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House Plants/Dracena (corn plant)


I've had this plant for probably 15 years--maybe longer.  Purchased at a grocery store, and now it's 5 feet tall or so.  I know what happened to my plant but not how to fix it.  

My husband laid aluminum foil on the top of the dirt to keep our cat from getting in the pot.  It was loose, not mashed down. I checked it and moved it around periodically, but we were out of town for 5 days, and when we came home, the plant looked wilted.  The dirt smelled putrid and water was sitting in the plant.  I removed about 2/3 of the dirt--all of it that was smelly, then replaced it with Scott's potting soil.  I watered it a little but was afraid to water much since standing water caused the initial problem.

I have watered a small amount 3 or 4 times in the last two weeks, since we came back home.  It is still droopy and sad looking.  I have removed three or 4 yellowing leaves.  Tonight I gave it a big watering.  It just looks like it's dying of thirst.  Hope that doesn't finish it off.  The plant sits to the side of a large east window, but doesn't get harsh sunlight due to shade from the house next door.  It is in a decorative pot 21" in diameter--no drain--the material is a kind of foam, I think.

Thanks for your help.  

Gloria Rose

Hi Gloria Rose,

When a plant's leaves look wilted and drooping even when the soil is not dry, it is almost always a sign that the roots have rotted and died. When that happens, the roots are no longer able to absorb water and carry it to the rest of the plant. Thus, the leaves wilt because they are not getting enough water. Unfortunately, adding water to the soil will not help because the damaged roots cannot absorb it.

There are two primary causes of the root rot. One, the pot is way too large for a plant that size. A 10" diameter pot would have been more appropriate. Second, the pot has no drain hole so water has accumulated in the bottom of the pot, probably for a long time but you could not see it. That is what has directly caused the root rot.

Replacing wet soil with new soil does not really solve the problem. I suspect that the roots of your Corn Plant are already so badly damaged that it may not recover. The only chance for survival is to downsize the pot and use a much smaller pot with drain holes. Carefully remove the plant from its existing pot and allow loose soil not in direct contact with healthy roots to fall away. Healthy roots are light in color and firm.

If you find no or very few healthy roots, then take stem cuttings from the top of the plant and root them in water and discard the rest of the plant. If you find some healthy roots, leave only the soil attached to them and move the plant into the SMALLEST pot that the roots and a small amount of soil will fit into. Use a potting mix that is diluted in half with perlite.

The goal here is to create an environment around the remaining healthy roots that will dry out quickly after a thorough watering. A small pot with drain holes and with minimum soil and a porous potting mix all work to allow the potting mix around the roots to dry quickly and avoid root rot. It also means that any excess water that is inadvertently added will drain out of the pot and away from the roots.

For future reference, never use pots without drain holes and always keep plants moderately potbound. This will help prevent over watering and root rot.

I have written articles on root rot and on Corn Plant care that I will email for free to you (or anyone else) who emails a request to me at I have also written an indoor plant care book in a PDF format that I can sell you if you contact me at my email address.

Please let me know if any of this is unclear or if you have any additional questions.

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I am the only expert in this category with professional hands-on experience and knowledge of all indoor plants. I can answer questions regarding light, water, fertilizer, repotting, pruning and humidity and temperature requirements. I can identify plant pests and provide information on safe, effective treatments. My answers are based on 35 years of professional experience and scientific research and are clear and easy to understand. I do NOT use search engines to find answers to your questions. If you read my previous posts here, you will get a good idea as to how thorough and professional my answers are.


I have over 35 years of professional indoor landscaping experience caring for plants in homes, offices, building lobbies, stores, restaurants, and other adverse environments. I have written extensively on the care of indoor plants, including a 260 page book. My specialties include Ficus trees, low light plants, repotting, pest control, and re-blooming holiday plants. Be sure to check my ratings and nominations to learn why I am the top-rated indoor plant expert. I am the only House Plant expert consistently ranked in the AllExperts Top 20.

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