Indoor gardeners ask a lot of questions about Dieffenbachias. Among the most common is “How can I get more of these?” Many houseplants can be multiplied by planting cuttings from the stems or even the leaves, but does this work for dumb Dumb Canes? And if so, do you need to take a piece of the stem, or is a leaf just as good?
Dieffenbachias can’t be propagated from leaf cuttings, but stem cuttings work very well. Slice the stalk into segments containing at least one node each, cutting at a 45-degree angle to maximize the surface area for water uptake. You can plant the cuttings directly into potting mix or place them in water for a few weeks to develop roots before moving them into pots.
One way to give the cuttings better odds of taking hold after transplantation is a technique called air layering. This method involves making preliminary cuts in the side of the stem and packing them with a growing medium, triggering roots to grow from the stalk before you segment it. You can find more detail on this technique below, along with step-by-step instructions on propagating a Dumb Cane from cuttings.
What Kinds of Cuttings Work for Dumb Canes?
Dieffenbachias can produce new shoots from any stem segment that includes a node. Nodes are the slim, pale brown rings that encircle the stalk at more or less regular intervals. They contain embryonic tissue that’s capable of developing into adult structures like roots and stems.
This ability to take root and grow from even a small chunk of stem is a useful survival adaptation for Dumb Canes. It enables them to recover and even reproduce themselves if they’re snapped off, knocked over, or otherwise damaged.
Because the leaves and petioles of Dieffenbachias don’t include any nodes, you can’t produce a new plant from a leaf cutting. Some plants can do this, including many succulent species, but it won’t work with a Dumb Cane. You’ll need to cut away at least a little bit of a node along with any leaves if you want to grow a new plant.
What You Need to Propagate Dieffenbachia from Cuttings
Successfully growing Dumb Canes from cuttings depends a lot on getting the prep work right. Here’s a list of the materials and equipment you should have on hand:
- Pruning shears or a serrated knife. Which one you choose will depend on just how thick your Dumb Cane’s trunk is. We recommend these shears if they’re large enough, because they’ll help ensure a clean cut, but this garden knife is a good alternate option for really hefty canes.
- Sanitizing solution. You should always disinfect your cutting tools before and after every cut you make on a plant. If you don’t, your Dieffenbachia could wind up getting infected. Use bleach diluted to 10% strength or the kind of rubbing alcohol you’d find in a first aid kit.
- Potting mix. Don’t try to root your cuttings in ordinary outdoor soil – this can also lead to infection. Instead, prepare a potting mix that drains well but retains some moisture. You can make a good one by blending equal volumes of coarse perlite, coconut coir, orchid bark chips, and commercial African Violet potting mix.
- Pots. The most important thing to have in a pot for a Dieffenbachia is at least one drainage hole in the base. Without that, the mix will get too swampy. The containers should also be relatively small because your cuttings won’t have extensive root systems; overwatering is harder to avoid with an oversized pot.
- Gloves. Chemicals in the sap of Dumb Canes can irritate your skin, so make sure to wear garden gloves any time you’re cutting or dividing them.
How to Take Cuttings from Your Dumb Cane
Now that you’ve gathered up your supplies, let’s get down to business. First, we’ll walk you through the steps of taking the cutting from your Dieffenbachia. Then, we’ll review how to plant and care for the new propagations.
Step 1: Disinfect Your Cutting Tools
Wipe down the blades of your shears and/or knife with a rag or cloth and some of your disinfectant solution. Ideally, you should do this before each cut, not just the first one.
Step 2: Cut Your Your Dumb Cane Into Segments
Slice through the stem at a 45-degree angle – this will leave more surface area than cutting straight across, allowing for better water absorption. It’s best to take sections that are at least a few inches long, with a few nodes each. In a pinch, however, any cutting that contains at least one node should be able to grow.
Step 3: Trim the Foliage
You should prune most of the foliage growing from each cutting. Leaves are helpful to a plant, but they require energy and moisture to sustain. Until they grow new roots, your cuttings won’t be able to support more than one or two leaves, so having too much foliage can actually prevent them from thriving. You can grow new plants from cuttings with no leaves at all.
Step 4: Dry Your Cuttings
Place your cut sections of stem somewhere out of direct sunlight and leave them out overnight to dry. This helps to seal up the cuts, reducing the risk that they’ll get infected.
Step 5: Wash Your Hands
Handling chopped-up Dumb Canes is a risky business – if you touch your eyes or mouth afterward and there’s any sap on your hands, you’re in for a miserable few hours. Even if you took our advice and wore gloves, it’s a good idea to wash up when you’re done.
Step 6: Fill Your Containers
The next day, scoop your potting mix into the containers you’re going to use for your cuttings until each one is about ⅔ full. It’s helpful to mix some water into the growing medium so that it’s nice and moist. Don’t overdo it; your cuttings will do best when the blend is about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Step 7: Plant Your Cuttings
Stick your stem segments into the pots and fill in around them with your potting mix. You can stand the cutting upright, as long as each one has at least one or two nodes below the surface, or you can bury them entirely. Either option works fine.
Caring For Your Clones
You read that right – technically, any new plant that you produce through a method like root division or stem cutting is a clone, genetically identical to its “parent.” Feel free to indulge yourself in a bit of mad scientist laughter. We’ll wait.
Now that you’ve got that out of your system, let’s talk about how to help your little experiments grow up big and strong. Cuttings need lots of warmth and humidity to produce healthy root systems. We recommend covering them up with some kind of transparent enclosure, like a clear plastic bag or a mason jar. They’ll be able to get the light they need, but a good amount of heat and moisture will be trapped inside.
