Corn Plant Dracaena- leaves browning and dying!

Milwaukee, WI

I got this Dracaena corn plant from home depot about 3 weeks ago and a week after I got it home it started looking very unhealthy. First the tips of the leaves were turning brown. Now a bunch of leaves died completely and I had to cut them off. I haven't been watering it very much because I was worried the soil wasn't draining enough. I've been keeping the soil slightly moist. I have my plant in a corner right next to a west-facing window. Could it be too much sun? Or too much/too little water?

Thumbnail by raven_nevermore Thumbnail by raven_nevermore
Opp, AL(Zone 8b)

Hi. I don't see any spots that look like sunburn from your pics, so being in WI, that's probably a good amount of light for this time of year. The stuff I wrote in the thread "DRACENA HELP PLEASE!!" that is right below this one at the moment, applies to your plant except it probably won't appreciate direct sun in the summer.

The sticky about good growing practices at the top of this forum should have some helpful info also.

Milwaukee, WI

Yeah, it doesn't seem like it'd be getting too much sun considering it's winter. I've only watered it twice since I got it! And I didn't soak the soil the second time. The drip tray isn't full of water or anything. I'm stuck on this one. Maybe it's the soil, it seems like mostly peat moss, which could be holding in too much water?

Opp, AL(Zone 8b)

Yes, peat is not good stuff for plants. It holds water forever until suddenly it's so dry water just runs off of it without soaking in. A soil mix that is much more chunky, porous, airy is much easier to grow in without worrying about the problems that water-retentive, finely-particled stuff like peat can cause. To combat this, people add chunkier stuff like bark chips or perlite to bagged potting soil, or make a mix of their own from scratch.

This is copied from the "Good growing practices" sticky at the top of this forum:

"Air is as important as water in soils. Plants absolutely love plenty of air, and rebel very quickly at too much water in the soil. I’m going to describe what happens when you water plants growing in a soil that retains too much water. There are actually two possibilities. The first is, you water, and a part of the soil near the bottom of the container does not drain. This water has a name, it is called ‘perched water‘, so named because it ’perches’ (like a bird) in the soil above the pot bottom. This excess water is critically important because it very quickly begins to kill roots growing near the bottom of the pot, within hours. The first roots to die are the roots that do the lion’s share of the work - the very fine roots often referred to as ’hair roots’. The longer the soil remains saturated, the larger the diameter of the roots killed. When air finally returns to this once saturated soil, roots then begin to regenerate. This takes energy and is extremely expensive to the plant in terms of that energy outlay. The plant is actually forced by chemical messengers that tell it to ’grow roots’, to direct energy that would have gone into growing more leaves, branches, blooms, fruit, or just increasing the overall mass of the plant, to replacing the lost roots."

There's a lot more to read there, but hopefully this will pique your interest and help you start to understand why your plant is struggling in its' current soil.

Dracaenas are also especially sensitive to chemicals in tap water, so the problem is magnified when these plants are in a very water-retentive soil.

You may want to repot your plant in the near future. I probably would. If you've not done that before, I took some pics of repotting one last fall to help people feel more confident about doing it. Feel free to ask if it just causes you to have more questions.

Milwaukee, WI

Thanks alot! I'm hoping to repot as soon as possible, It would be difficult and messy to do that inside and it's only about 10 degrees out here! So I hope my plant can hang on for a while longer. Before I watered it last, I left the water out overnight to help evaporate some of the chlorine, hopefully that helps.

Opp, AL(Zone 8b)

If there is chlorine, not chloramine, in your water, it can evaporate from sitting overnight. Doesn't hurt to let the water come to room temp at least, I try to always do that with any water. Dracs are also sensitive to fluoride, which doesn't evaporate (at least not overnight.) Those tips look like the result of roots sitting in soggy soil though, don't forget that roots need some air.

Dracs in particular don't get along well with tap water. If you have a dehumidifier, the water from that would be chemical-free, as well as distilled, rain, and bottled water filtered by reverse osmosis.

