Corn Plant Trouble. Again.

keltic_pickleJanuary 29, 2009

I know corn plants are supposed to be easy. And I am generally pretty good with plants. But I have the same problem with them time and time again. They start out looking nice, but over time, the leaves become paper thin and withered. The plant just looks anemic. I've even had them flower, but yet they still maintain this very withered look.

So last summer I bought a huge one, determined to get it right this time. It looked fantastic for many months, but just in the past month has begun to show the old signs I am so familiar with. The leaves are no longer thick and springy. Some are turning yellow and brown. I am worried and upset.

Here is some more info on the plant's care. It is by a north/northeast facing window in a room that gets plenty of sunlight. I have it potted in a very high quality soil that drains very well. I use a wooden dowel to check the moisture, and water when the plant is just starting to dry (I don't let it dry out completely).

Please help. I don't want to lose this plant. I want to restore it to its original vigor and good health.

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johnh_or(Portland OR Z8)

Hey may be a combination of exposure and watering. I have a 9', 15 year old plant. It is facing a south facing window but doesn't get direct sun. I have always let it go completely dry before watering....almost to the point that I see the leaves begin to droop a bit. From my understanding, this is the watering regimen they like. A north/northeast facing exposure is probably just not enough light. I've seen this plant in sun in Hawaii.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 4:17PM
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I ditto that...
I have one exactly in the same conditions as you john, and it is doing awsome. Never a problem. One of the few plants I refuse to move from that spot....Or water differently than what you have said.
My sister had one in the kind of light your describing keltic, and it too did not do so good...

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 5:23PM
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Thanks, guys. I never thought the light could be the issue, but I guess it's possible. I have no south facing windows - the spot it's in is the brightest in the apartment. Just a few feet away from it, I have a very large Dracaena "Lisa" that is doing very well. And I've had that plant even longer. I suppose I can alter the watering and cut back a bit.

Would a grow light of some sort be a good idea? Is there any kind of light that I could use that would have somewhat of a cosmetic appeal? The plant is in my living room, and I'd prefer not to have some ugly looking shop light in there...

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 8:39PM
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Actually... I have cacti and succulents, as well as white birds of paradise in that same room, receiving the same light that do very well... The entire north and east walls of the room are lined with large windows that go all the way to the ceiling. So I just can't imagine that the light would be the issue. I guess I could be wrong though.

I will let it dry out really thoroughly though now, and try to maintain a sparser watering schedule from now on and see if that helps.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 9:01PM
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That could be the key. My corn plant would do terrible, if I never let it completely dry out and stay dry a little longer than a day.
Sometimes I would forget to water it and realize it is very dry, then water, and it is doing awsome.
But I must say, come to think of it, that my work has a huge one, about 10 feet tall that even flowers, and it is not getting any light but florescent. It is a good 30 feet away from any windows.
It gets ignored alot, and if it wasn't for me, it would never get watered. It is so healthy looking.
I also feed it once a month with MG. 12 6 8.
Hope yours does well. There is hope, if it is just a matter of how you water it and how long the roots stay damp.
P.S Is there any way you could send a picture of it?
Do you fertilize it also? And what kind of soil is it in?
I had a huge problem with mine when it was in soil consisting of too much peatmoss.
Take care....

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 9:43AM
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I do fertilize from April - October, yes. I use Alaska fish fertilizer, which I believe is quite great. The soil is the Whitney Farms brand.

THanks again. My digi cam is ancient and doesn't work properly anymore. I'll see if I can borrow one and get a pic up.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 2:27PM
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I just snapped a few pics of the plant. Is there any way to post them here?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 12:29PM
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I've been researching this a lot online and have only become totally perplexed. There is SO much conflicting information! Some say corn plants need to dry out completely, some say they need the soil moist, some say water when the soil is dry 2" down...

I have also read conflicting information on repotting. When I got this plant I put it in a slightly larger pot than the plastic one it was in when I bought it. According to some of what I've read, that was a mistake - their root systems are so small, that they should be in a smaller pot. Perhaps moving it to a larger pot was a mistake... If so, should I put it back into a smaller pot?

The soil is definitely dry as a bone 3-4" down, but when I stick my dowel in (all the way to the bottom) there is definitely moisture down there... What to do?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 1:12PM
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Maybe you're getting different info because everyone here lives in different areas, different climate zones, and has different indoors enviroments tha you, and can handle their plants differently in different kinds of soils and ways.
The best thing is to find a member here who does well with theirs in an enviroment closely related to you.
Some here can grow in damper soils if their's are outdoors, or in warm climates. Some of us here would kill ours, if they are grown up north in cold climates with lack of light and dry air indoors, with soil that does not dry out.
Some of us have big windows and some little ones. Some more light, some less. You have to do what's best for your plant.
As for me and my friends growing these plants up here, the soil has to dry out, it is a must or they will rot. The leaves will also go pale, and the stalk will rot out. Mine have to be in a fast draining soil or the roots will stay wet to long and rot. I live in Mass. and my plants requires more water as the days get longer.
As for transplanting it, I am not sure what to tell you. But I would, if I knew the soil was not drying out deep as you say. You have a perched water table, and if any roots are stuck in that layer, while your watering the top dry layer, your asking for a death sentence on that plant. Some members here know how to get away with it, but not me, so I would pot it in a smaller pot, and look for soil recipes on the container forum that help you avoid PWT's and dry out evenly.To me it is obviose that you are using a soil with peatmoss, or something with such small particles, it is not allowing the water to dry out evenly to the bottom of your roots. Therefore, better soil is needed, or smaller pot.
Hope this helps.:-)

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 3:18PM
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Thanks. :-) I just took the plant out of its pot so I could get a look at its roots. And yes, there were patches where the soil was soggy, and patches of dry caked soil as well. Some of the roots had dried out and just crumbled off in my hands, but much of the root ball still looked ok...

