Dieffenbachia, more commonly known as Dumb Cane, are one of the easiest houseplants to take care of once you understand the basics. That’s what makes them one of the most popular houseplants, along with the stunning variegated green and white leaves that they sprout.
Whilst growing dumb canes might be easy, there’s many common mistakes that even the most veteran growers can make without the right knowledge. In this guide we’ll cover everything that you need to know to ensure your dieffenbachia thrives for years to come.
Dieffenbachia Plant Overview
Dieffenbachia are native to the new world tropics of Mexico and to the south of Argentina. They’ve become widely popular all over the world as houseplants due to their adaptive nature. Alongside that, they’re pretty effective at cleaning the air like many other plants. It has been known to grow up to 6 feet tall in the perfect environments.
The foliage on this plant is a dark green with yellow patches that run alongside the vein of the leaves, creating random patterns that make each plant so unique. Each leaf tends to grow up to 27cm wide and 50cm long, making it an ideal office or houseplant.
Types Of Dieffenbachia
There are roughly 30 different types of dieffenbachia, but only some of them display the typical big, fancy leaves. Take a look at three of the most popular cultivars below.
This is one of the largest growing varieties and often reach heights of up to 6 feet, so you’re going to need a big space for this type. It has dense green foliage with creamy-white markings on each leaf, often making the stem of the plant hard to see. However, the leaves do tend to grow a little smaller than other types, usually maxing out at around 12 inches.
Camille is possibly the most popular type of dumb cane. This variety prefers shade more than other types so you’ll often find this in offices or your local garden centre. The main way to identify this type is through the deep, creamy centre that covers a large portion of the leaves. Most consider it to be a bush variety, growing up to 5 feet with a wide spread to match that.
Hilo dieffenbachia stand out from the rest as they have lime green patches on the leaves, atypical to the usual creamy colouring. The only place you’ll find any white patches is directly on the veins of the leaves. Hilo’s are also on the smaller side, growing up to 4 feet high and tends to grow to a width of 1-2 feet.
Caring For Dieffenbachia
Taking care of your dieffenbachia is easier than you’d expect. Plants without the proper care stop growing just as quickly as those with the right care grow, so knowing exactly what your dumb cane requires to thrive is the first step to successful growth.
Dumb canes prefer indirect sunlight to achieve the best growth. Keeping your plant in shaded areas will not harm it too much, it will still grow, but at a much slower rate. However, some varieties such as Camille prefer less light so you can keep it in a shaded area permanently.
Ensure that you rotate your dieffenbachia frequently to allow all sides of the plant to receive some light, especially if you’ve got it sat in a corner of your home.
Watering is where most people encounter problems with dieffenbachia. To ensure you water it appropriately, keep the top layer of soil moist to the touch but never soggy. Having soggy soil will cause root rot to set in. Whilst it will survive reasonably long periods of neglect, you will start to notice the leaves shrivel and browning if you leave it too long.
If you plant on moving the plant, it’s best to let it dry out as this will cause the leaves to become more flexible so they’re better equipped for handling.
Like many other houseplants, this is another that requires a well draining potting soil to thrive. It will still survive in lower quality soils but ideally you want it to be well draining. To make your potting soil drain better, you can simply add some perlite into it and give it a good mix. This gives breathing space for the roots and also prevents the soil from retaining too much moisture by allowing the water to drain easily.
Dumb canes can’t survive being planted in sand or orchid potting mixtures, so make sure you avoid these at all costs.
As it’s native to warmer climates, it will experience the best growth anywhere between 60-80 ºF (15-27 ºC). When it’s subjected to temperatures outside this range, it will survive for a short period of time but the growth will be severely stunted. Leaving it outside of its comfortable temperature ranges for extended periods may cause the plant to die.
High humidity is preferred for dumb canes and this will help it achieve optimal growth. It will still do fine in regular household humidity though so if you can’t keep it in a humid environment, don’t worry.
Is Dieffenbachia Toxic?
With it being such a popular houseplant, it’s only natural for you to wonder if it’s going to be safe if you’ve got any pets or young children wandering around your home. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Is dieffenbachia toxic? Dieffenbachia are one of the more toxic houseplants and this is the reason they get their name “Dumb Canes”. They are toxic to humans, dogs, cats and pretty much any pet and the effects can take up to 2 weeks to wear off. Cells of this plant contain Raphides, these are calcium oxalate crystals that are needle shaped. These are what can cause a wide variety of uncomfortable symptoms.
Now you’re probably wondering how it’s so popular if it’s toxic? Well, it’s only toxic if the plant is ingested orally. So if you have children or pets around, make sure it’s out of their reach.
