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How to Grow and Care for Dumb Cane Plant

A dumb cane plant in a bag next to an empty pot

Bogdan Kurylo / Getty Images 

Leafy, lush, and versatile, dumb cane plants make excellent houseplants. These members of the Dieffenbachia family are found in Central and South America, and the jungle-like feel this plant brings to your home from its native region makes it well worth growing.

Dumb cane plants are characterized by their vibrant, variegated leaves in shades of green that gradually darken at each edge. This plant is known for its easy growth habits that make it a popular choice for beginner gardeners. Since dumb canes are toxic, it's best to grow yours safely out of reach of children and pets.

  • Botanical Name: Dieffenbachia
  • Common Name: Dumb cane
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous
  • Mature Size: 10 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Low, medium, or bright light
  • Soil Type: Moist and well-drained
  • Soil pH: 6.1–6.5
  • Toxicity: Toxic to humans, toxic to pets
Houseplants on a wooden shelf against a white wall
Bogdan Kurylo / Getty Images

Plant Care

Plant your dumb cane in a standard houseplant potting mix. In terms of water, the soil should remain relatively moist, but not soggy. Water your plant when the top inch of soil has dried, checking it regularly to ensure it doesn't dry completely. Dumb canes need less water in winter during the dormant season, and plants in lower-light conditions may need less water overall.

Increase the humidity around your dumb cane by grouping it together with other humidity-loving plants; as the leaves give off moisture, the air around the plants becomes more humid. You can also fill a tray with a layer of pebbles and add water to just below the top of the pebbles. Put your plant's pot on top of the tray and ensure the water isn't touching the bottom of the pot. The water will evaporate, humidifying the air around your plant. 

Best Growing Conditions for Dumb Cane

Dumb canes do best in conditions similar to their natural jungle habitat: warm and humid. They prefer temperatures that don't dip below 65 degrees at night, so be sure to place your plant in an area without cold drafts or near heating vents that dry the air. Because they thrive in moist, steamy conditions, dumb canes make great bathroom plants. 

In terms of light, dumb cane plants prefer bright, indirect light. Certain varieties, such as 'Snow' and D. amoena, are more tolerant of low light. These plants are prone to sunburn, so it's important to ensure yours is never placed in direct sunlight.

Dumb canes can also survive in low-light or bright artificial light conditions, though their growth may be slowed. If you notice the lower leaves dropping or your plant appears tall and leggy, that's a sign it needs brighter light. Leaves may also droop when the plant's water needs aren't being met: Both underwatered and overwatered dumb canes look similar, so determine changes to your watering schedule based on moisture levels in the soil.

Fertilize your dumb cane plant with houseplant fertilizer each month during the spring and summer growing seasons. Don't fertilize while the plant is dormant in winter. 

Dumb cane plants in terra cotta pot

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Types of Dumb Cane

Dumb cane plants generally have upright stems with wide, pointed leaves that may be speckled or striped. Most varieties typically come in shades of green that gradually become darker at the edges, but some variants may also include yellow hues over a green background.

Depending on the variety, dumb cane plants can vary in size at maturity. 'Sparkles,' which grows green leaves speckled with yellow, is more compact. 'Snow,' a lower-light option, is a tall plant that can reach more than 6 feet tall. Be sure to take mature height into consideration when purchasing a plant for your space. 

How to Propagate Dumb Cane

After a few years, your dumb cane plant may lose its lower leaves and begin to look tall, leggy, and unsightly. When this happens, it's a good idea to propagate new plants and cut back the overgrowth. You can create many new plants from an overgrown dumb cane. The top foliage can become a new, full plant using the air layering technique.

When air layering is completed after several months, cut the stem back close to the soil level, which will cause a new plant to grow in the original pot. The long segment of the stem (or cane) in between can also be used to propagate baby plants after taking cuttings. Here's how to complete both processes:

How to Propagate Dumb Cane Plant via Air Layering

Step 1: Gather a sharp knife, a toothpick, a handful of long-fibered sphagnum moss, twine or twist ties, and a sheet of clear plastic like a plastic sandwich bag or a piece of plastic wrap. Rooting hormone is optional. 

Step 2: Pick the spot on the central cane where you'd like the new roots to grow. This should be at least 6 inches below your plant's lowest leaves. 

Step 3: Make an upward diagonal cut a third of the way through the stem at your chosen spot. Insert a toothpick sideways into the cut to keep it open. At this point, you can apply rooting hormone to the cut stem, which can cause roots to grow more quickly, but the process can be completed without it. 

