Care for Dracaena marginata | Dragon tree

If you love the look of indoor trees but are intimidated by the somewhat more challenging care requirements of rubber trees and fiddle leaf figs, why not consider Dracaena marginata instead? A mature Dracaena looks just like a tree with its tall stems and wispy growth on top but lacks that typical fussiness. Perfect for beginners!

Keep reading for everything you need to know about care for Dracaena marginata and growing one in your own home.

Name(s) (common, scientific) Dragon tree, Madagascar dragon tree, Dracaena marginata
Difficulty level Easy
Recommended lighting Bright indirect
Water When soil is 50% dry
Soil Well-draining, slightly acidic

Dracaena marginata natural habitat

Dracaena marginata plants are one of 120 species in the genus Dracaena. They are native to Madagascar (hence the common name ‘Madagascar dragon tree’) and Mauritius, where they grow in a shrubby fashion but can still get to many metres tall. These African islands are tropical and offer stable temperatures.

In these relatively harsh habitats, plants regularly have to deal with periods of both drought and flooding. Perhaps that’s what has made Dracaena marginata such a hardy houseplant!

Dragon tree houseplant (Dracaena marginata) in white planter on simple wooden chair.

Dracaena marginata light and temperature

Light

Dracaena marginata plants are popular in both residential homes and commercial buildings because they not only look sleek and modern but aren’t demanding when it comes to lighting.

As long as it has access to bright, indirect light from nearby windows, a dragon tree will do well. A Dracaena grown in a shadier spot will usually survive but it won’t grow much at all, with any new leaves looking pale. Variegation, if any was present, will disappear in new growth if things are too dark for a plant.

Temperature

Dracaena marginata plants are comfortable between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15 to 26 degrees Celsius), which is where most people are comfortable, too!

If your home is a bit on the drafty side, make sure your plants are placed somewhere nice and cozy to stay warm, as they don’t like temperature swings.

If you’re wondering about humidity, Dracaena marginata can handle things being on the dryer side. This is actually quite surprising because in the wild, these plants thrive in tropical places with up to 80% humidity. This might be why the species is pretty slow grower in our homes.

Did you know? It’s believed that the lack of moisture is why many plants never flower indoors. So, if you want to see those rare white flowers and good growth, you will need to up your Dracaena marginata care game by making a rainforest in your home!

Dracaena marginata houseplant in sunny room

Dracaena marginata soil and planting

Soil

Dracaena marginata likes loose, well-draining potting soil with a pH of 6-7, which is on the acidic side. Peat can help lower soil pH, although its sustainability as a natural resource is hotly debated.

So what would a good Dracaena soil mix look like? If you don’t mind using peat, you can take some normal houseplant potting soil and mix that with a handful or two of moss. Also add a handful of perlite and some bark chips for drainage.

For a soil-less mix, you could just mix the aforementioned three materials together in equal amounts.

Planting

These plants are slow growers that don’t mind being a bit root bound in smaller pots. It’s amazing to see how large a Dracaena marginata can grow despite being potted in a tiny planter! Just make sure the planter has a drainage hole in the bottom.

Even if your Dracaena marginata is happily chugging along and growing well, you’ll probably only need to repot every second or third year. Do make sure to loosen the soil on a regular basis to avoid it from clumping after a while and consider adding a fresh layer in spring.

Dracaena marginata houseplant photographed in shade with partial bright sunlight.

Watering Dracaena marginata

What makes Dracaena marginata care so easy is that you don’t need to rush to water your plants every day. Dracaena marginata likes ever so lightly moist soil but it doesn’t respond well at all to too much moisture.

The species is sensitive to cane rot due to overwatering. In fact, according to studies, it has specifically evolved to adapt to periods of drought (Plichta, Paschová, Nadezhdina & Gebauer, 2017).

Since these plants are so forgiving when it comes to watering, you don’t have to stress about teaching a neighbor how to care for Dracaena marginata for your weekend getaways! In fact, you may only need to water this specis every two weeks.

You’ll know it’s time for a drink when about the top half of the soil has gone dry. When this is the case, give the plant a good drink by letting the water run right through the planter.

Tip: remember that the amount of water a plant needs depends on how much light it’s getting. If you have your dragon tree in a more shaded spot, it can take up to three or four weeks to dry out during the winter months.

Dracaena marginata fertilizer

Dracaena marginata plants only need to be fertilized once or twice a year during the growing season (spring and summer).