Anything that doesn't actually hurt plants helps, IMO. Nobody feels good about doing nothing, and it's hard for everyone to believe that giving plants a drink too often, loving/caring for them too much that way, is often what's making them ill. You just have to believe it and make yourself wait. If you're not sure if it needs water, it probably doesn't. Maybe sing or talk to it instead (the CO2 from your breath will be appreciated,) rotate it so the other side gets some light, inspect for pests, keep the trunk and soil surface free of dead debris which can harbor/hide pests, clean the leaves with a damp cotton ball (damp with water or rubbing alcohol for smooth-leaved plants) by supporting the bottom with your hand and gently wiping the top, being careful to not pull/knock it loose from the trunk. Wipe the bottom too if you feel like it - anything but giving water to a not-yet thirsty plant in water-retentive (muddy/peaty) soil.

The more the weather is cooperating when you repot, the better. While just trying to survive shorter, cold days is not the best time. Warmth, humidity, longer days are what tropical plants need to thrive, still a few months away where you are. When you do repot, I encourage you to use something different in the pot. If what is in there doesn't hold excess water, you don't have to worry about your loving efforts of giving a drink of water will cause harm to your plants. The roots are the primary vital organs of a plant, so when they are given conditions in which they thrive, the plant will thrive as a result (assuming temp/light/ other variables are acceptable.) If the roots aren't thriving, there is nothing you can do to improve the foliage or cause faster growth, besides of course, help/fix the roots.

To help your plant in the meantime, when it is dry the next time, put it in your tub or shower (looks too big for a sink) and put copious amounts of water on the soil, so a lot of water runs out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Even if you just have tap water. Give it an hour or so to finish dripping before putting it back in its' drip saucer, to make sure water doesn't pool and sit in there. You may want to tilt the pot toward one of the holes (if there are are holes around the rim instead of just 1 in the middle) to let the last bit of excess water escape. There is usually more that drips out upon tilting the pot. I usually do this after dark if possible so plants don't miss an hour of light.

Unfortunately the brown tips can't turn green again. If you trim them off, you'll be able to see more easily if the browning stops or continues to progress.

North Decatur, GA

I use filtered water on mine and it sits in front of a south window. I only use filtered water on all my plants. Just buy a gallon jug of spring water (98 center or so) and that will last you for at least a month or two.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

For your plants, you would be much better served to use deionized/distilled water than spring water. Note the TDS in various brands of mineral water here:

Distilled water should have virtually no impurities.


Milwaukee, WI

Thanks for your help everyone. Next time I water it, I will definitely use distilled water. My problem now it to get the soil to dry out since this peat moss mixture seems to want to stay moist constantly. When I repot it in the spring can I use a mixture of potting soil and cactus/palm mixture. That cactus mixture has worked well on keeping my succulent's soil drained. Wondering if that would be alright for a Corn Plant?

Milwaukee, WI

I should have posted a picture of this before and mentioned it, but the small stalk seems to be doing better than the tall one.. The small stalk looks quite different from the tall and I'm wondering what's that about?

And as you can see the tall one isn't doing any better, more and more leaves are dying :( I haven't watered it for a while, so I'm really starting to think it isn't overwatering. I picked up some distilled water, so maybe I should give that a go.

Thumbnail by raven_nevermore Thumbnail by raven_nevermore Thumbnail by raven_nevermore
Opp, AL(Zone 8b)

A mix that's keeping succulents happy should work for Dracaena also but you may need to water the Drac more often than the succulents.

In your first pic from yesterday, I see exciting things, new growth tips coming from the main trunk. If you remove the brown leaves, you'll be better able to see/know if more brown shows up.

Thanks for the link, Al!

St Petersburg, FL

If you got this plant the first of January, and it started to show wilt and browning within a week, it was already stressed/damaged at the store. There could have been some cold damage going on, and/or it was probably watered too heavily at the store, then sat around cold, wet and miserable until you rescued it. There does appear to be new growth coming from at least 2 of the canes - a little hard to see from the pics. Cut the wilted/browning leaves off flush with the stem, it will make you feel a lot better not to be looking at that sad foliage. Just let it sit without trying to water it. I've had corn plants that have not been watered for weeks, just trying to let them dry out from overwatering. Until you can repot into more suitable mix, check the soil for moisture content by testing with a wooden dowel or kebob skewer - when you pull it up, you should feel only the barest trace of moisture. Or you can use a squeeze test - pull up some soil with a spoon, reaching down toward the bottom of the pot, and squeeze the soil between your fingers; it should feel soft and cool, but not stick together at all.

