Dracaena marginata, also called the dragon tree, is a low-maintenance plant that is a great choice for beginner plant owners. This plant is native to the island of Madagascar, but has since become one of the most popular houseplants in the world.
The cane, or the trunk of the plant, supports long, thin leaves with red edges. These plants can grow up to 25 feet or higher, but it is possible to keep their size more manageable if you are growing them indoors.
In this article, we will discuss the proper cultural care of the Dracaena marginata, and how to propagate it correctly.
If you are considering adding this plant to your collection and want to learn more about how to grow it, just keep reading.
Dracaena marginata care
1. Water requirements
One of the most common mistakes Dracaena marginata owners make when growing this plant is to overwater it.
Overwatering can cause the roots to suffocating in waterlogged soil and drown. The dead roots will begin to rot – a condition known as root rot. These rotten roots will be susceptible to opportunistic pathogens that make the rot even more aggressive, causing it to spread to the rest of the plant even faster. Before you know it, the entire plant’s health will be compromised and the plant may even die.
The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to check the moisture in the top two inches of soil in the pot before watering. If the top two inches of soil are dry, then go ahead and water the plant. If the soil is still a bit damp, however, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Although overwatering is far more serious, avoid underwatering nonetheless because the plant will start to droop and the leaves will turn brown. This may not kill your plant as quickly as overwatering, but it does compromise its health and spoil its aesthetic.
Adjust the frequency of watering depending on the climate where you live, the season, and the current weather. If you are watering the plant every 10 days during the summer, you might just have to water it every 14 days in winter because the soil will not dry out as quickly.
2. Light requirements
Dracaena marginata plants prefer bright, indirect light, but they are able to tolerate low light. Keep in mind that ‘toleration’ does not mean it is okay to keep them in dimly lit places for long periods, as this can lead to slow, or even stunted, growth.
Do not place the plant in a spot where it will be consistently under direct light either, because the leaves will get scorched and sun damaged. If you place the plant near a window, make sure the light that comes through is not too intense. However, if that is the only window available, you can diffuse the light’s intensity by placing a sheer curtain over the window.
During the winter, when sunlight is scarce, help your plant by purchasing grow lights. These lights will provide the plant with its light requirements until spring comes back around.
3. Humidity requirements
These plants are native to the humid rainforests of Madagascar, so it goes without saying that they will appreciate the same level of humidity in your home.
You can keep your plant’s leaves from drying out by misting it with water once in a while.
You can also fill a pebble tray with water and place the pot on top of it. As the water in the pebble tray evaporates, it will moisten the soil and the plant’s leaves.
If you have the means, you could purchase a humidifier to maintain humidity in your home without you needing to worry about it daily.
4. Temperature requirements
Room temperature typically works just fine for the Dracaena marginata. As long as the temperature around the plant does not get to either extreme, it should be completely fine. Come wintertime, the outdoor temperature may drop below freezing; make sure you take your plant indoors before the first frost arrives.
Be sure not to place the plant in a spot where drafts could hit it. Keep it away from heating vents and air conditioning vents, because the warm and cold air can dry the plant out very quickly.
5. Soil requirements
The Dracaena marginata likes to grow in a well-draining, airy and porous potting mix. You can make regular potting soil more well-draining by mixing it with peat moss or perlite.
Using loose soil is important to prevent overwatering. Dense, compact soil holds onto moisture too well and can end up causing root rot.
Also check the pot you are using. Make sure there are sufficient drainage holes at the bottom to allow the excess water to flow out. Avoid using a plastic or steel pot, because those materials will not let moisture seep through them and might keep the soil damp for too long. Instead, opt for clay or terracotta pots: these materials are porous and allow air and water to seep through them more easily.
6. Fertilizer requirements
This plant does not really need to be fertilized, but if you want to use fertilizer, do so once or twice during the plant’s growing period in the spring and summer. Use water-soluble plant fertilizer at half-strength only. Avoid feeding the plant in the fall and winter, as this may lead to toxicity in the soil and do more harm than good.
If the plant’s roots become too crowded in the pot, the plant may become pot bound and difficult to repot. It is therefore best to check the condition of the roots regularly to see if it is time to change pots. Typically, Dracaena marginata plants are repotted every two to three years.
When repotting the plant, choose a pot that is one size up from the last pot used. You do not want a pot that is too big, because a large pot means more soil, and more soil means more water can be retained, which can lead to overwatering. The pot also has to have drainage holes at the bottom that are big enough and will not get clogged with roots and soil too easily.
Water the plant a day before you plan to repot it, and water it again right after you have transferred it to a new pot.
This plant does not require much pruning, save for the removal of the lowest leaves that are turning brown and about to fall off anyway. Be gentle when pulling the leaves off the plant and do not force it if there is still any resistance when you pull.
If you do not plan to let the plant get taller, you will need to cut off the top of the trunk.
This practice will also coincide with the propagation of this plant, which we will discuss next.
Dracaena marginata propagation
While the propagation of most houseplants simply entails cutting off a small vine or stem, the Dracaena marginata requires a rather more drastic approach.
It might seem scary and daunting, but you will need to cut the cane, or the trunk, of the plant to the height you wish the plant to maintain. Make sure you use a sterilized pair of pruning shears to do this.
The parent plant will develop new growth from where it was cut, as though nothing has happened.
Take the cutting you removed and place it in a pot with well-draining indoor soil mix. You can also let the cutting root in a glass jar with water for several weeks before transferring it to a pot with soil. Replace the water in the jar if it starts to smell or look murky.
Regardless of whether you choose to plant the cutting in soil or let it root in water first, place it in a spot where it can get plenty of bright,indirect light so that it roots well.
After a few weeks, check the cutting in the soil by tugging on it gently. If there is resistance as you pull, that means the roots have established nicely and you can now take care of the plant as you would any regular plant.
Dracaena marginata, or dragon tree, is a plant native to the rainforests of Madagascar. These are low-maintenance plants that are easy to propagate, which makes them a great choice of indoor plant for beginner plant owners.
These plants like bright, indirect light and water only when the top of the soil is dry. Their humidity should be a little higher than normal, room temperature is fine for them, and they like once-a-year feeding and minimal pruning.
You can propagate this plant by cutting off the top of the cane and planting it in soil.
You can also let the cutting root in water for several weeks before transferring it to a pot with soil.
The parent plant will simply grow new foliage from where the cutting was taken; this is also how the plant’s desired height is maintained.
Image: istockphoto.com / Михаил Руденко