Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) – Care, Growing, Watering, Requirements, Propagation
Featuring showy leaves deeply variegated in their center with cream or yellow, dumb cane is a plant that’s easy to grow in your home.
Dumb cane is an easily recognizable houseplant that’s relatively adaptable, but for best results, you should offer the plant ideal growing conditions.
Dumb cane is also known as dumb cane plant, and it’s a beautifully variegated plant that’s popular in home cultivation due to its impressive foliage and relatively easy care.
To find out which conditions are optimal for these plants, read the plant care guide I put together below that also covers the propagation and a short introduction to some of the dumb cane plant varieties.
Dumb Cane Plant Care Tips
Here are the basic requirements of dumb cane plants and the plant maintenance requirements that you must know about before getting a dumb cane plant.
If grown outdoors, the dumb cane plant can reach 5 feet and leaves can become larger than a foot. In indoor cultivation, however, the plant rarely gets this large.
Dumb cane plants have varying light requirements, but most prefer bright, indirect light. Some varieties like the ‘Camille’ can do well even in low light conditions.
Make sure that you avoid exposing the plant to direct sunlight, particularly in the spring and summer when the new leaves the plant produces can get scorched by the sun.
Keep these plants away from windowsills and make sure they get filtered light either through a curtain or a window shade.
To avoid the plant’s one side growing towards the light, you should rotate it periodically so that each side of the plant gets light.
And because some dumb cane cultivars better thrive in low filtered light, do check your cultivar’s light requirements.
Before watering your dumb cane, make sure the top inch of soil is dried out. Drench the soil in water only if there’s a draining hole at the bottom of its pot. Remove any excess water from the saucer and repeat the watering procedure only if the top of the soil is dried out.
Don’t allow the soil to dry out completely and also don’t overwater so that the soil gets soggy or waterlogged, or else you risk causing root rot, which in most cases is irreversible. In the winter, make sure to cut back on watering.
Temperature & Humidity
Dumb cane plants enjoy warm temperatures in the range of 60 F-80 F. The plant should not be exposed to temperatures below 60 F, nor to cold drafts as leaves may fall off as a result, and the plant will have a palm-like appearance.
Dumb cane plants need a well-aerated soil that retains a little moisture but also drains fast. All-purpose potting soil is not a good option unless you mix it up with perlite or coarse sand to add aeration.
Potting soil has the propensity to become compacted and strangle the roots, so it shouldn’t be used on its own.
I recommend this recipe if you don’t want to buy ready-made dumb cane potting soil and you want to create your own potting mix: 1 part perlite, 1 part all-purpose soil, 1 part peat or humus. You can also exchange perlite for coarse sand.
Feeding the plant every two weeks with a high-quality liquid fertilizer to encourage healthy growth. In the winter you can forego feeding the plant, stick to fertilizing it only during the growing seasons.
Potting & Repotting
Annual repotting is beneficial to dumb canes, but the plant will usually show symptoms it needs repotting such as crowded roots or roots poking out on the surface, falling leaves, etc.
Simply lift the plant from the pot, knock down any soil to reveal the roots and clean them down of any dead material. Pick a slightly larger pot to replant, but don’t over-pot.
Dumb Cane Plant Propagation
Propagation of this plant is possible at any time of year and there are several methods you can apply to propagate dumb cane.
The first method is through stem cuttings that you subsequently root in soil. Make sure that the stem cutting you pick has a section where new leaves and stems will grow.
Place the cutting horizontally on soil and bury half of it. Ensure moisture and warmth and expect the plant to root in 2-4 weeks.
The second propagation method is through air layering, which involves removing the bark in a ring around the stem of the plant and wrapping wet moss around the cut and securing it with a plastic wrap.
Once new roots are formed, you can cut off the top plant just below the roots and transplant it. New leaves will grow from the stump.
The third and last dumb cane propagation method is waiting for the plant to create sucklers that you can separate when repotting the mother plant and place them in their own container.
Make sure not to damage the root system of either plant when dividing.
Different Types of Dumb Cane Plants
There are around 100 dumb cane cultivars and 30 dumb cane species. Here are the ones I think are most noteworthy:
Dumb Cane Amoena “Tropic Snow”
This is a tall-growing variety that can reach 6 feet in height. Its variegated leaves are bright green with yellow.
Dumb Cane “Camille”
Possibly the most popular cultivar thanks to its adaptability to lower light conditions, the Camille has beautifully variegated leaves that create a contrast between the dark green edges of the leaves and the silvery white middle.
Dumb Cane “Hilo”
Another popular variegated dumb cane, this variety grows upright and reaches around 4 feet and leaves grow to 1-2 feet wide. Its leaves are deep green with lime green variegation.
Dumb Cane Maculata “Tropic Tiki”
This is a large dumb cane variety that can grow to 2-5 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide. Its leaves are abundantly variegated with cream and silver on a silvery green base.
I mentioned in this article that some dumb canes have lower light requirements, but there may also be differences in temperature tolerability, so make sure to check growing conditions applicable for each of the varieties you choose.
Dumb Cane FAQs
In this section I will cover some frequently asked questions about dumb cane related to their general health, toxicity, and lifespan.
Are Dumb Cane Plants Toxic?
Yes, the ASPCA website warns that dumb canes are toxic to cats, dogs and humans. Therefore, you may need to make a tough decision if you already have a dumb cane plant in your home and you want to get a pet.
The high calcium oxalate content can cause irritation, swallowing issues, and even suffocation in more extreme cases.
Are Dumb Cane Plants Prone to Diseases and Pests?
Most commonly, dumb cane plants will have issues related to improper keeping conditions. However, these plants are likely to suffer from the same pest problems as most houseplants do, including aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites.
If the infestation is serious and insecticide will help solve the issue, otherwise washing the leaves with a little soapy water can also fix the issues of pests.
Diseases that can affect the plant include stem and root rot, leaf spot disease, erwinia blight, petiole rot, etc.
Some of these diseases are easily prevented by never allowing the plant to stay in soggy soil and allowing the soil to slightly dry out between waterings.
How Long do Dumb Cane Plants Live For?
If these plants are not neglected and their growing conditions are optimal, they can live for many years. However, some varieties are extremely sensitive, and an inexperienced gardener may inadvertently shorten the plant’s lifespan.
Sensitive varieties are extremely sensitive to cold and overwatering. Make sure you don’t overwater them, treat any pests and diseases without delay, and keep the plant out of direct sunlight and protect it from the cold — including cold drafts — to maximize its chances for a long lifespan.
Do Dumb Canes Require Pruning?
It’s not necessary to prune a dumb cane plant, but you may if you want to keep its shape under control or you want it at a certain size.
Be advised, however, that the plant’s sap is toxic, so wear a pair of gloves and a long-sleeve shirt to avoid any skin irritations upon contact with the sap.
Use a pair of sterilized knives or scissors and cut stems at a 45-degree angle. Make sure to water your plant after pruning and keep away any discarded leaves from pets and kids.
Dumb cane plants are elegant, but they come with a warning — they’re poisonous, so make sure to take all necessary precautions to keep this plant away from children and pets. You too should take heed of this advice and wear protective clothing when handling the plant.
As many houseplants, the dumb cane plant can be prone to pests and other diseases, but nothing that can’t be prevented with a good watering regimen and attention to signs of diseases and pests.
Overwatering and improper light conditions may be two of the biggest points of challenge when caring for this plant, so make sure to understand the needs of your dumb cane variety.
If you’re up for the task of growing this plant, I hope the thing I covered in this guide will help you grow healthy plants.