You can use a general liquid fertilizer diluted with water. Or go the organic route: if you have a compost pile on your property, you can throw some compost over the top soil of your indoor plants for extra nutrients.

Dracaena marginata houseplants grown in mason jars on top of kitchen cabinets against white wall.
Propagating Dracaena marginata in water is super easy.

Propagating Dracaena marginata

One reason Dracaenas are so popular as houseplants is because these plants are so easy to propagate. If you want to make more plants for your own personal garden or gift them to friends and family, here are two methods:

  • Top cuttings. For top cuttings, you just need to cut off the top portions of your plants to make into new plants. When doing so, cut below the leaf line and include a leaf node or two. The bare leftover stem will eventually sprout new leafy tops.
  • Stem cuttings. Taking stem cuttings can be a bit more daunting than top cuttings since you’re taking much larger sections of the plants. With stem cuttings, you’ll want to cut your stems into 8-inch (or 20-cm) sections, making sure to include multiple nodes on each. This is the preferred method for many nurseries and retailers to grow more plants as quickly as possible.

Once you have your cuttings, whether top or stem, you can either plant the cuttings in moist soil or place them in containers filled with water. Both work absolutely fine and have a very high success rate.

When propagating Dracaena marginata cuttings in soil, you can use a rooting powder if you want, although it’s not necessary. When propagating in water, all you need to do is move the containers to a warm place that gets indirect sunlight.

For more info about multiplying a Dracaena houseplant, have a look at the guide to Dracaena propagation.

Dracaena marginata houseplant in sunny interior.

Problems with Dracaena marginata

When it comes to Dracaena marginata care, you’ll just have to keep an eye out for the usual problems that may affect indoor houseplants. These include but are not limited to:

  • Pests. Scale, mealybugs, and spider mites can take up residence in your plants. You can prevent many infestations by checking the leaves, especially the undersides, as part of your regular Dracaena marginata care routine.
  • Root rot. Overwatering Dracaena marginata plants is a common problem. When the plants are left to sit in soggy soil for too long, the canes may become soft and mushy, and the roots may rot away. As long as you let the soil dry out between waterings and ensure that the soil and planter offer good drainage, you can avoid this.

There are a couple of things to watch out for that are more unique to Dracaena marginata care:

  • Mineral buildup. Dracaenas are sensitive to mineral buildup in tap water, such as salt. If you notice the leaf tips looking ‘burnt’, buildup could be the culprit. The fluoride that’s often added to tap water can also be problematic, as is chlorine/chloramine.

    You can prevent mineral build-up and fluoride toxicity by switching to distilled or spring water. If your plant is already showing signs of mineral buildup, you can flush it out by watering with distilled water and letting it run completely through the soil several times.
  • Leaf drop. You may find yellow leaves at the base of your plants, but don’t worry! This is often completely natural because of how Dracaena marginata plants grow. However, if you start to find an alarming number of leaves on the floor, especially if they are dropping from the top, you may be under- or overwatering.
Close-up of variegated Dracaena marginata houseplant.

Buying Dracaena marginata

Dracaena marginata care is exciting because there are several cultivars and forms available. Some of the more popular varieties include ‘Tricolor’, ‘Bicolor’, and ‘Tarzan’. I think my favorite has to be Dracaena marginata ‘Colorama’, which features reddish-pink leaves that only show a hint of green rather than the other way round.

Your basic Dracaena marginata or even some cultivars like the popular ‘Tricolor’ can probably be found at most local stores. If you’d like more different options, you can buy a dragon tree online.

Is Dracaena marginata toxic to cats and dogs?

Dracaena marginata is considered toxic to cats and dogs. Signs of poisoning include excessive salivating, increased heart rate, bloody vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss. If cats are poisoned, you may also see dilated pupils.

Interestingly, this plant is not toxic to humans. Although no one should go around chewing on Dracaena bits either, ingestion doesn’t lead to any issues unless the individual happens to be allergic to the plant.


If you have any questions about Dracaena marginata care or if you want to share your own experiences with this perfect beginner plant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Jupa, R., Plichta, R., Paschová, Z., Nadezhdina, N., & Gebauer, R. (2017). Mechanisms underlying the long-term survival of the monocot Dracaena marginata under drought conditions. Tree physiology37(9), 1182-1197.

