Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
March, 2001
Regional Report

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Dieffenbachia's large, variegated leaves give me a taste of all the leaves and foliage to come this summer in my garden.

Dramatic Dieffenbachia

This time of year gardeners are desperate for greenery. Not just a pot of daffodils, but "real" greenery. I can't wait for spring and summer foliage, so I went out and bought a big houseplant. I have spring fever and can't help myself.

The Dumb Cane

The plant I chose is commonly known as "dumb cane" (Dieffenbachia amoena). This particular species is the largest of the dumb canes, growing 5 or 6 feet tall and filling in that drab corner of the living room nicely. The giant leaves measure about 18 inches long and 12 inches across. It seems happy growing near my east-facing window, but convincing it to grow as lovely in Idaho as it would in its native lands of Central America might be tricky.

Dumb Cane's Homeland

Plants we commonly grow as houseplants thrive in humid and warm conditions with filtered sunlight. These conditions are common in the tropics but not in most homes. While in Central America recently, I saw huge philodendrons scrambling up tree trunks. The leaves closest to the light were as big as a man's chest. These "houseplants" must be sorely disappointed to call our arid desert conditions home. However, we can do a few things to make them happier.

Care and Feeding

Most books recommend misting these houseplants regularly to raise the humidity. Some experts recommend putting a pan of gravel filled with water under the plants so that the evaporation will elevate the humidity. With our extremely hard water, neither is a good option. The mineral deposits can harm the leaves and roots. Instead, I put a humidifier or cool-air vaporizer near the plants. They love the moist air.

Dieffenbachia likes soil that's allowed to dry out between waterings and some fertilizer every 2 weeks during the warmer months. It also likes to be a little pot bound.

Air-Cleaning Plants

NASA tests confirm that plants clean formaldehyde and other toxins from the air. We have formaldehyde in our homes from paper towels, garbage bags, tissues, carpet backing, and floor coverings. Dumb canes remove not only formaldehyde, but also xylene and toluene - two other pollutants. Plus, their big green leaves help me make it until real spring comes.

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