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How to Save a Dying Corn Plant (Dracaena)

How to Save a Dying Corn Plant (Dracaena)

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The broadleaf corn plant is supposed to be evergreen, resilient, and an excellent houseplant. Yet, it’s not invincible.

Anything from fluoride-loaded tap water to an unbalanced water schedule can threaten this false palm tree.

Thankfully, the corn plant will show you plenty of warning signs before they actually become too sick to save. Trust me, those tropicals aren’t easy to kill at all.

The trick is to be able to pick up on those symptoms as soon as possible. Reviving the plant might be as simple as adjusting your watering technique or moving the pot slightly away from direct sunlight.

To help you figure out how to save your dying corn plant, I’ll share the best indoor growing conditions. Then, I’ll walk you through the common culprits that could harm your dracaena.

Sounds good? Let’s revive some corn plants!

Plant profile for Dracaena Family

Healthy Dracaena

The corn plant goes by many names, and all of them share the general growing and care requirements of the Dracaena family.

While these plants can be grown inside or outdoors, most people I know grow them indoors.

Since the indoor setting is the preferred environment, that’s what I’ll focus on in this post.

What the Corn Plant Needs:

  • Temperature: Between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Humidity: 40% to 50%
  • Potting Soil: A well-draining potting mix
  • Watering frequency: Weekly, plus occasional misting in the winter when indoor air is drier (Always let the water dechlorinate for at least 24 hours!)
  • Light: Indirect sunlight, although it is tolerant of shade

7 Common Corn Plant Problems and Survival Tips to Treat Them

1 – Droopy, Yellowing Leaves: Watering Inconsistencies

Yellowing And Drooping Leaf On Dracaena Plant

If your corn plant’s leaves are yellow and starting to sag, odds are, there’s something wrong with your watering schedule. It could either be a symptom of dehydration or a sign of root rot, which is caused by leaving the plant in standing water.

You can tell that it’s root rot if the potting mix stinks.

The correct watering technique for corn plants, as with most house plants, is to use a pot with drainage holes, a well-draining soil mixture (peat-based works well), and only watering until the water pours through the holes.

No matter what you do, don’t let water sit at the base of the pot. That’s a recipe for root rot.

Another pro tip here is to use lukewarm water rather than cold water to prevent the lower temperature from shocking the plant.

2. Brown Scorch Marks on Leaves: Intense Sunlight

Dracaena With Brown Leaves

Brown spots, often accompanied by a yellow outer ring around the brown spot, are often caused by a sunburn.

An easy fix is to move the plant away from the window or tone down the sunlight with a curtain or UV-filtering window film.

I’ve also heard of scorch marks popping up on the foliage of an indoor corn plant that was recently moved outdoors. If that’s what happened to you, consider taking the pot back inside.

Note that the scorch marks aren’t the only warning signs.

You might also notice that the leaves are growing inward. When a corn plant is overexposed to direct sunlight, it might try to guard itself by curling its leaves towards the trunk, which is such a shame!

Watered Dracaena

3. Spotted Leaves: Watering Sensitivity or Fungal Leaf Spot Infection

Not all leaf spots are scorch marks. Sometimes, spotted leaves indicate watering sensitivities or even an infection.

Now, if the spots are mostly around the tips and edges, chlorine and fluoride could be the culprits slowly killing your corn plant. On a few dracaena varieties, the fluoride toxicity shows as tan, dead areas rather than dark spots, but it’s still the same issue.

That’s why, earlier in this post, I recommended allowing your water to sit uncovered for a full day to let the chemicals evaporate. Of course, you only need to do this with tap water, and distilled water is good to go without any prep whatsoever.

You can also tell that your plant is overwhelmed with salts by looking at the pot itself. If the potting mix has too much salt, you might notice white deposits around the drainage holes.

In this case, I’d just shift to distilled water and wait for the excess salts to “flush” out of the soil.

But it’s also worth noting that the spots might have nothing to do with water sensitivities. Instead, it might be a nasty fusarium leaf spot infection!

If the infected leaves are young, the spots could look reddish or tan with a wide yellow hollow, and the spotting is typically concentrated at the base of the leaf.

Unfortunately, your best bet is to snip the affected leaves and touch up the healthy ones with a fungicide. If I were you, I’d also isolate the corn plant until it’s out of the woods.

4. Yellow, Sticky Leaves: Aphid Infestation

Leaf spot isn’t the only disease that can threaten your precious corn plant. Aphids are a not-too-uncommon culprit as well.

Look closely at the leaves. Are there tiny, almost translucent bugs on the surface? If so, then you’re likely dealing with aphids.

Thankfully, the solution is as simple as dipping a cloth in soapy water and whipping those bugs away.

Just keep in mind that aphids aren’t the only pests to watch out for.

Personally, I haven’t had many pest-related issues with dracaenas since they’re pretty resilient, but I know they can still happen. Mealybugs, scales, mites, and thrips can all hit your corn plant and weaken it.

After all, they can suck all the sap goodness from the plant, leaving it feeble.

Unlike the mostly inconspicuous aphids, mealybugs are easy to spot. Just look for a white fuzz and wipe it out with rubbing alcohol.

Meanwhile, scales are waxy and can be brushed off, treated with soapy water, or eliminated with insecticidal spray.