Be particularly careful not to overwater your cuttings while they’re still working on growing new roots. You want to keep their potting mix moist without letting it get soaking wet. The ambient temperature should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t let them sit in direct sunlight, either. It’s bad for Dieffenbachias at any time, but it’s especially risky when they’re still so young and vulnerable. They’ll like a good amount of indirect light, but the sun should never hit them dead-on.
Your clones will start growing new roots within a week or so, and in 3-8 weeks they should be established securely enough to begin putting out new foliage. At that point, they’re through their most vulnerable phase, and you can remove them from their improvised greenhouses.
Alternate Methods of Rooting Your Dumb Cane Cuttings
Some gardeners prefer to let their cuttings develop roots in a simpler substrate called a rooting medium before transferring them to the potting mix where they’ll grow into adult plants. This strategy can make it easier to provide adequate moisture, since the rooting medium is usually quite spongy. A smaller number of ingredients also means fewer opportunities for bacterial contamination.
One option is to use small pots or trays containing roughly 50% perlite and 50% coconut coir or sphagnum peat moss. This mix tends to retain a good amount of moisture while still allowing the excess to drain away. If you opt for this method, switch your Dieffenbachias to a potting soil mix after a month or two – at that point, their roots should be long enough.
You can also use pure water as a rooting medium. Oddly enough, this actually reduces the risk of overwatering, since Dumb Canes left in water will produce a special type of root that can function in a low-oxygen environment. Keeping the plant in water also helps to satisfy its humidity needs through constant low-grade evaporation.
This option is as simple as placing one end of your cutting into a container of distilled water. We recommend using a clear glass jar so that you can directly observe the growth of the roots. Transplant your clones to soil when their roots are an inch or two long. In the meantime, change the water out every few days.
Moving your plant from water to potting mix will still involve a stressful transitional phase. You should once again be extra-cautious about overwatering and sun exposure until you see the clones producing fresh leaves.
Propagating Dumb Cane by Air Layering
You can make things easier on your Dieffenbachia cuttings by getting them started on root production before removing them from the mother plant. This technique is called air layering. In essence, it involves tricking your Dumb Cane into thinking that it’s already been cut and replanted.
Air layering works especially well with particularly tall Dieffenbachias that have dropped many of the leaves from the lower portions of their stems. It’s also helpful if you want to keep more foliage on your cuttings; since they’ll have some roots ready to go, they’ll be a little bit better equipped to maintain their luscious leaves.
You’ll need a few supplies:
- Cutting tools. Air layering works better with a knife or a razor than a pair of shears, since you won’t be slicing all the way through the stalk.
- Disinfectant. As we emphasized above, always sanitize your tools before cutting a plant.
- Sphagnum moss or coconut coir. You’ll need a decent amount of this – at least a handful or two for each section you’re going to cut.
- Plastic wrap or clear plastic bottles. If you decide to use bottles, you’ll need to make sure they’re wide enough to fit around your Dumb Cane’s trunk.
- Twist ties, duct tape, or twine. Any kind of fastener that can fit around the stalk is fine.
- Rooting hormone (optional). This isn’t necessary to the process, but it will speed it up a bit. If you’re going to use this, get the kind that comes as a powder or gel, not liquid.
Start by making a small, upward-angled incision into the stem just below a node. You’re just trying to slice into the stem, not all the way through, so be careful and work slowly. Wedge it slightly open by sliding something thin, such as a toothpick or a folded piece of aluminum foil, into the opening you’ve made. If you’re using rooting hormone, dust or smear it onto this object before pushing it into the gap.
Repeat this process for each additional stem section you’re going to transplant. These cuts are where the roots will grow, so you want to position them at the bottom of your cuttings.
Next, thoroughly moisten your rooting medium (the moss or coir). You may need to leave it soaking in water for a few hours to let it get saturated, then squeeze it out so that it’s damp but not dripping. Pack a bunch of this medium around each cut that you’ve made in the side of your Dieffenbachia. Secure the material in place with your plastic wrap and tape, twist ties, or some other fastener.
If you’re using bottles instead of plastic wrap, cut holes in the bottoms that are just wide enough to fit around the stalk of your Dumb Cane. Then slice up one side of each bottle, creating an opening you can use to slide the plastic around the trunk. Secure the bottles around the cuts and pack them full of damp rooting medium.
Now it’s time to wait. The plastic will help keep the material around the cuts moist, and your Dieffenbachia will soon start sending out roots. After a few weeks, you should be able to clearly see a healthy mass of roots through the plastic.
At this point, you can remove the coverings just below the new roots, slice up your Dieffenbachia, and plant the cuttings as described above. Because they’ve already gotten a jump on creating their root systems, they won’t take as long as ordinary cuttings to get back into fighting shape.
What to Do With the Mother Plant
When you take cuttings from a Dieffenbachia, the original plant can grow back just like its clones will – if anything, it’s even better equipped to recover since it already has a fully established root system. Even if you prune it all the way back to the level of the soil, it should soon start pushing up new leaves as long as you keep it watered.
This is an excellent opportunity to correct a Dumb Cane that’s gotten leggy or developed a warped, awkward-looking stem. Trim it back to the last point where it was growing straight, and it will produce new shoots from that point.
Rooting stem cuttings is by far the easiest way to propagate a Dieffenbachia. A Dumb Cane is incredibly hardy, capable of generating robust, healthy plants from even a single node. Follow the steps we’ve described above, and you’ll soon be propagating like a pro.