Madagascan Dragon Trees
Top Tips & Info
- Care Difficulty - Moderate
- Provide a bright location with a splash of direct sunlight per day, avoiding excessively dark places if possible.
- Dracaena prefers to be on the drier side to life, so it's crucial to allow half of the soil to dry out in between irrigations. Over-watering & root rot are persistent issues during the autumn & winter.
- Fertilise using a 'Houseplant' labelled feed every four waters in the spring and summer, reducing this to every six in the colder months.
- Repot every three years with a 'Houseplant' labelled compost & the next sized pot. Introduce some grit or broken terracotta at the base to promote better drainage & texture for the roots.
- Mealybugs & Whitefly are common pests will all types of Dracaena; check in the cubbyholes of the stems & beneath the leaf arches for possible outbreaks.
- This plant is perfect for foliage-themed display due to the slow growth habits.
- Dracaena are one of NASA's recommended air-purifying houseplants, with research from their 1989 'Clean Air Study'. They can absorb the five most common airborne toxins in a domestic household, including Benzene, Formaldehyde & Ammonia.
Location & Light
Like most houseplants, bright indirect light is best for quality growth. Although a shadier location is acceptable, prepare for slowed growth and exaggerated phototropism. Never allow the Dracaena to endure all-day sun as it'll lead to sun-scorch, resulting in a 'washed-out' appearance. If it were up to us, we'd recommend situating it in a location that offers two hours of morning sun to counteract the high chance of over-watering - a regular problem with this species.
Allow half of the soil to dry out in between waters, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. Dracaena situated in darker locations must be watered far less than with those grown in brighter areas to counteract the high risk of mouldy soil and root rot. Their root systems are highly sensitive to temperature change, so applying cold water will weaken the plant's lower portion over time. If you decide to use tap water (instead of rainwater collected from outside or fresh bottled water), allow it to stand for at least 24hrs to eliminate the ionised chemicals and icy temperature. Under-watering symptoms include dry leaf-edges and slowed growth, which is usually the product of too much sunlight/heat or forgetfulness. Over-watering symptoms include root/stem rot and rapidly declining health. Remove the plant's pot and inspect the lower portion of root rot; if the disease is present, head over to this article to learn more.
Create a humidity tray to provide a moist and stable environment for your plant. If the surrounding saturation is too low or the heat too high, its foliage may start to brown over and curl, especially in direct sunlight. Hose the foliage down from time to time to hydrate the leaves and keep the dust levels down.
Feed every four waters during the growing period and every six in the autumn and winter, using a 'Houseplant' labelled fertiliser. Never apply a 'Ready to Use’ product into the soil without a pre-water first, as it may burn the roots and lead to yellowed leaves.
Common Issues with Dracaena
Yellowing lower leaves (closest to soil) are a clear sign of over-watering, usually caused by too little light. Although Dracaena can do well in darker locations, the frequency of irrigations must be reduced to counteract the chance of root rot. People don't realise that a plant's root system needs access to oxygen too; when soil is watered, the air will travel upwards and out of the potting mix. A lack of accessible oxygen for the roots will cause them to subsequently breakdown over the oncoming days.
Spider Mites are small, near-transparent critters, that'll slowly extract the chlorophyll from of its leaves. Have a check under the leaves, most notably along the midrib, for small webs and gritty yellow bumps. Click here to read our article about the eradicating Spider Mites, along with some extra tips that you may not find elsewhere!
A further pest to look out for is Whitefly. Although these small airborne critters shouldn't produce too much damage, an infestation must be destroyed quickly to reduce the chance of them spreading.
Too low humidity can cause browning tips with yellow halos on juvenile leaves. Although this won't kill your specimen, you may want to increase the local moisture to prevent the new growth from adopting these symptoms. Mist or rinse the foliage from time to time and create a humidity tray while the heaters are active to create a stable environment. The browning of leaf-tips on older leaves is wholly natural and is the product of extensive photosynthesis during its life.
Yellowing leaf-tips are the product of cold water or too much fluoride in the soil. This issue is caused by using tap water which hasn’t sat for 24hrs to alleviate the chemicals via evaporation. We’d recommend switching it for collected rainwater or fresh bottled water to improve its health, along with the reduction of its fluoride-count. The older leaves will always bear the scars of the past, but the new foliage should be as good as new within the next month.
