Why Is My Dieffenbachia Dying?

Why Is My Dieffenbachia Dying

Dieffenbachia, otherwise known as the dumb cane plant, is a genus of tropical perennials commonly grown as houseplants. This herbaceous plant is known to be poisonous, causing swelling of the mouth and throat when ingested. Although it rarely kills, the plant juices can cause speech difficulties due to oral irritation, hence the name “dumb cane” or “mother-in-law’s tongue.”

Despite being toxic, many gardeners have fallen in love with the plant’s large, green leaves scattered with cream blotches. Furthermore, it is also a plant that is quite easy to care for. That said, it is not immune to certain problems, and you are probably reading this because your own dieffenbachia currently appears to be dying.

So, why is your dieffenbachia dying? Read on, as we might have the answers you are looking for!

Dying dieffenbachia – signs to look out for

Dieffenbachias often reveal distress through changes in their foliage. There can be several reasons your evergreen is suddenly looking lifeless, from improper watering to rootbound problems. These are some of the signs you might see:

  • Browning leaves, particularly along the tips and edges 
  • Yellowing leaves
  • Leaves becoming dry and brittle
  • Lack of new growth
  • Curling and wilting leaves

Why is my dieffenbachia dying? Common causes

1. Natural aging

As with all living things, dieffenbachias go through the process of aging. You might notice the lower leaves of the plant starting to droop or turn yellow, and this does not necessarily mean it is dying. The yellowing of the lower leaves is part of the plant’s natural life cycle and should not be cause for serious concern. You should only worry if the upper leaves are also dying.

When these dieffenbachia leaves begin to fall off, you may cut back the foliage and stems to encourage new growth. You can also pinch off some of the drooping leaves to keep your plant in tip-top shape.

2. Overwatering

Dieffenbachias prefer their soil to be slightly moist, but never waterlogged. Their roots need to breathe oxygen, too, and this can only be achieved when there are enough air pockets in the soil. Without these, the roots will slowly die. The presence of soil-borne fungi can also hasten their deterioration through a common disease known as root rot.

To prevent overwatering, your plant must be thoroughly watered and the soil allowed to dry out before the next watering. Check the soil with your finger regularly so that you can feel when your dieffenbachia is thirsty. Additionally, make sure to use soil and pots with good drainage to prevent any standing water around the roots. 

3. Underwatering

Another reason your dieffenbachia might appear to be dying is a lack of water. Moisture loss and extreme dehydration can kill any plant if left for too long. The ugly consequences of underwatering might first manifest as yellowing or browning leaves. Your plant might also start drooping, and have dry, brittle foliage. Sparse watering can also cause the soil to become extremely dry, crumbly, and light in color due to long periods of neglect. Eventually, a dieffenbachia that does not receive sufficient water will lose its vigor and die.

As mentioned previously, the surefire rule for proper watering is to check the soil regularly. Aside from the finger test, a soil moisture meter can also be used, especially if you prefer more accurate readings. Dieffenbachias do not like to be underwatered or overwatered, and keeping your soil in check will help you know the best time to water these tropical perennials.

4. Nutrient deficiency

Fertile soil is essential for plants to thrive, and unfortunately the soil in our backyards or in pots does not guarantee them the complete spectrum of macronutrients. For this reason, adding compost or fertilizer is an important aspect of plant care.

Dieffenbachias that are deprived of nutrients will not grow healthily or optimally. Yellowing of the leaves, also known as chlorosis, is a common tell-tale sign of a nutrient-deficient plant. Eventually, it will lose its vigor and become more susceptible to other diseases and infestation.

To fix a nutrient deficiency, make sure that your dieffenbachia is potted in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. You can enrich your growing medium by following any of these recipes:

  • Use one part potting soil and one part peat moss
  • Use equal parts potting soil, peat moss, and perlite
  • Use one part peat moss and one part perlite

5. Rootbound issues

Similar to other woody plants, dieffenbachias can also become rootbound if they have not been repotted for a long time. As you might know, dieffenbachias can develop an extensive root system over the years, and their roots will eventually start popping out above the soil’s surface and through the pot’s drainage holes. 

If the root ball is taking up most of the space in the pot, there will no longer be sufficient soil to provide enough nutrients and moisture for your plant. A dense ball of impenetrable roots becomes impossible to water or even feed, causing stunted growth, defoliation, and yellowing or dying leaves. Dieffenbachias that are left in their smaller pots will struggle more and more to survive.