5. Brown Tips on the Leaves: Humidity Changes

The tips on the leaves of a corn plant turning brown are a little hard to diagnose. For one, it could indicate watering issues or sunburn.

However, it could also be due to humidity issues.

Indoor appliances, such as dehumidifiers or drafts, can dry out the air and cause the plant’s usual growing conditions to change.

If browning is a new problem, think of what’s changed recently.

Did you move the plant to a new area with less light? Perhaps near a heater or an entrance close to a door with frequent drafts?

Those types of changes generally alter the humidity the plant is used to and can result in the plant growing differently.

Note that corn plants grow best indoors when the relative humidity is kept between 40% and 50%. Higher or lower levels can cause growth problems similar to those resulting from inadequate watering.

In the winter months, humidity levels indoors tend to be drier, causing the plant to need more watering. So, consider moving the plant to a more suitable location, away from drafty spots (near a door or window) and heating appliances.

A humidifier can help control room humidity, or you could use an indoor humidity gauge to monitor humidity levels.

Also, rather than watering the plant more often, try lightly misting the leaves frequently instead.

6. Pale and Weak Corn Plant: Nutrient Deficiency

The corn plant isn’t needy, but like most plants, corn plants grow better when they get sufficient nutrients.

Mostly, I use fertilizer once monthly throughout the growing season (April to October) but not over the winter when they are semi-dormant.

Fertilizing over the winter has no benefit!

7. Rootbound Corn Plant: Pot Size and Growing Mix

The pots used for indoor corn plants should have at least one drainage hole to prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged, which will ultimately lead to root rot.

Don’t worry about the mess. A saucer or drip tray placed under the plant pot will catch any water droplets.

In most cases, a peat-based potting mix is a suitable choice. That’s because it has sufficient water retention but still drains well enough to prevent the soil from becoming soggy or the base of the plant from becoming water-logged.

Generally, corn plants are slow growers and won’t need repotting often and should only be repotted when the plants are root-bound. Even then, I’d recommend only repotting into a pot one size larger.

Final Thoughts

That’s a wrap on the common issues that threaten corn plants.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to revive your dracaena using one of the tips here, but if all else fails, it might be time to bring out the big guns (a pair of reliable garden shears).

It takes courage to snip all the dead, infected parts and start fresh in a new pot. However, it might be your only option if the corn plant is in such bad shape with stinky root or stem rot.

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Thursday 4th of August 2022

My corn plants turned brown and the stem became soft. I cut the stem back them lifted the plant out of the pot cut the dead roots off and replanted it. Will it survive?


Saturday 26th of March 2022

What is the likely hood of my plant surviving if I only have the main trunk/stem left? The leaves have died off slowly over the past few months thru the winter. I'm not sure if this was a watering issue or from the problem with gnats that occurred.


Tuesday 29th of March 2022

Have all of the leaves fallen off or do you still have some healthy leaves at the top? Dracaena leaves shed off of the trunk as the plant matures, so if that's what is happening then you shouldn't have anything to worry about. If not, it could be a watering or humidity issue, it could possibly be in a drafty spot or getting hit by the furnace and drying out. It's also possible that it's not getting enough light during the winter. If any of these sound like they might be it, try adjusting those conditions and continue to care for it. The leaves grow very slowly, so it might take a while to see progress. Best of luck!


Carolyn Seymour

Saturday 26th of March 2022

I repotted my corn plant and the bottom stalk seems kinda solf root rot maybe. Can it be saved?


Tuesday 29th of March 2022

It definitely could be root rot/stem rot. Please see step by step instructions in this article: Its ability to survive really depends on how far along the rot is. Best of luck!



Thursday 3rd of March 2022

I got one of these plants at Walmart on clearance and I tried to get it out of the store safely in -20 weather, with a blanket, but now my leaves are all brown. SHould I remove all the leaves?!


Thursday 3rd of March 2022

Lindy, I would remove (or trim if not completely brown) the leaves and try to slowly acclimate the plant into its new environment. Corn plant leaves grow slowly, so it might take some time for them to grow back, but with some care it has a chance of recovery.



Thursday 9th of December 2021

My poor plant is dying and I have no idea what to do. He was doing so well for the first couple of years and getting huge- so healthy! Then, I replanted into a bigger container and that's when the problems started. Now the plant has many leaves that are 3/4 brown yet the two main stalks are still healthy and green with little sprouts poking through! My guess is that the root ball is not opening to take in all of the new space. Ive already cut entire dead leaves off of the plant and Im not sure if I should continue to cut off the dead brown leaves- hes is starting to look more like a stalk than a plant! I dont want to give up on him but not sure how to save him either. Suggestions?

Donie Young

Saturday 29th of January 2022

@Yolanda, Received corn plant when my mother passed away in 2015, and it was beautiful for about 5 years. It started sickening a couple of years ago, after moving it and putting it under a grow light. It's almost nothing but stalk now. I received a second corn plant in 2016 when a son-in-law passed, and it became sickly within about 6 months and died within 3 years. others tell me they are very difficult to maintain. Wish you would get an answer. Mine is sentimental, and my daughter blames me for losing her husbands plant. She was unable to keep it.


Wednesday 12th of January 2022

@kim, did you get an answer to your question? status of your corn plant now? mine is struggling bad.