Small, brown spots are typical traits of under-watering. Only allow half of the soil to dry out in summer, and liberally in winter - commonly caused by positions that are too bright or hot. If, however, the spots are deeper with yellow halos, it could be leaf-spot disease - often accompanied by a dark location and yellowing lower leaves. This disease is commonly caused by over-watering and could even kill the specimen over time.
When arranged in a 'trio' of different sizes, the death of the smaller trunk is a common issue among indoor gardeners - see image below. The obvious cause could be over-watering. If the soil has been rather heavy for a long time, consider relocating it to a drier, brighter environment with an inspection for root rot. In some cases, it may be to do with too little light and not enough water. As Dracaena tend to have smaller root systems (similar to the Yucca), their root systems won't penetrate the soil enough, thus leading to dehydration and death. If this has happened to you, be sure to remove the trunk once it fully dies off, as leaving it may cause a spread of disease over time. Fill the hole with a fresh batch of 'Houseplant' compost or gently resurface the soil to improve its appearance.
Failed stem cuttings are the product ofseveral reasons, with the first being the time of year. Dracaena are best propagated during the spring, with cuttings taken in the autumn or winter rooting much slower.
The second reason could be the cultivation environment - is there enough light to read a newspaper? If not, improve the growing conditions by increasing the amount of indirect light, avoiding the threat of excessive direct sunlight.
Moreover, the size of the cutting will play a big part in its success; smaller specimens (3cm in length or less) won't root appropriately due to the lower amounts of stored energy.
For those rooting via water, the water must also be replaced weekly to ensure nasty pathogens cannot breed and decay on the cuttings. If the bottom of the stem is brown and mushy, discard immediately as the rot will spread onto unaffected specimens.
Maintaining too dry soil or over-exposure to the sun will also prove unsuccessful for those that haven't acclimatised to the drier environment. Although water-logging must be avoided at all costs, be sure to maintain moist soil throughout the rooting development (the initial six months) to quicken the process of establishment. To escape falling in the trap of dehydration, wrap the cutting and its pot in a transparent bag for the first couple of weeks. As there'll be a poor root system to soak-up vital water, its leaves will be able to absorb the excess moisture trapped within the bag for hydration.
The genus, Dracaena, belongs to the Asparagaceae family that holds plants such as Hyacinths, Asparagus Ferns, Spider Plants, Sansevieria & Yuccas. The name derives from the Greek for a female dragon 'Drakaina', referring to the red sap and green foliage. Today, the largest specimen in the world known as El Drago Milenario ('1,000-Year-Old Dragon'), exists in northwest Tenerife at Icod de Los Vinos. Its age is believed to be between 300 and 410 years old with a 13m-wide canopy and a magnificent ornate trunk. Dragon Tree uses over the years include red hair-dying and colouring violins by the Stradivarius thanks to its resinous sap.
The species, Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia, was first described by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1786 and is often referred to D. marginata due to the simplicity of the name. Many cultivars have since been created and documented, including 'Magenta', 'Tarzan' & 'Tricolor', that bare foliar-structure similarity to one another, except for the variegations and colours.
12° - 32°C (54° - 90°F)
H1b (Hardiness Zone 12) - Can be grown outdoors during the summer in a sheltered location with temperatures above 12℃ (54℉), but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure any direct sunlight as it may result in sun-scorch and dehydration. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors.
Over 3m in height and 0.7m in width once they reach maturity. The ultimate height will take between 8 - 10 years to achieve, with around 12cm of new growth per season.
Pruning & Maintenance
Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean scissors or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.
Via Seed & Stem or Stub Cuttings.
Stem Cuttings (Easy)
- Hygiene is the most crucial element of successful propagation. The secateurs must be dirt-free with a fresh (or well stored) batch of compost. As you'll be cutting through vulnerable tissue, using uncleanly equipment will introduce harmful pathogens to the cutting and its mother plant.