Hence, to prevent rootbound issues, the solution is to transplant your dieffenbachia to a bigger pot as soon as you notice the roots starting to outgrow their container. You can also divide your plant if you want to control its size and avoid using bigger pots. Once you have repotted it, make sure that it is watered and fertilized adequately. With proper care, it should bounce back in a very short time.

6. Too much sunlight

In their natural habitat, dieffenbachias grow under a canopy of trees where they receive filtered sunlight. Hence, these tropical evergreens grow better in areas with a bit of shade, protected from the sun’s intense ultraviolet rays.

However, inexperienced growers sometimes assume that more sunlight always means more growth. While sunlight is healthy and essential for plants’ photosynthesis, dieffenbachias’ leaves are delicate and should not be exposed to full sunlight or very high temperatures. Direct sunlight can quickly scorch the leaves and turn them brown or yellow. 

A quick fix to avoid sunburn is simply to move your plants to a semi-shaded area or near a window facing north or east. If indoors, you can also hang a drape in the window to reduce the intensity of the sunlight coming in. Just make sure that there is ample light and the growing area is not too dark for your plants, either.

7. Low temperatures

Since dieffenbachias are tropical plants, they normally thrive in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below this range can be harmful to them. If their leaves begin to droop, fall off, or turn yellow, then the environmental temperature might be too cold for them.

These tips should help you protect your dieffenbachias from sudden low temperatures:

  • Avoid placing your plants in a drafty location.
  • Move your plants away from cooling or heating vents.
  • During the cold season, do not leave your dieffenbachias near an open door or window. Consider moving them to the center of your home, or to another area away from cold drafts.  

Transplant shock in dieffenbachia 

Have you recently moved your dieffenbachia to a new pot? Then the plant’s dying leaves might be caused by transplant shock. This reaction is nothing too out of the ordinary, since most plants experience some stress when repotted. Just make sure that your dieffenbachia is well hydrated before repotting and that most of the roots remain intact during the process.

Most importantly, give your plant time to rest and recover from the process while providing the best possible care. Its soil should be consistently moist, but not waterlogged. Avoid applying fertilizers at this time, because the roots will not be ready to absorb additional nutrients. Once the roots are firmly established, your dieffenbachia should easily return to its former glory. 

Dieffenbachia looks weepy

One of the many unique features of dieffenbachia, or dumb cane, is its tendency to produce droplets on the leaf tips, as if it is weeping. This process is called guttation, and it generally happens when the plant is overwatered. 

Too much watering can cause the roots to absorb more water than the plant actually needs. To get rid of the excess fluid, the water buildup is excreted through the leaf margins in the form of sap. Unfortunately, this sap can be poisonous to both humans and animals. Touching it can cause skin irritation, while ingestion can cause swelling of the mouth, tongue, and throat. If you have pets and small children at home, these plants may not be the most suitable home decor for you.

How do you revive a dying dieffenbachia?

More often than not, improper watering is the leading cause of a plant’s early demise – and that goes for dieffenbachia, too. Prevention is always better than cure, but if you think you have made some plant care mistakes and you want to save your dying dieffenbachia, here is what you need to do:

  • If the issue is related to underwatering, simply give your dehydrated plant a good soak. Put the pot in a sink filled with water and let it sit there for about 30 minutes. Once the soil has become saturated, lift the pot to allow the excess water to drain. Return the plant to its usual spot and monitor its progress.
  • If the plant is overwatered, you might still be able to save it, depending on the severity of the root damage. If you happened to catch the issue in its earliest stage, then the damage is likely minimal and most of the roots are still healthy. In this case, all you need to do is repot your plant in fresh soil. Make sure that both your growing medium and your pot are well-draining, to prevent standing water.
  • Give your dieffenbachia plenty of bright, filtered sunlight, and do not keep it in a dark area. Use artificial grow lights to supplement its lighting requirements, if necessary. 


It can be heartbreaking to see your dieffenbachia losing its vigor and dying. But, with early intervention and proper care, you have a very good chance of saving your precious plant. Hopefully, this guide will help you remedy your plant care mistakes and avoid the same issues in the future!

Image: istockphoto.com / MilosGagic