Dieffenbachia cutting propagation: time to upgrade soil!

Around the holidays, I took a cutting off a large dieffenbachia my sister received after my grandmother passed — we don’t think it’s the exact same plant my grandmother had in her house as I was growing up, but it’s probably a direct descendant of it.  I was excited to have a progeny of the same plant.  I’ve been patiently waiting without too much interference, but it was about time to either acknowledge the experiment had failed or “graduate” it to better conditions for a rooted cutting.

This is the cutting off the parent plant.  It has slowly dropped several leaves before the new leaf at the top started to unravel about a month ago; but after just a short bit, it stopped opening, and another lower leaf started to yellow and drop.  I wasn’t quick to cut it off, letting it die off in due time… but I noticed the “new leaf” that is half unfurled not only stopped progress, the part that is visible now looks an unhealthy pale green.  That’s not the best sign.

On the upside, I could tell from the fact that the stalk seemed steadier in the pot that it seemed like it had rooted; so a few weeks ago I took it into my head that the problem might be that the soil is now too damp.  I dug down in the pot (very carefully) to clear a few inches of soil off the top now that it didn’t need as much support in an effort to help it dry out faster.  While I was doing that, I nudged around with my fingers to see if I can feel roots.  I located at least one large’ish tap root, but realized a few things:

  1. The plant was sitting mucher lower in the pot than I remembered.  I don’t know if it sank as the soil compressed with watering, or if I had really set it so low, but the cut bottom of the stem was nearly at the bottom of the pot.  I wanted to move this plant higher in the pot so the roots had room to grow down.
  2. The “soil” in the pot was very heavy on sphagnum moss.  That seemed like a good idea for the fresh cutting, to retain moisture and humidity while it rooted; but after seeing it, I was starting to think the yellowing and dropping leaves might actually be from “overwatering” if it was staying waterlogged now that it’s rooted.

So I decided it was time to check progress and “graduate” if it had actually rooted.  One good sign is that even though the original new leaf has yet to completely unravel, there does seem to be a new shoot emerging from the top of the stalk.

Happily, I found that there’s quite a bit of root growth all around the bottom of the stem.  Most of them are still pretty thick, so there isn’t a very good network of feeder roots, but enough to anchor it.  I removed some of the big clumps of spaghnum from the original mix, put in a nice bottom layer, mixed in some pine bark chips into what was remaining to improve drainage, gave it a bit of fresh soil mixed in, some pine chip top dressing, cleaned up the dead leaf, and back it goes.

It’s not getting boisterous growth yet, but it does seem like it’s progressing, which is good for December through May.  Hopefully as spring and summer kick in we’re ready now for the prime growth season and it gets nice and established.


As far as the other cuttings from the fall and winter (an attempt to propagate a sanseviera and a schefflera) – no news.  They haven’t explicitly failed, but no new growth to speak of… yet!


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