With enormous leaves in varied patterns of green, white, and cream, dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia spp.) are tropical perennials that make extremely attractive houseplants. They're easy-care too, needing very little coddling to thrive. These are tall plants, so even if you select a short specimen, it won't stay small for long since these plants shoot up a few feet every year. That means that anyone sharing a home with a dieffenbachia needs a good understanding of when and how to cut them.
Recognizing a Dieffenbachia Houseplant
Dieffenbachia are eye-catching plants thanks to their oval plate-size leaves that give a tropical look to any room. Each cultivar offers different coloration with a base shade of green and stunning patterns of spots, dots, and splotches in pale green, yellow, ivory, or snowy white.
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While the "compact" cultivars may only grow to 12 inches tall, most dieffenbachia shoot up to 5 or even 10 feet tall in an appropriate indoor environment. With their fast rate of growth, they quickly grow too tall and need to be cut back. Pruning is especially important because the new leaves tend to accumulate on the top of the stems, tipping them over.
Pruning an Overgrown Dieffenbachia
A dieffenbachia can be pruned at any time if you'd prefer it shorter, but the plant will also let you know when it needs pruning by dropping its lower leaves. First, the large, beautiful leaves on the lower part of the stems lose their tropical patterning and turn yellow. After that, they fall off the plant, leaving the canelike stems exposed. At this point, you'll need to prune back the plant if you want it to keep looking good.
The tools for pruning the dieffenbachia are simple: good gardening gloves and a clean, sharp pruning knife. Don't neglect the gloves since the plant's sap causes skin itching and more serious issues if it gets in the mouth, throat, or eyes. You need to keep it away from your body as you prune your dieffenbachia.
It's possible to cut a dieffenbachia cane at any point as long as you leave at least 6 inches of stump. Make the cut on a 45-degree angle 1/4 inch above a leaf node (a small swelling near a ring on the stem). The rule of thumb is to not cut more than one-third of the foliage in any one pruning. Once you've finished cutting stems, water the plant well. New leaves develop immediately below a cut.
Propagating the Cut Stems
What to do with those cut stems? The best option is to propagate new dieffenbachia plants. The entire stem can be planted and will root, turning into another plant. It also works to cut the stems into sections of about 1 foot long and root each section.
Some experts recommend dipping the bottom of each section in a small amount of rooting hormone before plunging it into the soil. Plant the new cuttings in the old pot or start each one in a small new pot with fast-draining soil.