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Care Guide for The Beautiful Dracaena Fragrans / Corn Plant

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Unvariagated Dracaena fragrans look very similar to a corn plant, with leaves that wrap around a woody stem and extend between 18 and 36 inches.

Dracaena fragrans is a popular houseplant, a slow-growing, broadleaf, evergreen shrub native to tropical Africa. The habit is palm-like with age, and the corn plant occasionally produces fragrant flowers that open at night. D. fragrans belongs to the asparagus family.

While the native plant is not variegated, several hybrids include striped versions where either interior or exterior of the leaf has linear white or lighter green variegation. Popular hybrids include:

  • ‘Massangeana’ with glossy arching leaves with a wide central stripe in house green and yellow. The plants grow to about 5 feet tall with a 2-foot spread.
  • ‘Lindenii’ has edge stripes of creamy white.
  • ‘Rothiana’ has leathery leaves with white edges.

Caring Overview – Dracaena Fragans

Dracaenas are generally rugged, carefree houseplants with a robust and tropical appearance and are great additions to homes or offices. Many tolerate low-light conditions.

Scientific Name:Dracaena fragrans
Common Names:Corn Plant, Ribbon Plant, Dragon Palm, Warneckii
Soil:Well-draining soil rich in organic matter – see the guide below
Watering:Avoid watering by schedule, but rather be guided by soil humidity levels. Sensitive to fluorides – see the guide below.
Light:Can tolerate low light, but medium-light encourages healthier growth
Temperature:Between 60 and 85 ⁰F (15 to 30 ⁰C)
Humidity:Require a relative humidity above 50%
Propagation:Various asexual propagation techniques – see the full guide below.
Pruning:Accepts pruning for size control and productivity benefits 
Fertilizer:Monthly liquid or time-released fertilizers
Repotting:Avoid being schedule-informed, but rather check for root compaction – see the guide below.
Growth and Size:It can grow to room height but responds well to pruning.
Pests:Mealybugs, scale, and aphids.
Toxicity:All parts are poisonous if ingested. To keep your pets or children safe, place the plant on a high shelf out of their reach. 
Benefits:Air sanitization function
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Dracaena Fragrans Potting Soil

As mentioned in the table above, corn plants need well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Human physiology allows us to go without food for three weeks, without water for three days, and without air for three minutes.

Plant roots, like humans, need access to water and air; if submerged in water for an extended period, roots will drown, and your plant will die.

Balancing Moisture Retention and Aeration

A carefully graded soil helps water drain to the bottom of the pot, where it builds up a little before escaping through the drainage holes. The fractional difference between added and drained water amounts to the water retained in the soil.

If the soil is healthy, it contains micropores that trap air even when flooded, allowing it to retain air, an essential component of plant survival and health. These soil attributes are referred to as field capacity and saturation porosity.

  • Field Capacity is the water content remaining after saturation and drainage.
  • Saturation Porosity is the air content remaining in the soil after saturation and drainage.

Essentially what you’re looking for in a healthy soil mix is a balance between retaining water while ensuring good drainage, providing adequate aeration (avoiding anaerobic conditions), maintaining the right pH, and ensuring the soil has sufficient cation exchange capacity (CEC).

If you’ve had the opportunity to read my Composting Masterclass book, you’d understand why I’m so passionate about using compost, even in potting soil. A good potting mix for your Dracaena fragrans should include the following ingredients:

  • One part compost
  • Two parts coconut coir
  • Half a part of pumice (or perlite)
  • Half a part expanded shale, or LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate)

Each of the above serves a specific purpose in emulating the Epipremnum aureumnatural habitat.

Compost

Adding compost to potting soil has several benefits; an essential one is the soil’s increased ability to keep nutrients available for plant access. Cation exchange capacity (CEC) can be seen as magnetizing the soil to keep water and some cation-charged nutrients in the soil. Soils with low CEC (like sand) cannot retain moisture and nutrients; they flow through the soil.

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Coconut Coir

While sphagnum peat moss is often given as the default potting mix, I have found that coconut coir is a better option. One of the main reasons I prefer coconut coir is its ready inclination to accept watering.

Coconut coir has outstanding water retention and drainage abilities, with most forms of coir holding up to nine times their weight in water. This natural air-to-water ratio helps nourish plant root systems without oversaturating them or putting them at risk of root rot.

Pumice

Unlike perlite, pumice manages water well while boosting aeration.

Expanded Shale

Expanded shale, like pumice, does not break down like organic materials, so the soil stays aerated for years. It helps make potting soils airy, light, and water-retentive.

Dracaena Fragrans Watering Needs

Overwatering is one of the primary reasons for indoor plants not doing well or even dying. When surrounded by water, roots cannot absorb oxygen – remember, they require moisture and oxygen.

