Dieffenbachia is a classic houseplant. It used to be the plant everyone had. A retro classic in parlors and sitting rooms. Its large leaves and white variegated foliage makes a statement.
Dieffenbachia is also one of the most low maintenance houseplants, which is no wonder why it was so popular. It is time to bring this old classic back into our homes and enjoy its leafy beauty.
Or, for a modern twist on an old classic, try one of the new and funky varieties with interesting variegated foliage.
Dieffenbachia Plant Details
It must be mentioned that this plant was once known commonly as dumb cane. However this is an antiquated term with a dark history. Language changes with the times, so for this article it will be referred to by its scientific name, dieffenbachia.
Dieffenbachia is native to the New World. It hails from regions as far south as Argentina, all the way up into Mexico, and the Caribbean. It was discovered by Austrian gardener Herr Joseph Diffenbach.
There are over 50 species of dieffenbachia, and many cultivars. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact height on them because it is variety specific, but they can grow anywhere from 1-20’ high, and 2-3’ in width.
This plant has wide green leaves with white and yellow variegations. It comes in many different patterns, variations, and leaf sizes depending on the variety.
Mother-in-law’s tongue, Leopard Lily
1-20’ high, 2-3’ wide (variety dependant)
shade- indirect sun
Variety dependant, green, white, yellow
Poisonous for Pets:
Dieffenbachia Varieties to Grow
There are many varieties of dieffenbachia to choose from. The classic variety has large oval leaves with a creamy off white center and an irregular dark green margin.
However, there are many different varieties that have different patterns and leaf sizes. Here are a few popular or unique varieties to choose from:
Dieffenbachia Panther is a very unique variety that will surely draw attention. It features longer, more pointed leaves. The center of the leaf is a frosted silvery color and it blends into a dark green margin.
The way it blends out into the margins so intricately, it is a work of art. Then, to top it all off it had irregular yellow speckles all throughout the leaf. This variety is perfect for all the foliage fanatics!
This variety has smaller leaves than a traditional variety. The leaf has dark green, medium green, and yellow speckles all over it, with a light yellow rib up the center of the leaf. It is really unique and beautiful.
Dieffenbachia Marianne has elongated leaves. It has a white creamy white center that fades to light yellow and then is finished off by a sharp dark green margin.
This variety has large leaves that are white in the center and then speckled with dark green with a solid dark green border. This variety is bushier with more leaves than a typical variety.
Right now white variegated plants are all the rage, the variegated monstera sells for hundreds of dollars for a single leaf! This variety has all the white variegated appeal, with a lower price tag.
How to Grow Dieffenbachia
Dieffenbachia are fairly easy to find from a local nursery or garden center. Pick a variety that you like and pay attention to the size it will grow (it will be on the tag). Some varieties grow much larger than others.
Soil for Leopard Lily
This plant prefers fluffy, rich, free draining soil. It does not like heavy soils that are found in most gardens. Use a good all purpose potting mix, or a blend specifically made for tropicals that is full of organic matter and peat.
Dieffenbachia are a tropical plant, so they do enjoy extra humidity. But if adding extra humidity seems like too much work, don’t worry too much about it. Plants will grow faster in a more humid environment, but will likely not drop dead due to lack of humidity.
To add humidity a tray of pebbles in water underneath the pot will evaporate and add a bit of extra humidity (do not submerge the plant in this tray of water, always place it on top of the pebbles).
Boiling a pot of water in the house will add humidity (pasta anyone?). Or purchasing a humidifier and running it near the plant is a great way to boost humidity (I recommend this if you have a bunch of humidity loving plants).
Dieffenbachia Sun Requirements
Sun requirements for a dumb cane is why it is one of the best houseplants. It really will take a wide variety of sun conditions. It does not like full direct sun.
Bright indirect or filtered sunlight is best. But does not mind shadier conditions. This is also variety dependent, The lighter leaved varieties will take more sunlight than the more dark leaved varieties.
If the leaves on your plant are looking bleached out, or crispy, it is a sign of too much sun. On the flipside, if it is looking stretched out, leggy, smaller leaves, it could use a bit more light.
Propagate Using Stem Cuttings
You can also propagate dieffenbachia using stem cuttings.
- Cut at least a 2 inch piece of the stem off the main plant.
- Dip this piece into a rooting hormone (see our review of the best rooting hormones here) and then place it into evenly moist potting soil.
- Place a baggy or a dome lid over it to trap in the moisture for about a week.
- Remove the top after that and it should be starting to root.
- Keep the soil evenly moist throughout this process, not too dry, not soggy.
Make sure you are using a stem for the cutting, dumb cane cannot be propagated by using a leaf cutting. Also, be very careful to wash clippers and tools, the milky inside of a dieffenbachia is toxic and can irritate skin.
Dieffenbachia Propagation by Division
This plant can also be propagated by division. This is an invasive way to propagate, but if the dieffenbachia is outgrowing its pot, it is a good way to keep it at the same size.
Make sure to use gloves and wash tools before and after use. Unpot the plant and shake off the excess soil. Notice where the stems are, there is usually an obvious place where the plant should be divided.