It's not unusual for corn plants to lose 1 or 2 of the canes within the first 6 months. I think the fact that the smaller cane looks so much better indicates that it is not planted so deeply into the pot, and so is not suffering so much from overwet roots. Or maybe it just didn't get so cold as the taller one, if that's what happened. It's hard to tell from the pics.

I don't think I would worry about leaching the soil - running a lot of water through it in the tub. First, once it aerates some, the last thing it wants is to get drowned again, and second, since it just recently came from the store, it probably has not had time to build up a toxic level of salt in the soil.

Finally, if you want to use distilled water, or rain water, or any special water, if it makes you feel you're doing the best for your plant, by all means go ahead. But just FYI, as an interior horticulturist, I've taken care of thousands of corn plants that have lived beautifully for years at a time, and they were always watered with ordinary tap water. They do have a susceptibility to fluoride and chlorine damage, and some individuals seem much more susceptible than others, but the problem can be managed by not over saturating the soil, and by limiting fertilizer - a yearly repot, or at least addition of fresh soil, with an application of iron and dolomite, does them really well.

Opp, AL(Zone 8b)

Why would a corn plant normally lose a cane? And within the first 6 months of what? If a plant is susceptible to damage from water chemicals, why would it not be beneficial to use water without those chemicals in it? How does one perform "the addition of fresh soil?" "An application of iron and dolomite" is too vague to be a helpful instruction. How does one apply such substances? How much would one apply? Why would it help?

Having just come from a store gives one no indication how long it's been in its' present soil.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Raven - please don't read my statement that "you would be better served to use deionized/distilled water than spring water" as a suggestion you should actually USE distilled water. I think I should have been more clear. Spring water will retain any dissolved solids it comes out of the ground with, unless it's treated to remove them; but you can see from the link I left above that they probably aren't.

Generally speaking, if you're using a fertilizer that contains Fe (iron), and you suspect an Fe deficiency, you would more logically reach for an acidifying agent, like vinegar, to lower the pH of the soil solution so the Fe that is there but unavailable can go back into solution so it IS available. I wouldn't supply dolomite unless there was strong indication of both Ca/Mg deficiencies. If I suspected only a Ca deficiency, I would use gypsum, and if a Mg deficiency was suspect, I'd use Epsom salts. Additionally, applying something that will raise the pH of the soil solution (dolomite) in combination with providing an element (Fe) that would probably be unavailable in the first place because of a high soil solution pH is sort of inimical to the desired end. I think most hobby growers, unless highly skilled, are far more likely to create problems when adding a little this or that aimed at correcting a problem related to availability of only 1 or 2 elements, than they are to solve them. When it comes to good nutrition for houseplants, it's going to be very difficult to beat a soluble fertilizer that contains ALL the elements plants normally take from the soil, in roughly the same ratio to each other as the ratio at which the plant uses them.

In the end, focusing attention on the basics, concentrating on getting only a few critical influences right, will rapidly advance the abilities of those formerly getting them wrong. The influences that most commonly affect how severely our efforts on our plants' behalf are limited come from the combination of soil choice/watering habits/amount of dissolved solids in the soil, getting the plants light wants met, being able to provide a sound nutritional supplementation program, and root congestion. Of course, things like temperature and humidity are important, but once you get to the point where you can water your soil freely w/o concern for the soil remaining wet for so long it compromises the plant's roots ability to function, the rest is actually very easy.


Milwaukee, WI

I've never used a fertilizer before. I did recently buy some Miracle-Gro plant food sticks, but I didn't put any in the corn plant. Maybe the store where I got my plant from (Home Depot) fertilized it... I just wish Spring would come sooner because I feel that a slightly bigger pot (the roots are bulging out of the plastic pot it's in) and a fast draining soil would have to help at least some!

Thanks again everyone for the help :)

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

The sticky thread at the top of this forum has a lot of information that can help you avoid most of the most common and serious pitfalls newer growers frequently face.


San Jose, CA

My neighbor gave me these. They are as tall as my ceiling. These spots on them look like pest marks but Im not sure. Also they are potted in self watering pots that don't drain. The tips are brown on most leaves and now the leaves are turning brown and yellow. What could be the problem?I've only had them for a month and my fear is that I'm killing them. Any help is appreciated.

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Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Teriratiu-you really should start any other thread to ask your question. This thread is over 2 yrs old. A lot more people will see it if you repost. : )

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