Dracaena marginata, a striking tall house plant

Dracaena marginata, often thought to be a palm tree, is a truly magnificent indoor plant.

Key Dracaena marginata facts

Name – Dracaena marginata (horticulture)
Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia (scientific classification)
Family – Agavoideae (formerly Agavaceae)

Type – indoor plant
Height – 3 to 6 ½ feet (1 to 2 meters)
Exposure – very well-lit, or even full sun

Soil – soil mix
Foliage – evergreen

Here is advice on caring for your Dracaena marginata.

Growing Dracaena marginata

Potted dracaena marginata

Growing Dracaena marginata in a pot requires good soil mix that can be amended with â…“ compost, if you’ve got some at hand.

In order to enhance drainage, pour clay pebbles or small stones into the pot to form a layer at the bottom.
This will help ensure roots won’t wallow in water, which could be fatal to it.

  • Set your Dracaena marginata up in a fair-sized pot filled with special indoor plant or green plant soil mix.
  • It may be necessary to repot it in spring every 2 or 3 years.
  • When not repotting then go for regular topdressing. This should perfectly answer growing needs of the plant.

Outdoor dracaena marginata

Growing dracaena marginata outdoors is only possible in warm climates because this plant can’t stand the cold.

  • Generally speaking, dracaena marginata is intolerant to the cold and will only grow outside in places where the temperature never drops below 63 to 65°F (17 to 18°C), even in winter.

Just as is practiced for plants in pots, feel free to place a bed of gravel, small stones or clay pebbles to drain the water better.

  • Atop this layer, you’ll be using a potting blend of soil mix, garden soil and sand.

Exposure for Dracaena marginata

Beautiful Dracaena marginata with blue sky.Under temperate climates, Dracaena marginata adapts well to living indoors in our apartments and homes.
It grows best when surrounding temperatures hold at around 70 to 72°F (20 to 22°C) and requires very good light, even direct sunlight. In tropical climates, Dracaena marginata can grow very large!

  • Select a place for it near a window facing to the South or West in the Northern hemisphere, and North or West if you live in the Southern hemisphere.
  • This ensures it would bathe in a good deal of both indirect light and sunlight.

If you live in a house that is quite dark, avoid dracaena because it won’t cope with the low luminosity.

If you live in tropical climates, closer to the equator, Dracaena marginata will thrive outdoors with little or even no care.

Dracaena marginata watering

All year long, mist water on the leaves, preferably soft water.

Dracaena marginata watering in spring and summer

This is usually the time of the year when Dracaena marginata grows most.
Water regularly while letting the soil mix dry in the surface before watering again.

Watering must be regular but limited, in order to not suffocate the plant’s roots.
Every 5 to 7 days is largely sufficient.

More or less every two weeks during the growth phase (spring-summer-early fall), you can offer it liquid fertilizer, taking great care to moisten the soil mix beforehand.

Dracaena marginata watering in fall and winter

Start reducing the watering because the plant’s water needs start decreasing.
Only when the soil is dry down to the first inch or so (a couple centimeters), water to moisten the entire soil mix clump again.

Again, one might contend that watering one or 2 times a month is enough.
But this also depends on where your dracaena is placed: if it is in full sun, its needs will surely be higher.

  • This season is also when to stop adding fertilizer, from October all the way to March and April.

Watering mistakes to avoid

  • Overwatering – Dracaena yellow leaves are the consequence of overwatering.
  • Underwatering – Drying stems and dropping leaves result from underwatering.

Multiplying and propagating your Dracaena marginata with cuttings

As time passes, your Dracaena marginata will grow tall and spindly. You can easily give it renewed youth and make it branch out. In the process, you’ll even be able to create a second specimen! All you have to do is:

  • cut the leafy tip off the stem. Don’t cut too high: include at least one or two nodes in the dracaena marginata cutting.
  • a node is the swollen bump that forms rings at regular intervals along the stem.
  • place the cutting in a stout vase or glass of water. The nodes must be immersed.
  • roots will sprout from the nodes within a few weeks (months if in winter).
  • transplant your new dracaena marginata to a pot when the roots are about an inch (2.5 cm) long.

Keep the older specimen as is: it will start sprouting leaves at nodes that are located towards the tip, just like its waterbound counterpart will be sprouting roots!

Learn more about Dracaena marginata

Leaf of the dracaena marginata with droplets.Although some varieties look very similar to them, Dracaena marginata isn’t a palm tree. It’s in a houseplant category that’s called “false palm”, which looks similar to real palms like the Areca palm or the saw palmetto.

But the similarity is confusing and the care it needs is often close to that of a palm tree.

All in one aesthetic, resilient and very easy to grow, this is one of the most appreciated and purchased indoor plants the world over.