Step 4: Using twine or twist ties, tie a handful of moistened sphagnum moss around the cut. Moisten a big handful of the sphagnum moss. The moss serves as the growing medium for the new roots. 

Step 5: Enclose the moss ball with the plastic, then tie the plastic to the stem above and below the ball. 

Step 6: After several months (once new roots have formed), take off the plastic. Cut the cane just below the new root growth. Leaving the moss around the roots, plant this new dumb cane in a separate pot with fresh soil. 

Step 7: Cut back the remaining stem of the original plant a few inches above the soil line, then add a few handfuls of fresh soil to promote regrowth. Once new growth appears, care for the plant as usual.

Keep the soil moist, but take care not to overwater—because the new plant has no leaves, it needs much less water at this point.

How to Propagate Dumb Cane Plant via Cuttings

Save the leafless stem from the air layering process to propagate new baby plants. 

Step 1: Prepare a tray with a few inches of moist sand. Cut a 6- to 8-inch section of cane from a healthy plant. 

Step 2: Lay the section of the cane flat on the sand so that it's partially covered. Keep the sand moist. Eventually, new plants will begin to grow along the cane. 

Step 3: When the new plants are around 2 inches in height, cut them from the cane and plant them in a rooting medium. 

dumb cane plant next to cactus and watering can

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Common Problems With Dumb Cane

Dumb cane is typically an easy houseplant to grow, but improper water and sunlight needs can cause a few common problems. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:

Shriveling Leaves

Underwatered and overwatered dumb canes both present similar signs of yellowed, drooping leaves, but the best way to tell if your plant needs water is when the leaves also begin to shrivel. Check the soil to see if it feels dry, then give your dumb cane a thorough soaking outside or in the bathtub so any excess water can drain properly.

Crispy Leaves

Crispness on the edges of the leaves indicates that your conditions are too dry for your dumb cane. Since these jungle plants love humidity, it's important to provide moisture through a humidifying tray, regular mistings, or even by placing a humidifier in the room.

Yellow, Curling Leaves

Dumb canes become sunburned easily. These plants naturally grow in shady conditions below the jungle's treetops, so it's important to keep yours out of the direct sun. If your plant's leaves turn yellow and begin to curl, it's time to move it to a shadier spot.

Dropping Leaves

If the lower leaves begin to yellow and drop from the plant, it's a sign that your dumb cane is overwatered. In most cases, cutting back on your watering schedule is sufficient to restore its health. The stem may also appear mushy or brown (meaning that root rot has already set in). Remove your plant from its pot and gently shake away excess soil to inspect the roots. Trim away any affected areas before repotting the plant with fresh soil in a container with plenty of drainage holes.

While it's also a sign of overwatering, the dumb cane plant's leaves may drop when the temperature becomes too cold. 60 degrees is typically the lowest temperature to keep these plants growing healthy, but anything below 55 degrees can cause damage like excessive leaf drop.

Potting and Repotting Dumb Cane

Your dumb cane will need to be repotted in a new container about every 2 to 3 years, or whenever the plant's roots become crowded (growing near the top of the soil or through the drainage holes). Gently loosen the roots from each other, taking care not to break them, before placing the plant in its new container.

It's best to repot this species in the spring so it can become established in its new pot during the growing season before going dormant in the winter. Repot your plant in a container one size larger with fresh soil, then give it a thorough soaking and allow excess water to drain from the pot.


How Did Dumb Cane Get Its Name?

Dumb cane plants are toxic to people and pets. This species got its name because of the calcium oxalate crystals inside it that can cause temporary speechlessness if ingested.

How Much Sunlight Does a Dumb Cane Plant Need?

Your dumb cane plant can usually survive in darker conditions like rooms with only artificial light, but it's best to provide it with a healthy amount of bright, indirect light. North- and east-facing windows are best; avoid south-facing windows and any areas that receive direct sun.

How Long Can a Dumb Cane Plant Live?

Dumb cane plants can live for many years, but their leaves in particular typically only live for a year or so. Extend the life of your plant by propagating it via air layering to promote new growth from its base when previous leaves are trimmed off.

Is a Dumb Cane Plant Easy to Care For?

Dumb cane plants are known as a great option for beginner plant parents, but they can be finicky if their light and water needs aren't met. As long as your plant receives enough indirect sunlight, it should grow easily once you establish a suitable watering routine.

Article Sources
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  2. Dumbcane. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 2022