The general rule is to only water when necessary. To decide when to water, one may utilize the following techniques:

  • Touch the soil: The most accurate test for soil moisture is to feel how dry the potting soil feels. If the mixture is dry at your fingertip after inserting your finger up to the second digit, it needs water.
  • Sound of Pot: When potting mix in a clay pot starts to dry up, it shrinks away from the pot’s sides. Use a stick or your knuckles to tap the pot’s side. Water is required if the sound is hollow; if the sound is dull, the soil is moist.
  • Estimate weight: It’s easy to see a weight reduction as potting mixtures dry up.

When watering is necessary, water deeply. Apply water until the bottom of the pot is completely submerged. This removes accumulated salts and ensures that most of the roots in the bottom two-thirds of the pot get enough water.

Your corn plant prefers water free of fluorides, so allow tap water to stand for a couple of hours before applying it to your plant.

Dracaena Fragrans Lighting Needs

Corn plants can grow in low-light environments, but the leaves broaden and strengthen with medium light. Corn plant care entails having it grow in a bright environment, bright enough in which to read a book without straining your eyes.

Most low-light plants are grown for their foliage, not flowers. A north window or a shaded corner would be ideal locations for a low-light plant, though an East or West facing window will increase leaf width and vibrancy.

Temperature Needs for Dracaena Fragrans Care

The D. fragrans is an African tropical plant and prefers warmer temperatures. Indoor plants should be exposed to temperatures between 54 to 68⁰ F (12 to 20⁰ C) and daytime temperatures between 68 to 85 ⁰F (20 to 30 ⁰C).

When propagating, try to maintain a temperature above 74⁰ F (23⁰ C) 

Dracaena Fragrans Humidity Needs

The essential part of managing humidity for your Dracaena fragrans is keeping it constant. Fluctuating humidity levels will cause your plant to lose leaves. Aim to maintain a humidity level of above 60%.

An ideal indoor humidity level for humans is between 30% and 50%. A 50% humidity level means that the air holds half the total amount of moisture it can contain at a given temperature (humidity relative to temperature)

To achieve a 60% relative humidity (RH) level, you will need to implement one of the following three solutions:

  • Cluster plants together so that their combined transpiration boost RH
  • Place the pot in a tray of LECA that is kept damp. The evaporation will boost RH
  • Acquire a humidifier, opting for one that provides a reasonable cycle between needing a refill.

Dracaena Fragrans Fertilizer Needs

Our dragon palm isn’t a fiercely hungry dragon. I like to use organic fertilizer (blood meal, bone meal, kelp, guano, etc.) on my indoor plants.

A complete mix includes nitrogen, phosphate, potash, and magnesium. Repeat a quarter-diluted application every two months for the first year, then gradually increase the amount of fertilizer to half-dilution every 4 to 6 months as the vine grows.

Once the plant is established, fertilize in early spring and in October. Don’t fertilize during the winter when the plant is not actively growing and needs to hibernate.

You can combine one of the feeding systems below:

  • Controlled release: These are fertilizers coated with materials to reduce their immediate solubility and availability to plants.
  • Liquid fertilizer: This quickly replaces leached nutrients after extended rainfall. Best suited for established plants.
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Repotting Dracaena Fragrans

The corn plant prefers slightly rootbound conditions, so don’t rush to repot. Repotting should only be done once you notice roots growing out of the pot’s drainage holes or the pot’s water-holding capacity is noticeably limited.

Dracaena fragrans are simple to repot, but avoid buying a markedly larger pot than the one the plant is already in. Ideally, the new pot should be one size larger than its current pot.

Propagating Dracaena Fragrans

Taking a clip from the stem is the most straightforward method of propagating corn plants. An ideal time for doing this is pruning the plant to a smaller size. Plant the cane in damp potting soil after allowing it to dry. Ensure the cane’s bottom or cut end is in contact with the ground; this will cause roots to grow.

Dracaena Fragrans Maintenance

Cut off the top six inches of the corn plant if it becomes too tall. The pruning won’t affect the plant and it will continue to grow.

Over time, the plant may topple over due to the weight of the woody stalks. To stop this, you might need to stake exceptionally tall plants.

Dracaena Fragrans Challenges

Plant diseases are rarely a concern; the primary issues are too much or insufficient water and insects and mites. The leading causes of root rot are a slow-draining soil mixture and excessive irrigation. The most frequent insect pests of dracaena are scale insects. mites, and mealybugs.

FAQs

In Closing

There is a good reason why the corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is an indoor favorite in offices and homes; it is easy to maintain and offers great visual value. In addition, the Dracaena fragrans is one of the 11 plants approved for use in the space station to clear the air of possible contaminants.

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