- For stem cuttings, the best specimens are those located at the leading growths. You should aim for a semi-wooded base that's pencil-thick and still juvenile to slightly bend. Never use diseased or weakened growth, as this will likely fail to root. If, however, the cutting is littered in Pests - fear not. Remove all of the affected areas using your fingers, including the eggs, 'HQ' and any webs. Wholly submerge the cutting for at least two days to drown and kill the pests. Check the cubbyholes before placing it in soil; it's far easier to address a pest attack while the plant is mobile (i.e. without soil) than it would be in the soil. If the pests don't die after five days of full submersion, use an organic pesticide to help the eradication process, maintaining full water-submersion until the infestation is deemed destroyed.
- Make the best incision possible to prevent the development of disease and remove the bottom half of the leaves.
- Decide on rooting the cutting via water or soil. The first option tends to have better success, especially if you're a new-time propagator. For the prior method, remove any rotten debris and replace the water every week with lukewarm tap water to prevent shocking the plant. Although collected rainwater is acceptable, the risk of harboured diseases is too high, especially with an open wound. Once the roots surpass 3cm, you can safely pot it up.
- For both options, (water & soil) use an aerated soil that has a fluffy texture with some perlite, too. Never use a poorly stored bag of compost as it'll promote larvae or perennial seeds to arise. We would recommend using 'Houseplant Compost' as it has a great balance between being water-retentive, but still 'airy' enough to promote root growth. Use a 7cm pot that has adequate drainage holes.
- Place a 2cm layer of soil at the bottom of the pot, and then rest the cutting vertically in the middle. You may have the cutting for support.
- Fill the soil around its base, making sure that its bottom half is submerged and NOT the leaves.
- Never press or compact the soil; condensing it to support the cutting will push the oxygen above the soil line, suffocating the roots until they rot. If it needs support, introduce a cane or something that won't condense the soil when inserted!
- Place the potted cutting in a transparent bag or box. Because of the lack of roots, it'll start to lose stored water very quickly. A confided environment will lock-in the humidity and reduce the rate of respiration and transpiration considerably.
- You'll rarely have to water the soil due to the high humidity. If the soil compacts itself after the first irrigation, level it out by adding more compost.
- Open the bag every few days for fresh air. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist, but NOT soggy - if it looks saturated, leaves it. The surrounding humidity in the container will do its job by hydrating the leaves.
- Situate in a bright, indirect location away from any heat sources (i.e. radiators). Keep the temperature around 18℃ (64℉) as this is the optimum temperature for root development - you can even use a bottom-heat pad to speed-up the process. The roots will develop BEFORE the foliage, so bear that in mind if you're an impatient gardener. Safely remove the bag or box once new leaves emerge, as, at this point, there'll be a sufficient root system. Introduce a Pebble Tray to maintain a good level of atmospheric saturation and to reduce the severity of environmental shock
- Keep the soil moist and maintain a bright, indirect location away from direct sunlight and other heat sources. After around four months, transplant into a slightly bigger pot, keeping in mind transplant shock (where the root hairs are damaged or over-touched) and follow the care-tips provided above.
For stub cuttings (Moderate), cut the thinner stem into 10cm (4 inches) intervals, and place in moist soil, with the bottom end around 2cm (0.8 inches) deep - think of a pencil's width and diameter. If possible, use a well-draining potting mix like 'Houseplant' compost and place the stub cuttings into a small-holed transparent bag with continual soil moisture. Once a flurry of new leaves appears, remove the bag and treat like a typical plant. Avoid direct sunlight and temperatures below for best results.
Small, globular white or pink flowers are arranged along a thick flower shaft that'll appear horizontally towards the top half of the stem, lasting several weeks. It's highly unlikely that a domestically grown specimen will bloom indoors due to the unfavored growing conditions of too low humidity and consistent temperature levels throughout the year.
Repot every three years in the spring, using a 'Houseplant' labelled compost and the next sized pot with adequate drainage. If your specimen lives in a shady area of the home, you can use a 'Cactus & Succulent' labelled potting mix to increase drainage and reduce the risk of over-watering. Hydrate the plant 24hrs before tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. Add a thin layer of small grit in the pot's base and the lower portion of the new compost to improve drainage & downplay over-watering.
Pests & Diseases
Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mites, scale, thrips & whitefly that'll locate themselves in the cubbyholes and undersides of the leaves. Common diseases are root rot, leaf-spot disease, botrytis, powdery mildew & southern blight.
This plant is classified as poisonous. If parts of the plants are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur. Consumption of large quantities must be dealt with quickly - acquire medical assistance for further information.