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I have a dracaena fragrans (corn plant) which is dying. I originally purchased it just over a year ago, when a similar plant I had (yucca elephantisis) died in a similar manner. Basically, what happens is that the new growth on the cane starts to turn brown and dry out from the bottom upward. I originally had 3 canes, and now I'm down to a single cane with a healthy growth on it. I just saw yesterday that the growth is now starting to turn brown at the base, which indicates it will soon exhibit the same signs and dry out/die.

I'm not sure what I'm doing incorrectly. At first, I thought I was over-watering the plants. I watered it about once every other week, with enough water to saturate the soil. I then made sure that it could drain by adding a bit of sand to the base of the pot, and putting fresh soil over this, which I did last summer (July, I think), so it was last re-potted in July of 2011.

I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong with this plant... I can't seem to keep it or anything that is similar to it alive! Could you help me figure out what I'm doing wrong?

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Is it a seasonal problem? What's the light situation? Looks like it's cloudy a lot in Burnsville. It may be that you need to cut back watering in winter. –  Ed Staub Feb 7 '12 at 23:41
    
Well, it seems as though it's happening year-round. It is rather cloudy during the winter, and I have it in a corner of my house where the external light isn't great, but I have it under an incandescent agro light 100% of the time, so it seems as though it should be getting quite a bit of light. –  jwir3 Feb 8 '12 at 17:27
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2 Answers

Ed has correctly diagnosed the symptoms. Other facts about the Mass Cane are that it dies from the roots upwards. New growth is the last to go when the roots are dead. Your problem may be buying a poorly rooted plant.

This plant is commonly grown in Costa Rica. When a tree reaches twenty or thirty feet tall it is cut into lengths with a chain saw. These are shipped to Florida, potted up and then sold to you anywhere from three months to a year later.

If you buy a new plant where the canes are loose in the soil then you are buying a poor risk. The roots are probably no more than a few inches long. Another growing practice that affects health and you cannot see is the number of months under shade cloth and how much shade cloth.

The faster a grower can get a plant to market the more money in their pocket. Yet a plant grown outside in Florida adapts poorly to the light levels in northern climates. Growers should move plants from high light levels to lower light levels to adapt them. How much they do is not guaranteed.

To keep a plant alive buy good quality stock:

  • well rooted
  • free from spider mites
  • and grow it in a brightly lit area

Once they established they are incredibly tough plants. They will even grow in solid clay in dim light.

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If the cane gets soft, that's a sign of overwatering.

If the leaves get droopy but perk up when you water, it's underwatered.

Dracaenas are very sensitive to flouride, boron, and (other) soluble salts, from tap water, superphosphate fertilizer, or perlite. If water seems likely to be the problem, switch to another water source, such as distilled water, or other bottled water if you can find an assay of what's in it. You can find reference to this problem many places on the web, including here.

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So if the new growth is brown at the base, is that growth dead, or can it come back? If the growth is dead, does that mean that the entire cane is dead, too? The cane itself isn't soft, and like I said, I probably water it maybe once every two weeks, which seems really underwatering to me... –  jwir3 Feb 9 '12 at 4:32
    
Also, is there a way to encourage new growth buds from the cane? One of the old canes, which I thought was dead, I carved up using a small hacksaw, and it was dry on the inside. Near the top of the cane, it was dark brown in the center, which seems like rotting to me, but nearer to the roots, it seemed a lot healthier. All of my canes seem to have decent, albeit shallow, root systems. –  jwir3 Feb 9 '12 at 4:35
    
@kevinsky - do you want to answer the two comment/questions above? I haven't grown this for 20+ years - sounds like you've more experience. –  Ed Staub Feb 9 '12 at 13:17
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