Diffenbachia (Diffenbachia maculata)
Other common Names
Dumb cane, Mother-in-law plant
Care level
Allow soil to dry before watering
Medium to high
Warm (65-82°F)
Propagation Method
  Air layering, stem cuttings
Common Problems
  Mealybugs and spidermites
Decoration Tips   Best suited as a tabletop plant
Common Varities:   Spotted Dumb Cane, Camille Diffenbachia

Angel asked on December 2004:
I recently bought a Diffenbachia (dumb cane) in fair condition. The leaves started to turn brown and a few of the leaves had bug bites. So, I washed them and cut the stems back a bit. It started sprouting, but on the bottom a piece of the stalk rotted off. I have now managed to cut off all of the leaves except one, leaving just the new sprout and the stalk. Did I kill this Plant and can I start a new one from the base? I am fairly new to house plants but have managed to grow three different plants beautifully. Do I need to keep it in low light or by a window? And will it re-grow from the base or just from the top? Thank you in advance.

We replied:
Don't worry, your plant is not dead yet, and it is possible to start a new plant from the base. The sprout that you described should eventually grow into a new stalk and new plant. You can also grow a new plant from the existing stalk using air layering. Air layering is a method of plant propagation where you make a small incision into the stem, wrap it in spaghnum moss in plastic, and then new roots will form from the incision mark. When the roots are fully formed, you can them cut the stalk off, and re-pot it to form a new plant. The following link is from Iowa State University, and has a great illustrative guide to air layering.

You may want to check the roots and other stalks to make sure they are not suffering from rot. If so it they are, then it may be best to make new plants if the damage is very severe. The same also applies to pest damage.

Your Diffenbachia will continue to grow, but new leaves will form from the top of the plant, and the lower leaves that you lost will unfortunately not be replaced. Diffenbachias do best in medium light, so it will do best placed in a window that receives a medium amount of indirect light.

Julie asked on November 2004:
My diffenbachia is quite mature, but has just started being plagued by yellow leaves. The yellow leaves appear to be the smaller leaves. The plant doesn't appear to be over watered.

We replied:

Yellow leaves can be caused by several different factors. My first guess would be that they are probably caused by the plant being too root-bound. The following link has more information on how to determine if a plant is too root-bound, and how to re-pot it.

If the plant is not root-bound, then it is also possible that the yellow leaves may be caused by another factor, such as a nutrition-deficiency if it has not been fertilized for a long time. In which case, fertilizing the plant will probably help.

Amy asked on September 2004:
We have such a Plant (Diffenbachias) at our Office and it is growing so tall it falls over. Is there a way to transplant and or cut down without killing it or at least with less trauma to the plant?

We replied:
If the plant and planter both are tipping over, you could try transplanting the plant into a heavy container. A heavy planter will act as an anchor and shouldn't tip over. If it's only the plant that's falling over in the planter, then you could tie the plant to stakes for support so that it doesn't fall over.

Since Diffenbachias can be propagated by stem cuttings, it would theoretically be possible to cut your plant, then re-root the cuttings to get a shorter plant. However, if the cuttings do not root, then you'd risk losing the whole plant. I would not recommend risking it, especially if you have a mature sized specimen plant.

As I mentioned before, Diffenbachia's can be propagated by stem cuttings. So yes, you could slice the plant down, and then brush rooting hormone over the cuttings, and then keep it in moist spaghnum moss until it rooted, and then transplant.

Rose asked on August 2004:
I have a huge Diffenbachia with four main stalks that reaches my living room ceiling. Lower leaves have started to fall off and it is looking rather spindly. It is definitely pot-bound and top-heavy but I don't know what to do. I would like it to be shorter and fuller. What should I do?

We replied:
If your plant is root-bound, probably one of the best things that you can do for it is to re-pot. I would suggest looking for a heavy pot since your plant is so tall. Sometimes top-heavy plants can tip over a lighter pot. I'd also look for a pot about 1-2 sizes larger than your plant's current container.

This link contains general re-potting instructions:

Normally, a plant should be re-potted up to its current level in its new pot. However, Diffenbachias are one of the few plants that can actually be placed deeper in the soil. This is one thing that can be done to make your plant appear shorter.

To make your plant appear fuller, one method for re-growing lower leaves on Diffenbachia is air layering. The following link provides graphic instructions on how to do air layering:

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