I'm Killing My Corn Plants! Help!

lunarfireJanuary 9, 2007

I've sort of got a black thumb when it comes to gardening, can you guys please give me some advice? Here's the history of my corn plant: bought it at Home Depot about 7 weeks ago, it never looked super-healthy, but about 4 weeks ago the leaves started turning brown and about 2 weeks ago it got really bad. I know you are supposed to let them dry out between waterings, and I have been doing so, I usually water about once every 9 days or so. I've fertilized once with Miracle Gro right when I first got the plants after repotting them into the terracotta planters they are currently in. As you can tell from the pictures that follow, the corn plant is about 1 ft away from a south facing window that doesn't get too much sun because there's an apartment building and a big fence blocking the direct sun. The temp in my condo is usually about 60 degrees F and unfortunately there is pretty much no humidity to speak of (hey, it's winter in Colorado).

Last week, the plants leaves started wilting and turning a pale green/yellow color in addition to the browning. There are no obvious signs of pests. HELP!!!!

Is there any hope for it?

I'm new and I don't know how to embed an image into my post, so here are some links to pictures of my poor corn plant.



& On this last one, I took these at night and had to use flash, but hopefully you can see that the leaves are yellowing and turning pale.


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Offhand, I would say the first thing to do is to cut off all the dead stuff. See what you're left with after that.

Hopefully, one of the more experienced gardeners will be along shortly; in the meantime, here are my ideas...

Light: these plants need a lot more than what it sounds like it's getting. Can you get some supplemental lighting in there, like a lamp with a plant light?

Water: I've noticed that in winter, my corn plant doesn't drink a lot - I'm down to watering maybe once a month (of course, this is one of the few that I have in a ceramic glazed pot so the extra doesn't evaporate) How do you determine that it is time to water? In winter, I would say to let more of the soil dry before watering. Is the soil drying down below, or is it sitting soggy? I've found that to be a huge issue with wintertime - the top of the soil dries quickly because of the heat, but the lower parts stay wet because the plant isn't drinking.

Humidity: That is a large plant, but if you have help, you could try a pebble tray under it. If that's not feasible, set a bowl of water next to it. Or go all out and get a humidifier, you would probably benefit from that as well!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 7:21AM
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My guess would be overwatering. Every nine days for a pot that size seems like a lot (though if the air is really as dry as all that, and it's a clay pot, then *maybe*).

One other possible problem: fertilizing right after repotting. I think Dracaenas go semi-dormant in the winter (not so much *dormant* as just slowing waaaaaaaaay down) and don't really need the food so much, plus it shouldn't be necessary to feed a plant that's just gotten new soil. Not much you can do about that right now, though.

And lastly, you said that the plant didn't look so hot when you got it. Guilty of this one myself, but -- usually if it doesn't look so great, there's a reason. Bugs, poor care in the store, drafts, etc. (Sometimes plants that look great in the store have problems too, because they've just arrived from the greenhouse and are going into shock, which you'll notice in a couple weeks when you get them home.)

What I would do with it if this were my plant:

1) Cut off the dead stuff.
2) Wait.
3) Wait a little longer, until the soil is dry three or four inches down.
4) Give it a good soaking in the tub to try to leach out some of the excess food.
5) Cut off more dead stuff.
6) Wait some more.

If it doesn't come back from that, by, say, about late March, then I would be tempted to cut off the tops and let the plant start over with much-reduced watering, but don't do that until spring is pretty solidly underway.

Caveat: opinions will differ. Other people on the forum will no doubt think you should do something else.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 9:39AM
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nanw_4wi(4/SW WI)

Another thought: What were the temperatures like when you brought the plant home? Was it at or near freezing and was your plant covered when you took it out of the store?

I swear that half the time I buy a plant in cold weather at a 'box' store, they just try to send me merrily on my way with the plant completely uncovered.

Some of them are also famous for taking the shipments off the trucks in the cold without any protection. Most of the smaller pots are boxed in multiples, but I'm pretty sure the large plants aren't covered/wrapped at all.

I agree, too, that you're likely overwatering for the large pot and the amount of light the plant is receiving.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 11:35AM
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I'll post your pictures below so the members here can see them right away.

The only time I've ever seen my 'Corn Plant' in similar condition is from cold damage. I had it near a door and there was a terrible draft near it. My plant's leaves were exactly like your own plant's. These warm-weather lovers are extremely sensitive to drafts and cold temperatures. They also do not like being watered with cold water.

Is your plant sitting in a draft? Are those patio doors? Is so, when you open them, does the plant get hit by cold air? Are the leaves touching the cold glass?

Other than that, the suggestions above are also very good... Over-watering is also a great possibility here...

If you correct the problem, you will find that you can save this plant. One thing I love about this plant is how easily it forgives and how well it recovers once you start pampering it.

Good luck!

Your photos below:

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 4:48PM
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You've gotten good advice so don't be discouraged.

You said you water about every 9 days, but didn't say how or how much. The reason I say that goes back to the time I watered my corn plant and for some reason lifted it out of its pot to see the roots. The entire middle of the plant was dry while top and bottom were wet. Now, I'm very sure to completely saturate anything I water. Let water come out the bottom into saucer and soak back up. If saucer dries, water a little more. Empty anything still sitting in saucer after about 1/2 hr. Before long you'll know just about how much it needs. The large pots go a long time without watering again, especially in winter.

I'd just about follow the same 6 steps by mr. subjunctive, possibly in a little different order. Cut off everything brown and any leaves that clearly aren't going to make it. Thats the only way you can see any further damage, or if it has stopped. Give it a good soaking, which means immersing the entire pot in warm water, or better yet add a shower, being sure to shower the undersides of the leaves to be sure nothing is lurking there. Wait, wait, wait till it dries to fully water again.

