saturation. Corn plants do not like having their roots soaked!
Water your plants a couple of times per week in hot weather. Water from the surface and allow that to seep through compost or soil, and try to ensure the plant does not dry out. This is particularly important during the growing season!
In winter, ease off the watering. Try prodding the potting soil before watering, too. Ideally, it will be dry and perhaps a little powdery up to two inches deep. You should be aiming for lower levels of compost to be moist. If there is residual water in the drip tray, you are overwatering!
Like all plants, corn plants will die if you don’t water them for long enough. But, if you’ve neglected your corn plant, don’t worry just yet! Corn plants are pretty drought tolerant, so a good drink and a little patience can do wonders!
Like many houseplants, corn plants thrive best in fluorinated, dechlorinated water.
If you can’t collect rainwater, you can dechlorinate tap water by leaving an uncovered container of faucet water out over several hours or overnight. Chemicals evaporate, and the resulting water is much better for them. Alternatively, collect rainwater and use that.
Useful tip: Though most of us keen gardeners don’t mind putting our fingers into compost, some people cringe at the idea. Those who wish to keep their hands out of the soil can use lollipop sticks.
Simply slide one of these down into the growing medium. Position the flat side of the lollipop stick along the side of the pot or container to avoid causing damage to the roots. Leave the lollipop stick submerged for about 3 or 4 minutes. The wood will need a few seconds to absorb moisture. It may be completely dry, barely moist, or soaked when you withdraw the stick!
Corn plant light requirements
Again, considering their natural tropical habitat – full of dappled light and some deep shade – they love warm light. Although they naturally do well in the shade, corn plants need this level of light to photosynthesize, and they will compete for light in a group. However, if they suffer from too much exposure, they will show signs of stress.
Despite their thirst for the sun’s rays, direct sunlight is not suitable for corn plants. You can either place them in brightly lit to semi-shaded areas or give them extra protection!
In fall and winter, when there’s less sun, it’s a great idea to position your corn plant in a brighter spot. Please do remember, though, that this is only a temporary fix. Your corn plant will need a little extra attention to make sure leaves are not turning brown, crisp, or falling off.
Keep in mind, too, that corn plants won’t tolerate temperatures lower than 59 degrees Fahrenheit – that’s 15 degrees Celsius. General room temperature should be fine!
Useful tip: When your skin needs extra sunscreen outside, your sensitive plant buddies will also need protection from intense light! Consider putting blinds up, keeping shutters drawn during the sunniest times of the day, or moving delicate plants to shadier areas.
Balancing food for a corn plant
Fertilizing a corn plant is fairly simple. Be sure to give them a balanced, recommended fertilizer around once a month during the growing season. By the winter, you shouldn’t need to fertilize them more than twice through the whole season.
The lower the light, the less fertilizer your corn plant will need. What’s more, you shouldn’t fertilize your corn plant until at least two weeks after you bring it home. This is so it can easily acclimatize to its new spot.
Growth and space
Corn plants resemble small trees. Even young ones grow in a form resembling tree trunks with a flourish of beautiful leaves! They can live for ten years or longer. During this time, their living conditions will affect their growth, and new growth might be steady in good conditions. An 18-inch specimen can grow up to ten feet tall in the right conditions!
Of course, you can hinder their growth by pruning and taking cuttings. Nonetheless, part of the attraction of these splendid showy plants is that they are eye-catching and quite dramatic. These plants have a year-round presence! Be sure to make plenty of space for your corn plant just in case!
What if I’ve neglected my corn houseplant?
If you have neglected your corn plant and it looks dead, don’t give up! Do not remove any leaves which are still attached to the plant – at this stage, it is inadvisable to cause your plant more stress. Also, by removing more leaves, you may expose some tender areas which require containment. Simply offer the plant some water from the surface and, this time, from beneath too!
Remove your plant away from any heat sources but allow it some light. Lift out and dispose of any fallen leaves. Leave any browning leaves attached. Do the lollipop test and see if there is any moisture as far as your lolly sticks will reach.
Water slowly in a gentle manner, but do not soak from the surface. Then, deliver some water to the drip tray and watch how quickly it is absorbed.
Top up one or two times within 48 hours, in small amounts. Do not stand the plant near a heat source or strong sunlight – and don’t feed the plant with fertilizer until the leaves perk up. Even then, use a well diluted liquid fertilizer.
Once stable, allow the plant two or three weeks to concentrate on tip regrowth. Once new leaf tips begin to open, you may start to remove dying or defunct damaged leaves from lower down. Do not pull them – snip them off with a clean cut!
Useful tip: Though they may not look aesthetically pleasing, it may be kinder to the plant to partially remove leaves. Here, you simply amputate the dead bits of a leaf and leave a slender margin of dry leaf attached, so the leaf remains sealed. The plant then has even more active leaves left to speed recovery.
Handling root-bound corn plants
Corn plants don’t thrive quite so well when root-bound, though they do survive well in cramped conditions up to a point. Becoming root-bound isn’t great for any plant, and in flimsier plastic containers, you may even feel the result! Strong roots can deform thin plastic!
In terracotta pots, you may see evidence of roots being overcrowded. To rehome a corn plant, aim to give it a few inches of extra depth and at least one and a half to two inches of extra space around the periphery of the surface of the pot.
Summary: Caring for a corn plant (dracaena fragrans)
Well cared-for corn plants have lush greenery with elegant leaves. They can be plain, deep green, or variegated with lime green through shades of yellow and lemon – they make wonderful focal points! They’re great for bathrooms, showers, and kitchens as they enjoy humidity. Alternatively, treat them to a good session of misting during hot months. They’ll reward you with a great show!
Now you know how to care for a corn plant of your own, give one a home and create your own indoor tropical jungle!