The large and attractive foliage of this houseplant makes it a wonderful addition to any home. Learn about Dieffenbachia care and what you need to know if you have small children or pets.
These plants can grow to a massive 10 ft (3m) outdoors, with their leaves growing up to a massive 20 inch (50cm) in length. Indoors, inside a large pot, this plant can grow to 6 ft (2m) with leaves spanning to around 12 inches (30cm) in length.
Most species of this plant grow wide and evergreen leaves, with some having splotched to wide variegations. These plants produce white inflorescence similar to a peace lily, a spadix covered with a green spathe.
Dieffenbachias are loved for their tolerance to shade and low maintenance. Learn more about how to care for Dieffenbachias and add the exotic, tropical vibe to your house. When these are small, they are sometimes confused with aglaonema plants.
How To Care For Dieffenbachia
- Bringing the plant home
- Light conditions
- Humidity and temperature
- Toxicity Information
- Pests and other common issues
All the relevant dieffenbachia care info at a quick glance
Plant name: Dieffenbachia
Common species and cultivars: Dieffenbachia picta, Dieffenbachia seguine, Dieffenbachia maculate ‘Tropical tiki’
Native to: Tropical to subtropical areas such as South America and Caribbean
Lighting: Prefers bright, indirect light but will tolerate shade once acclimated
Care: Prefers high humidity. Allow the top 2 inches of the soil to dry out before watering. Potting mix must be able to maintain enough moisture and be fast draining.
Common problems: Root rot, bacterial and fungal rot, spider mites, mealy bugs, and aphids
Toxicity: Considered to be very toxic to pets and humans
Dieffenbachia’s History and “Dumb Cane” name?
The history of this plant dates back to the 1950s. In earlier times, with very little knowledge, there have been incidences where researchers and common folk have experienced the effects of this plant’s defense mechanism.
These are triggered by the high amount of calcium oxalates and druses within their sap. Some studies have found that other components of the plant have a larger impact on its effects.
The effects of these components when ingested include swelling, intense irritation, and potential inflammation of the skin or any part of the body that comes into contact with the sap. Rarely this can even lead to asphyxiation.
The name “Dumb cane” is attributed to these effects. It is suggested, the plant was used as a form of punishment. A thesis recorded that slaves in Jamaica were punished by rubbing the leaves of this plant to their mouths.
Afflicted individuals became unable to speak because of the swelling hence the common name “dumb cane”.
Bringing the Plant Home and Getting Ready for Dieffenbachia Care
Check the undersides for any pests that might be lurking around. If you plan on placing this plant indoors, find a suitable area where it can’t be reached by kids or your pets, especially if you have a toddler.
If you are placing it outdoors, find a spot with a good amount of shade to protect the leaves from getting scorched. Generally, Dieffenbachias are non-fussy and can easily adapt to their new environment. Allow the plant to acclimatize to its new location before giving it a drastic change.
Keep away from other plants for 2 weeks if there are any hidden pests or diseases that might spread to your other plants. Check the plant regularly. While the plant settles, learn all the ropes of dieffenbachia care.
Light requirements of Dieffenbachia
Plants under the genus Dieffenbachia need a medium to bright indirect light. The light requirements differ a little depending on the variety.
Keep your plant in an area that receives a lot of morning sun or near a window with afternoon sun, but use a curtain when the sum is strong to filter the direct light. Placing the plant near a window that receives moderate sunlight is ideal.
Because the leaves of these plants are broad, they can efficiently absorb light and can do well in an area with lower light as well.
Despite being able to live under a low-light setting, your plant may slow down its growth. You can also support the plant by using fluorescent lighting and allow it to adjust.
If you are growing your plant indoors, you can frequently rotate your plant for it to receive equal amounts of light, which will make it grow even on all sides.
Avoid harsh direct sunlight for a prolonged time as it will damage the leaves. New growth is especially susceptible to burning.
Observe your plant, and if you notice its struggling, move it to a brighter or shadier spot.
How and How often should you water Dieffenbachia?
A good watering routine is key to good dieffenbachia care. How often your dieffenbachia will need to be watered depends on many factors. You can safely ignore the instructions on the tag the plant came with.
The rule of thumb when watering a Dieffenbachia is to water it when the top inch (2 cm) of the soil has dried. Once dry, give a thorough watering.
Do not let the soil dry too much. These plants do not like their soil completely dry.
If you have a bigger plant in a bright location, you may need to water your plant more than twice a week. A plant in a shadier location will need watering less often. Many other things also affect the frequency of watering (soil type, pot, humidity…).
Despite loving water, overwatering (watering too frequently or letting the plant sit in water), a Dieffenbachia will quickly lead to the plant deteriorating. Avoid watering if the top layer of soil is moist or wet.
During winter, water your plant less as it will go dormant(its growth will slow down).
If your watering routine is off, it will show. Yellowing can either be a sign of over or under-watering. Determine the needs of your plant by touching the soil. Overwatering often leads to root rot.