So I basically pulled all of the old soil out and freed the roots up. I repotted in a smaller pot, and used a mixture of the Whitney Farms soil mix and some perlite, which I think ought to allow better drainage. I'll check the forum for other mixes as you suggest, but hopefully this one will do the trick. I think just pulling off all the old caked soil and freeing up the roots will help. And the pot is a better size now too. Hopefully the plant will recover now.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 5:06PM
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Well I have done a lot of reading, and read all about Al's soil mix. Al has been helpful to me on here before, actually. I just found a bonsai soil comprised of pine bark, turface and lava rock. I think I will order some of that and mix in a few other things as well.

I will probably leave the corn plant in the mix of Whitney's & Perlite for the next month or so though. I think repotting it a second time in such short order might be too stressful on it. Thoughts?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 7:18PM
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HI keltic,
Sounds like you have a plan!
By the way, where did you find the mix you are going to buy. I think some here may do the same if they are having a problem making Al's mix?
Thanks alot

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 7:22PM
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I found it on eBay actually. The seller's name is wigertsmangogrove. I ordered a 5g bucket of the stuff. Seems like it should drain really well. This has been very informative!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 7:33PM
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Thanks man. I will look it up and then share with my friends since they are too lazy to make their own and always want me too do it for
Have a great night. Keep in touch with us! Hoping your cornplant does well!:-)

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 7:35PM
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Thanks to you as well!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 7:40PM
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Update... The corn plant has been repotted. It is now in a very well draining soil (as per Al's recipe). My question now, is at what point do I resume a normal watering process? I figured it should be allowed to dry thoroughly first of course. But as the plant continues to look worse (it looks terrible now, which I realize is partly due to the stress of being repotted as well), I wonder should I give it a good watering at this point? Common sense dictates that I should, but I just wanted to post here first....

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 11:57AM
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maidinmontana(Zone 5 Billings MT)

Here's something I do that hasn't been mentioned. I do let mine get fairly dry, not dusty, between waterings, when I do water, I pour the water down the top where the new growth is, the little well that is created when the leaves are forming, I do this b/c in my opinion, that;s how it would get water if it were in it's natural habitat. I think in doing this it is getting the amount of water is needs at the time.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 10:35AM
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Maidin, I second your watering habits. I too allow Dracaena soil to dry. Especially in winter. Humidity is another thing, but soil dries.

Mike you are absolutely correct about care, mainly sunlight, depending where one lives.
But, no matter where one resides, a plant should be cared for similar to it's native lands. For instance, desert cactus grow in sandy regions, hot and direct sun, and little rainfall. So, naturally, let's use cactus as an example, to duplicate it's native lands..We'd set it in well-draining soil, the sunniest window, and water sparingly. If a cactus grew in a dark corner, in heavy soil, and watered daily, good bye
So, I understand what you're saying about different locals, on the other hand, a person in Fl can possibly get by setting a plant that'd do best for us facing south, they place in a west. Do you understand what I'm saying? Moreso, when plants are set outdoors.

BTW, how ya doing?

Keltic, is the soil dry? If so, give it a drink...Did the trouble start during winter?
Did you repot in a larger pot, or just change soil mediums?
If possible, place your Corn Plant in the shower and spray away..If you use 'saved' water, aim shower head on foliage. If not, shower the entire plant. Afterwards, allow corn plant to sit in the tub, absorbing air moisture. In fact, keep the bathroom door shut. You can even leave it overnight..First thing in the morning, remove from shower and set in medium light, working your way up to bright light..Toni

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 1:30PM
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Keltic, I wanted to add..I dont know where you purchased your Corn Plant, but some nurseries use Leaf Shine. The leaves are brilliantly green. Color attracts customers.
Also, when they're first shipped from Fl, they're gorgeous. Proper climate, care, etc.
Even though Corns are 'easy' plants, to maintain their perfect looks, especially after a year, is a chore!

This is precaution. I bought two Corn plants from Home Depot, over the past 3 took a couple months, but they started looking poor. I inspected plants, from head to roots..inside the upper vase, where new leaves form, were Mealy the trash they went..I cannot tolerate mealy. That's hopefully, not your problem, but it doesn't hurt to check.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 1:38PM
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The plant is a bit too big to get into the shower - it's about 8 ft tall. I can definitely give it a good spray with a misting bottle though. And I guess I'll give it a good watering. The soil does seem pretty much dry. I guess that even though the old soil medium had been trapping pockets of water, the other roots were left dry, so overall maybe the plant was dying of thirst?

As for the repotting, I just put it back in the same sized pot with the new medium. I watered it the other day, and the plant drank it up. Water that came through to the saucer was sucked back up within 20 minutes. So I guess I should continue to give it water until it doesn't pull it up through the bottom anymore?

At this point I've had to chop off about 60-70% of all the plants foliage, including two or three of the shoots towards the top. I hope I'm able to salvage this plant. It WAS an amazing looking one.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 1:41PM
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Not mealy bugs. And the plant was very healthy when I brought it home from the nursery (not Home Depot). I really believe the problem was the poor drainage of the soil.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 1:44PM
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My corn plant's leaves are very dull, can you advise how to make them shining like the mall plants?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 10:40PM
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