Q. I have a plant labeled as “mass cane.” I’ve noticed recently that most of the leaves are starting to turn yellow at the tips and eventually the yellow turns brown. I have not watered the plant for 2-3 weeks now for fear that it has been over watered. I’ve checked the soil and it seems as if at least the top half of the soil depth is mostly dry. I bought distilled water for the plant because I’ve read that fluoride can cause yellowing in the leaves. So the last time I watered it I used the distilled water but that didn’t seem to help. The plant is in a bed room that has a window (mostly covered by a curtain to block direct sunlight) facing the south so the plant usually receives a decent amount of filtered light. Also about a week ago the plant fell but landed upright; there was no damage to the plant but the canes probably moved around a little in the soil. What needs to be done to keep this plant healthy? Matthew Broten – Champlin, Minnesota
A. You mass cane is a common name for Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’ also called a Corn plant because of the shape of its leaves. The variegated (with the light yellow/green stripe in the center) seem to need more light, perhaps because there is less chlorophyll on each leaf. When I was working in indoor landscaping it seemed that I would need to trim the necrotic tips off of the plants that received the least amount of light. Although they are tolerant of low light levels I always found that they did best with some direct light for part of the day. Of course the more light they receive the more water they require making it less likely that they will be overwatered. Overwatering (as I suspect you know from your question) will suffocate the roots and kill them. The symptoms are the same as underwatering because the plant itself is not receiving water. If the leaf tip symptoms showed up only after the plant fell it is possible that there was some root damage and this is causing the lack of water. It is good that you are using non fluoridated/chlorinated water since this means we can eliminate this as a potential cause of the problem. I would trim the tips and continue to only water the plants when you feel the soil has become moderately dry.