Dracaena Marginata is a tropical plant native to the lush jungles of Madagascar. It’s a popular indoor plant with a long, slender stem and lanceolate leaves. The margins of its spiky leaves are dark pinkish-red, giving the plant its nickname, Red Edged Dracaena, or Madagascar Dragon Tree.
Encouragingly, Dracaena Marginata is a hardy plant that is beginner-friendly. It needs medium to bright indirect light (North-facing windows are ideal), less frequent watering than many other houseplants (only when topsoil is dry), and ideal humidity >60%. They are sensitive to hard water and toxic to cats and dogs.
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Types of Dracaena Marginatas
The Dracaena family spans over 120 different species, and the Dragon Tree itself has several variants. The most popular of them are Dracaena Marginata Bicolor, Tricolor, Colorama, and Tarzan. All these types have distinct leaf shapes and colors.
Caring for your Dracaena Marginata
Dragon Trees prefer less intense light. Medium to bright but indirect natural light is ideal for their growth. Although the Dracaena Marginata can survive in poorly lit conditions, its foliage will lose its vibrance.
An ideal spot for your plant is next to a north-facing window that gets ample morning light.
Dragon Trees cannot withstand prolonged direct sunlight. Under harsh light, its leaves will turn yellow or brown.
How often to Water
Your Dracaena Marginata has dense root systems that allow it to absorb and retain moisture very efficiently. It also has a special fibrous trunk that acts like a water reserve. This makes the plant very drought-tolerant and able to withstand long dry spells.
As a result, it often needs less water than other plants. We water ours approximately once every 2 weeks, when the top 2 inches (5cm) of soil is dry. The exact frequency of watering depends on your climate and seasons, so it’s best to just check the topsoil for dampness before watering.
You’ll notice that watering frequency naturally reduces during winter months when growth slows.
Other Watering Tips
If you notice the leaves falling off or getting yellow or brown, you may be watering them too much or too little. Check if the soil is moist to the touch and adjust the watering frequency accordingly. Increase it if the soil is dry; stop watering if it’s damp.
Dracaena Marginata is also sensitive to hard water. If you notice yellow leaf edges and leaf drop, it may be due to high levels of fluoride and magnesium in your tap water. Opt for distilled or demineralized water instead.
Like many tropical plants, Dracaena Marginata thrives in warm, stable temperatures (60 – 75 degrees F or 15 – 24 degrees C).
During colder months, be careful if the ambient temperature drops below 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). Low temperatures cause the leaves to drop off. Also, avoid placing your plant under air vents or near cold drafts.
This plant is a slow-grower, but can grow up to 15 feet tall (4.6 meters) if grown outdoors! However, you can control its height by trimming off the main stem.
Though the Dragon Tree tolerates average room humidity, aim for >60% for best growth. Purchasing a humidifier is a good investment if you live in a dry climate. If you prefer to explore other methods, check out other ways to improve humidity at home.
Soil or Growing Medium
In its native environment, the Dracaena Marginata grows in rich, volcanic soil. However, it can grow well in just about any loose, organic media. The best potting medium for your Dragon Tree is one that is slightly acidic (pH 6-7), drains quickly, and is rich in organic matter.
We recommend a combination of 1/3 compost mixed with 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 perlite. Compost provides nutrients to the plant, while peat moss lowers the pH of the soil and perlite improves water drainage.
Your Dracaena Marginata should only be fertilized once or twice a year during spring or summer. That is because Dragon Trees grow slowly and will not need many nutrients. Utilize a urea-free liquid fertilizer diluted with water.
Do not over-fertilize your plant, as this can cause the leaves to turn yellow or brown.
Your Dragon Tree only requires repotting once every 2-3 years when its root system becomes overcrowded.
If you notice the roots starting to grow through the bottom of the pot, it’s time to transfer your Dracaena Marginata to a bigger pot. Choose a new pot that is about 2 inches (5cm) bigger to accommodate your growing Dragon Tree.
Unfortunately, according to the ASPCA, Dracaena Marginata is toxic to cats and dogs when ingested, but safe for humans. Consuming its leaves can cause these pets to experience nausea and vomiting due to the presence of saponin in its stems and leaves.