Its foliage is particularly elegant and unique, and its shape and bearing brings a touch of exotic life to a living room, dining area, or any other room of the house that is well-lit.

  • The lifespan of a dracaena can be long, provided it isn’t infected with the diseases that sometimes impact these trees.
  • When grown in containers or pots, it can last years, even up to a decade, if properly repotted, topdressed and cared for.

Proper name for Dracaena marginata

Like the florist’s Arum and other plants, Dracaena marginata has a troubled name history. The scientific name for the dragon plant is Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia.  However, in horticulture and in garden stores, the simpler name “Dracaena marginata” was used. Originally, Dracaena marginata Lam. was the name associated to the plant, “Lam” being short for “Lamoureux“. Charles Lamoureux was one of the first to describe the plant.

Seeing the “reflexa” in the classification name shows how close a relative dracaena marginata is to the famed “Song of India”.

The Dracaena genus is extensive and many cousins of Dracaena marginata are also grown as houseplants, like the Dracaena massangeana.

Dracaena marginata varieties

Occasionally Dracaena marginata will go to seed and new hybrids will appear. Mutations also may appear in cells that grow into a branch with new characteristics. From these, dracaena cuttings can be prepared and this leads to a new type of Dracaena marginata.

Here are a few of the dracaena marginata varieties

  • Plain Dracaena marginata – this is the regular ‘type variety‘ against which other varieties are compared
  • Dracaena marginata ‘colorama’
  • Dracaena marginata ‘tricolor’
  • Dracaena marginata ‘tarzan’ – this cultivar has a plant patent on it.
  • Dracaena marginata ‘bicolor’
  • Dracaena marginata ‘magenta’

Dracaena marginata diseases & parasites

Falling or withering leaves on Dracaena marginata

This is undoubtedly due to lack of light or excess water.

  • Find a more exposed location for it and reduce watering to match our recommendations above.
  • In case you’ve forgotten to water your plant altogether, the Dracaena marginata drought reaction is to shed its lower leaves.

Dracaena marginata loses its leaves

This is what happens when the dracaena is too cold.

  • Find a more appropriate location for it, it requires minimum temperatures of 65-66°F (18-19°C) and ideally 70 to 72°F (20 to 22°C).

Dracaena marginata leaves turn yellow

If the plant continues to produce new leaves, this is part of your dracaena’s natural cycle. All plants, even evergreen trees, lose their leaves to renew them. The yellowing shows that nutrients are being pulled back into the tree before the leaf detaches and falls.

  • However, if no new shoots appear and your dracaena looks a bit sad, it might have fallen victim to red spider mites due to an excessively dry atmosphere.
    If so, you must treat the plant with an insecticide.

If more than just one or two leaves are turning yellow and drooping over, you might want to check if you’re not overwatering the dracaena.

White velvety spots appear, leaves turn pale and lose their colors

Dracaena marginata with background of ethnic African objects.This is surely due to an onslaught of scale insects.

  • You can eliminate scale insects with a rag dipped in methylated spirits, carefully rinsing the leaves with water afterwards.
  • Other strong spirits or alcohols also work, like vodka, gin or rhum.
  • If there are only a few bugs, use a cotton bud to pinpoint the pests without dousing the whole plant.
  • Read the tips you need to fight mealybugs

Dracaena marginata leaves turn pale without any pests

Leaves are pale but still feel firm. Lack of light usually is the cause of this.

  • Transfer your Dracaena marginata to a window facing full sun, or at least a well-lit room.

Dracaena marginata leaves has brown spots

Too much sun or dry air can lead to leaves showing signs of water stress.

  • Check if the plant has been watered recently
  • Follow watering recommendations listed above

If necessary, place the pot of the dracaena on a tray filled with clay pebbles or gravel. Douse the gravel or clay with water. Evaporation will create an atmosphere of higher moisture around the plant. Ensure the pot itself doesn’t sit in water, but rests above it.

Dracaena marginata brown tips

If you water your dragon plant with tap water, sometimes excessive fluoride may disturb the plant’s normal functions.

  • Fluoride causes necrosis and discoloration and inhibits leaf growth
  • Use rainwater to water your plant

Smart tip about Dracaena marginata, the dragon plant

When propagating your plant, you can actually prepare several cuttings at a time!

Simply chop the stem into as many one foot (25 cm) pieces as you can. Carefully mark which end goes up.

Place stems in a separate glass of water and you’ll see roots and leaves sprout for each cutting!

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Dracaena marginata leaf crown by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Droplets on Dracaena marginata by Katy Warner under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Dracaena marginata outdoors by Glenn Brown under © CC BY-NC 2.0
D. marginata at home by Flower Council Holland / the joy of plants