Tap water is usually OK at room temperature (let it sit overnight). Rainwater, filtered water, or even distilled water are great for watering dieffenbachia.
Humidity and Temperature – Dieffenbachia Care
This plant is native to rainforests. As such, the secret to perfect dieffenbachia care is to mimic its native habitat as much as possible.
Inside a rainforest, plants are shrouded with dense canopies that filter the sun and harbor moisture. This means that this plant is used to high humidity.
The ideal humidity for dieffenbachia would be above 60%. If you can maintain this level of humidity around your plant, it will thrive. It will tolerate lower humidity levels as well.
Lower levels may cause the plant to get dried, yellowing leaves and eventually shed them. If your plant is growing tall, shedding lower leaves is normal and will happen to some degree even with optimal care.
Read: how to increase humidity for houseplants
In addition to humidity, good airflow is also important. At high humidity levels, plants also become very prone to mold and other pathogenic attacks if there isn’t good ventilation around them.
That said, avoid cold drafts at all costs. This plant is not used to very cold temperatures and can die due to cold injury.
Dieffenbachias grow well in temperatures around 65°F to 80°F (18 °C to 25 °C). During
Pruning and Cleaning Dieffenbachia Leaves
When cleaning your plant, it would be best to wear protective gloves to avoid getting the sap onto your skin. Gently wipe the leaves with a soft, damp cloth to remove dust.
You can cut yellowing leaves. Many things can cause yellow leaves, so always try to determine the cause. Mature plants tend to drop their bottom leaves and expose a can-like stem to focus the energy on new growth.
Aside from cutting old leaves, you can also prune your plant from the top and use it for propagation.
How often should you fertilize Dieffenbachia?
Dieffenbachias will benefit from regular feeding.
Fertilize your plant during the growing season. General liquid foliage houseplant fertilizer is OK. Use it at full strength as frequently as indicated by the manufacturer or less.
When to repot dieffenbachia?
If you got a small plant, your dieffenbachia care will come with the need to repot at some time.
If you brought home a new plant and are tempted to repot it, try not to. A change of environment is stressful enough for the plant, and repotting will only add to that stress. New plants generally don’t need repotting unless they came in a pot without drainage holes.
As the plant grows, you may need to move it to a larger pot. When repotting, be careful not to damage the roots (do not remove too much of the original soil). Move to a slightly bigger pot, and don’t add too much or any soil on top of the roots.
The plant will likely slow down on growth as it works on growing a more extensive root system.
Choosing the right soil/potting mix
All species of Dieffenbachia prefer rich and well-draining potting mix. A mixture of peat moss, perlite, potting soil will work well for these plants.
The key is to make a mixture that can retain moisture for a long time without being waterlogged. Proper air circulation within the roots is also a must. Perlite, pumice, and orchid bark can help loosen the soil to allow the roots to wander around the pot.
Your plant can be propagated in a number of ways.
Dieffenbachias can be propagated similarly to a Draceana by cutting the stems and planting them in rich, moist soil. The stem cuttings will eventually root and sprout new leaves. Patience is the key to this method.
Your plant can also be propagated by taking a top cutting. Like stem cuttings, plant your top cuts in rich, moist soil and wait for them to root. Provide equal moisture to your propagations to hasten the rooting process.
Dieffenbachias can produce smaller plants around it. Gently separate these new growths. Untangle the roots and place them in a smaller pot with a fresh potting mix. At times when the plant is already matured, the roots can be a bit hard to untangle. You may need to cut through these, and when you do, wear gloves! Keep your skin away from the sap of the plant.
For faster results, dip your top or stem cuttings in rooting hormone before placing them into your potting mix
Is Dieffenbachia safe for cats, dogs or humans?
This plant is toxic. You should be very careful if you have small children or pets in your household and place the plant out of reach. If you have cats, we would advise against having this plant as cats can get anywhere, unless you can physically separate the plant from the cat (enclosure, a room where cat doesn’t have access to).
The plant contains Calcium oxalate crystals which resemble microscopic needles which penetrate the skin and cause severe inflammation and irritation in addition to other composition that triggers allergic reactions to individuals. In severe cases, can cause blockage of airway when the leaves are ingested and cause asphyxiation.
Pests and Diseases Common with Dieffenbachia Care
Indoors, your plant can be a bit susceptible to pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids. Regularly check the underside and petioles of your plant.
These pests generally absorb the moisture and nutrients from the stems and leaves of your plant and will leave it looking dry eventually. A dry environment attracts these pests around your plant.
Another problem with Dieffenbachia is that it is susceptible to bacteria and other pathogens. Bacteria and molds can stunt the growth of your plant or slowly destroy its leaves. These present themselves as yellow spots on the leaves, which turns the leaves mushy from the center.
Yellowing of the leaves usually indicates a watering problem, either over or under watering.