Cold is also an issue. Especially cold and wet will lead to root rot. Any chance it could move back from that window a bit? Hang in there. Those are pretty hardy plants and that's a good sized one. Should be OK. Sandy

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 11:59PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Very good thread! I'll add to Sandy's (breenthumb) comments about watering that this precise activity was the first thing I thought of. That and over-potting.

Improper watering (little sips which allow parts of the soil volume to become dried out), especially since you've fertilized, can create havoc for the root systems of our plants. Corn plants can be sensitive to fertilizer damage, especially at this time of year.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2007 at 9:50AM
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Thank you so much for the replies, everyone!

To answer some questions:
To test to see if the plant needs watering, i usually stick my index finger down into the soil and if it feels dry, i give it about 1/2 of a liter of water. I usually put the cold and hot water on equal amounts so the water is lukewarm .

The terracotta pots the corn plants are in is 11 inches.

There is a big issue with light in my house. I live in the middle unit in a condo so I have NO East or West facing windows, they are all North or South. The only North facing window that gets adequate light is on the 2nd floor where it is warmer, but there's no real place for the plant. I may move it up there though after what naturelover said. I never even thought about the cold that could draft in from that window. Yes those are patio doors they lead out to my backyard and are really the only source of bright light I have for my plants.

So here's what I'm thinking. I probably killed this plant in many ways, not just one. I probably poisoned it with Miracle Gro (foolishly thinking it wouldn't go into shock if it had food to eat, hey that's what I'd want is plenty of food if I were moving into a new home, but I guess plants may feel differently). I probably drowned it. And then I probably froze it. Haha. Miracle it's still alive at all.

This is what I'm going to do:
Prune the dead, brown leaves.
Soak the pot and shower my plant as breenthumb suggested.
Move the plant to a warmer, non-drafty room where it will get slightly less light, but hopefully will be happier.
Don't water the plant for a couple of weeks.

Should I leave the pale leaves on and hope they recover?

In the future, is 1/2 a liter of water too little water or "little sips" as rhizo said? Mind that these plants are about 3ft high and in a 11 inch terracotta pot.

I'm at work right now, but I'll post pictures of my plants and of their new locks when I get home. Let me know if there's anything else you guys think I should/could be doing to save my little ones :)

& Again thanks so much :)

    Bookmark   January 10, 2007 at 8:45PM
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Lunar, using lukewarm water is good.

The soaking and shower should rid your soil of excess fertilizer and get the plant re-hydrated. Then just wait to see if it gets better. It may take a while to see improvement this time of year. But if its not too late it should, at least, stop declining.

If you read rhizo's post again you'll notice she gave "little sips" as an improper way to water. They need to be thoroughly soaked each time you water but not allowed to sit in water afterward.

As far as the pale leaves, I can't remember one ever regaining its color so probably best to cut them off. That will enable your plant to focus any strength it has left on healing. Good luck and keep us posted. Sandy

    Bookmark   January 10, 2007 at 11:24PM
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Alright, I gave plants said bath, trimmed the brown off, put them in a warmer location, and am hoping for the best. My husband told me that he had secretly been watering the corn plant because he thought it "looked sick". *sigh* That's probably my main problem then, over-watering.

Here are some updated images of my corn plants, post-haircut. The little stalk looks like it will probably kick the bucket pretty soon, but I'm hoping for the best. I hope the images work!

    Bookmark   January 11, 2007 at 12:20AM
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My corn plant is very sick had had it for almost 5 months it came form my mother funeral services the plant is very dear to me please help me what do i need to do all the leaves are brown and i sprayed fungicide 3 in 1 on them so whatÂs wrong.ok i cut the leaves off and look at the bottom of the cane and it was loose and when i peeled a piece of cane back it was wet the bark of the tree was very soft can i save the roots what can i do

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 11:10PM
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gardeningwithlcgrace(7 Delaware)

My corn plants looked much worse than either of yours. I got it from my grandmother but it really had no sentimental value. I just kept trying different things.

It was about 8 inches tall (2 yrs ago) and looking mostly dead because I couldn't figure out what it liked. I put it outside in the summer under our gazebo this past year. I cut off everything that looked dried, dead, yellowed, or damaged leaves. I kept it moist and brought it inside when the weather got cooler. It is now sitting on my boys' bedroom dresser. It's across the room from the (3)windows and doesn't get any direct sunlight. I give the boys ice water before bed and pour the rest in the plant in the morning. It now has 2 stalks that are over 2 ft tall and one dead stock. It's beautiful! I do have a few browned edges though. From reading here, it's probably from over watering. Should I trim off the edges or leave them alone? It's just the tips of the leaves.

Don't give up hope! It took me 2 yrs to figure out where this plant wanted to be and it was an accident! I just didn't have anywhere else to put it.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2008 at 12:23PM
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I've been growing corn plant since 1995. I have two over 8' tall at this time. Of course I live in FL and they do exceptionally well here. This year I got the equivalent of tassels on one and then red berries that look like currants. When they look crowded I cut one off in its woody section, skin back the bark about two inches, dip in a rooting hormone and place in about a 4" deep hole and depress firmly the dirt around the plant. If we get little rain, I water frequently untill new growth emerges. This may take 3 or 4 weeks. I find it an easy plant to grow here and it is also an attractive plant when used in the right location. It seems to favor partial shade but hey, what doesn't in FL?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2008 at 12:28PM
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