Propagating Dracaena Marginata through top cuttings is simple. Spring is the best time for propagation, as this is when growth conditions are ideal for your new plant to establish.
- Using clean shears, cut diagonally at a downward-sloping angle at the top of the stem, just below the leaf line. Ensure that the cutting contains at least 2 nodes.
- Save for 2 leaves at the top, snip off any extra foliage attached to the stem cutting.
- Leave the cutting to dry out for a day.
- Plant the cutting in fresh soil, with the cutting sitting about 1 inch (2.5cm) deep. Place it in a spot that gets plenty of indirect light.
- Wait a couple of weeks for the cutting to establish in its new home.
Dracaena Marginata is prone to infestation by mealybugs, spider mites, and scale. These pests feed on the sap of the plant and can weaken it. To control pests, apply a diluted neem oil solution on the infected areas and remove any damaged leaves.
Why do the leaves have brown tips?
Brown leaf tips commonly signal an underwatered plant. Check your Dracaena’s soil moisture levels with your fingers. Is it consistently dry? Adjust your watering practices accordingly.
If you are watering your plant consistently, another reason for brown tips could be a lack of humidity. Use a humidifier to boost humidity levels.
Why are the leaves yellow?
Overwatering may result in yellow leaves and a soft mushy stem. Ensure that you are i) watering only when the topsoil is dry, and ii) using a well-draining potting mix (see Soil section for details).
Yellow leaves may also indicate a spider mite infestation. To check, inspect the underside of the leaves for fine webbing… if you see this, use our guide on killing spider mites.
How do I encourage my Dracaena Marginata to flower?
Dracaena Marginata rarely flowers in indoor conditions.
To encourage flowering, ensure your plant gets sufficient sunlight. If the temperatures are warm year-round (>60 degrees F or 16 degrees C), planting your Dragon Tree outdoors increases the chances of flowering.
Be warned, either way you will need to be patient – these slow-growing plants can take 7-15 years to start flowering!
How do I encourage my Dracaena Marginata to branch?
Left to its own devices, your Dracaena Marginata prefers to grow tall instead of bushy, meaning it focuses its resources on growing upwards rather than sideways.
However, you can encourage branching if you trim the top of the plant. Do so with disinfected and sharp shears or cutting tools.
Why is my Dragon Tree losing its leaves?
It depends. Shedding bottom leaves are normal for a Dracaena Marginata — this is how they make way for new growth.
However, losing foliage throughout the plant can be a sign of overwatering. Ensure your soil is well-draining, and your pot has drainage holes.
Another reason is too-cold temperatures or drafts. Tropical plants like the Dracaena Marginata aren’t very fond of cold chills and may start shedding leaves if they experience a cold draft.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can my Dracaena Marginata survive outdoors?
Yes, it can survive outdoors if:
- It is above 60 degrees F (16 degrees C) year-round;
- You can find a spot with no direct light. Indirect light or partial shade is okay – remember, light outdoors is much more intense than indoors.
If you can’t meet these conditions, bring your Dracaena Marginata indoors during colder months.
How quickly do they grow?
Dracaena Marginata takes its own sweet time to mature. Although it can grow as tall as 6-7 feet (183-213 cm), it can take up to 10 years to reach this height.
What are the benefits of keeping a Dracaena Marginata?
According to a 1989 NASA study, a benefit of growing the Dracaena Marginata plant indoors is that it purifies the air around it. In particular, it removes small amounts of benzene and formaldehyde.
For the sake of transparency – the air-purifying aspect of these plants is arguably too small to notice a difference if you have just a few plants. We just think it’s a good excuse to buy more! 🙂
How can I make my Dragon Tree bushy?
The best way to encourage a bushy, compact appearance is to prune the main stem.
- First, clean your gardening shears by dipping it in rubbing alcohol.
- Using clean shears, cut in a downwards-sloping angle to your desired height. The downward-sloping angle allows water to run off the wound site, reducing the risk of infection.
- You can cut off 1/4 of the height of the tree, every spring, to maintain a bushy look.
Dracaenas are a genus of evergreen shrubs. They are usually drought-tolerant and have thickened stems.
- Draecaena Masoniana, the Whale Fin plant – an upright grower with mottled light and dark green foliage.
Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.