So what are some of the symptoms you can experience from coming into contact with dumb canes? The severity of the symptoms can vary depending on the person/animal and how much was actually ingested. Typically you would notice some swelling on the tongue, numbing the mouth and making it more difficult to speak. Hence the name “Dumb cane”.
Other symptoms are less common but include oral irritation, drooling and swelling. There have been reports of death after eating part of the plant but this is widely reported to be nothing more than a rumour. This doesn’t mean you can go around eating as much as you like though, you still need to avoid it.
When your dumb cane is ready to be repotted, usually when it’s starting to become root bound, you want to repot it in the spring before the growing season is back in full effect. As we’ve already spoken about, this is quite a toxic plant so make sure you take appropriate precautions so that you don’t ingest any of it.
So when you need to repot your dumb cane, ideally you want to get hold of a pot that’s larger than the current one but not too oversized as it may cause your plant to grow a bit out of control with a weak root base. Then you want to get hold of a well draining potting soil mix, I always start with a fresh pot of soil as it’s usually packed with more nutrients than the one your plants been sat in for a while.
Now you’ve got everything together, gently take your plant out of its current pot and gently shake away any excess soil. Give the roots a quick rinse under a low-pressure tap. Now gently place it into its new home, surrounded by the fresh potting soil and gently pat it down but don’t let it get too compact. Ensure you allow the soil to stay loose so when it comes to watering, the water will flow freely through the potting soil.
When you come round to re-potting your dieffenbachia, it also opens up the opportunity for propagating it, keep reading to see how you can do this too.
Sometimes you want a few more plants in your home, but don’t want to spend the money on them. That’s when propagating is the ideal option and dumb canes are pretty easily propagated, there’s two ways you can do it. Let’s take a look at them.
This method is a little tricky for a novice grower, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. You can do this method any time of the year, at any stage of the plants life. Following these steps exactly will help you do it correctly and have a new dumb cane growing in no time.
First of all you want to scan the stem of your plant and look for an area where you want to grow the roots to break it off into a new plant. Once you’ve found the spot you want, make a cut about 1/3 deep into the stem and wedge it open with a small piece of wood. Now we try to bait some root growth. Cover the cut with potting soil that your plant is currently rooted in then wrap that area in plastic.
Once you’ve done that, leave it for a while and monitor it for root growth. As soon as you start to see some roots sprouting, it’s time to break it off and put it into its new home. To break it off from the parent, you need to cut it just below where the roots are growing and then pot it as you would normally.
When your plant has become root bound, this is one of the methods to resolve it. During the re-potting process, examine the plant for an area where there is suitable root growth. Preferably it needs to have at least 5 shoots coming out from it for it to be strong enough to survive on its own as a separate plant. Use a sharp knife to cut away the division and pot it separately.
If you avoid watering it for a week, this will entice the roots to grow across a larger area quicker in search of water. However, you don’t want to do this for too long as it could kill the plant in its early stages. Keep a close eye on it over the next few weeks to ensure it’s growing well.
Common Dieffenbachia Problems and Pests
Even though they’re a hardy plant, there are still some common problems growers face. Knowing what the signs of them are is key to resolving the problem early.
One of the most common problems is browning leaves. If you notice this, it can be for multiple reasons. Often over/under-watering your dumb cane will cause this. Simply cut away any of the browning leaves and stick to the watering amount that I recommended earlier.
Here’s some of the common diseases that can affect these plants:
- Xanthomonas Leaf Spot
- Petiole Rot
- Fusarium Rot
- Anthracnose Leaf Spot
- Erwinia Blight
- Root Rot
There’s quite a few common bugs that affect this houseplant. If you notice any white webbing then it’s likely to be spider mites or mealy bugs. These pests usually cause the leaves to bleach, check out my guide on dealing with common houseplant bugs.
So now you should be fully up to speed with caring for your dumb cane. But just incase you’ve got any other questions, I’ve put together some of the most common queries we get. If you’ve got anything else to ask us, feel free to leave it in the comment below and we’ll respond ASAP.
Do Dieffenbachia Plants Bloom?
Yes, dumb canes do bloom but the flowers aren’t very exciting to look at. Also, it’s not a common occurrence for them to flower so don’t be worried if yours hasn’t flowered yet.
Is Dieffenbachia Good For Indoors?
They’re an ideal plant to be grown indoors, they even clean the air by removing toxins. The main problem with them is that they are toxic, so it’s advisable for you to avoid them if you have pets or young children.
Why Is Dieffenbachia Called Dumb Cane?
It gets its name from its toxicity. When ingested, it can cause your tongue to swell. This makes it pretty difficult to talk and the effects can take weeks to wear off fully.
Should I Mist My Dieffenbachia?
Absolutely, dieffenbachia thrive in humid environments and misting is essential to exceptional health. Regular misting will help your plant to thrive but don’t let the soil get soggy or root rot will set in.