You want to separate a few canes off the main plant. Using a small shovel, your hands, or a hori hori knife, separate the plant. Now repot the main plant and the new plant into fresh potting soil and water well. Leave the plants out of direct sunlight for a day or two while they recover.
Caring for Dieffenbachia
Ok, here’s the straight talk. Most dieffenbachia deaths will be caused by over watering. Do not over water this plant. The leaves will turn yellow, and it will die.
It’s a sad death because it is caused by good intentions rather than neglect. Let it dry out between waterings. Stick a finger into the pot and make sure it is dry to your middle knuckle. It should not be completely dry. If it is, give it a good watering.
The best way to water a dieffenbachia is to bring the whole plant over to the sink, or tub, and give it a good soak until water runs through the bottom (always, always have drainage holes in the button of your pots).
Let all the excess water drain out before putting it back to its original position. If this is not possible, give it a good soak and let the excess drain into a tray and then discard the excess water.
The big soak and then let it be method is much easier than trying to measure out or giving smaller drinks more often. There are also water meters available for purchase that can be stuck into the soil that will keep an eye on the watering.
This plant like to be fertilized. Adding a good all purpose 20-20-20 fertilizer during the growing seasons (spring-fall). Fertilize every second watering, or about once a month. Adding worm castings to the soil is another option to keep them growing its lush, large leaves.
Leopard Lily Design
Honestly, this plant doesn’t really need much help in this department. Their large glossy foliage with intricate patterns speaks for itself. Choose a pot that is only slightly larger than the plant, and make sure it has drainage.
A nice ceramic pot that matches your home decor is perfect. This is also a great plant for offices because it takes little sun, and little care.
Common Dumb Cane Pests and Diseases
This plant rarely has issues with pests if it is healthy. Make sure it is growing in its ideal conditions. Moderate light, moist, but not wet soil, and light soil with organic matter (or fertilizer).
If these conditions are met it should not cause any problems. However, the list of usual suspect pests can infest a dieffenbachia, either if the plant isn’t at it’s healthiest, or perhaps other plants nearby have pests.
Aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs are the ones to watch out for. Aphids are small, translucent bugs that suck the sap from plants. They are usually found along the stems and base of leaves on plants.
Spider mites make a delicate veil of webbing on the plant's leaves. Upon closer inspection of these webs there will be tiny little spider-like insects racing around it. The leaves will also appear mottled and dull.
Mealybugs appear as little cotton puffs on the undersides of leaves. Start by giving the plant a good spray off, physically removing the bugs from the stems and leaves.
Mealy bugs can be dealt with by using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and rubbing it along the affected leaves. If all else fails, just use an insecticidal spray, one with neem oil works great. Spray weekly (or as directed) until the pests disappear.
Dieffenbachia Fungal Leaf Spot
Dieffenbachia fungal leaf spot is probably one of the more common diseases that can affect a dieffenbachia. This is caused usually by overwatering and not enough sun.
Leaf spot will appear as brown/yellowish irregular spots on leaves of the dieffenbachia. Start by pruning off the browning leaves. Then spray the leaves with a fungicide.
If this is from over watering and the soil is soggy and not draining then unpot the plant, trim off all rotting roots, and repot in fresh potting soil. Make sure the pot has drainage holes.
This one is a baddy. Dieffenbachia is toxic if ingested. Be very careful with it around furry friends and little kids.
Are dieffenbachia hard to care for?
No! One of the best things about this plant is that it thrives on neglect. Let it dry out between waterings, and it will take indirect sun-shade conditions.
How many times a week should I water my dieffenbachia?
Less than once a week, up to once a week. Most dieffenbachia fatalities will be caused by over watering. Stick your finger in the pot and if it is dry up to your middle knuckle give it some water.
Are Dieffenbachia plants poisonous?
Yes, they contain calcium oxalate which is poisonous when ingested. Keep this in mind when having this plant around pets and children. I will say though, I think this plant gets a bad rap as being a terrible poisonous plant, when philodendrons are also poisonous plants containing calcium oxalate.
How much light does a dieffenbachia need?
This is a great plant because it can handle a variety of conditions. Bright, indirect, or diffused sunlight is best. It can also handle shadier areas in the house.
If it is getting too much light, there will be bleached crispy leaves. Too little light and the plant will be stunted and spindly, reaching for the light.
Should I mist a dieffenbachia?
While dieffenbachias do like extra humidity, I tend to not recommend misting. Misting the leaves makes them prone to fungal leaf spot. Instead, use a humidifier to boost humidity in your home. Or place a tray of water with pebbles in it underneath your plant to provide a bit of extra humidity.
Looking for more plants to grow indoors? The Maranta leuconeura or commonly known as Prayer plant will surely make a good addition to your go to indoor plants list.
Have Fun Growing Dieffenbachia
Dieffenbachia is a beautiful lush big leaf plant that adds impact and drama to any space. There are so many interesting and funky varieties on the market to choose from.
Then the bonus on top of all that is that it is a relatively low maintenance plant that thrives on neglect. It is not just a plant sitting in the corner of grandma’s sitting room anymore.
Big leaves are all the rage for houseplants, and dieffenbachia should not be overlooked with its large glossy variegated foliage.