24 thoughts on “Care for Dracaena marginata | Dragon tree”

  1. I have a drac marginata and because it seemed to take long to grow, I thought I would put it outside to get more sun. I left it out at night by mistake and it damaged it. It’s stems are firm, however most of all the leaves have fallen off. I brought it back inside. What do I need to do now to revive it? Please advise.

    Reply
    • Hey! Sorry to hear you’ve had such bad luck. There isn’t anything specific you can do to revive your plant I’m afraid; just be sure to follow the instructions in this care guide in order to provide the best possible care and keep your fingers crossed. Hope it pulls through!

      Reply
  2. Hello I live in the way outskirts of Houston Texas and I have the red type of dracena and it has always been outside where it gets full sun half the day and it’s always did fine. I always bring it in if it’s gonna freeze but for the most part it stays outside I bought it for my husband about 19 years ago and he put it in the patio in full sun and it didn’t die lol. Anyway this year when I brought it in at the first freeze I have kept it inside and it looks to be doing fine it has bright indirect light. But I was wondering do you think it could adapt to being kept inside after being outside for so long. It’s about 3 ft. Talk. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hey! Yes, I think your plant should be able to adapt fine to being indoors. Where I am, many plants in garden centers and nurseries are grown pretty much outdoors, and those do fine as well when you buy them and move them into your home 🙂 Enjoy!

      Reply
  3. Our dracaena has a very long stem and leaves at the top. Can the stem somehow be cut and the top leafy part be rooted some how?

    Reply
  4. my Dracaena marginata has dropped all its leaves on the lower of the two stems and the top of the lower stem is also mushy.

    the higher stem has a problem as well and all the leaves have a brown colour to the edges of all the leaves. I’ve only had the plant a couple of weeks in the new house.

    any help on how to save the plant?

    Reply
    • Hey! Sorry you’re having trouble with your plant, it sounds like it’s been overwatered. Possibly at the greenhouse or shop before you got it. I think you’ll have to follow the instructions in the Dracaena care guide to propagate any parts of the plant that haven’t been affected by rot. Sounds like you’ll have to do stem-only propagation for the lower stem if the top on that is affected. For the other, you’ll want to check the root status to see if they’re rotting and decide what you should do with it. I hope that all makes sense. Good luck!

      Reply
  5. I have been told this is what my plant is. Recently, two of the stalks in my planter lost all of the leaves and the top of the stalk is soft. Is there any saving it?

    Reply
    • Oh no, sorry to hear your plant isn’t doing well! Is it only the top of the stalk that’s soft? If the rest is fine, your best bet is to behead it, cut off all affected parts. Place it in a nice and light spot and be sure not to water too much, as it doesn’t need that much moisture if it doesn’t have leaves and overwatering is likely what caused this issue in the first place. If the rest of the plant is not affected, it will sprout new heads eventually. This being said, I do recommend checking under the soil as well, as in cases like this I’m afraid the roots do often tend to be affected too. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. hi,

    i have this plant, 2 actually, however one of them is having some white cottony fungus alike substance growing on its leaves, and it’s increasing, causing leaf falling as well,
    what is this? and what should i do?

    please help,

    Reply
  7. Hi, i’ve had this plant for 3-4 years now. It’s growing well i think, producing many full leaves on top. But the main body/stem didn’t get much longer. The proportions of the plant are different in many photos, long stem with leaves on tips. Mine is almost leaves only and they fully cover the short stem. What am i doing wrong? Thanx!

    Reply
    • Hey! That doesn’t sound like you’re doing anything wrong. Dracaenas aren’t the fastest plants out there. They don’t drop those bottom leaves until they cease to be useful. If you’re seeing plenty of leaves, you’re all good!

      Reply
  8. I have a braided marginata for about a month and leaves from the middle down look like they’re drying out. Am I watering it too much and if so should i take it out of the pot and put fresh soil in? thanks for your help

    Reply
    • Hey! It’s very difficult to tell you without knowing more about your plant and where it grows. Are the leaves drying entirely or is it just the tips? And what makes you think you might have overwatered?

      Reply
      • the leaves are drying from the tips back entirely i have solar lights which is natural light but no sun which i think is idea for plants i think i read somewhere that the plant should be dry before watering and I’ve been watering when the first inch or so is dry help

        Reply
        • Strong enough artificial lights should be perfectly fine, yes. I’d maybe wait slightly longer before watering and also flush the soil with distilled water and aerate it with a chopstick just in case. If that doesn’t solve the issue, you might have to take it out of its planter to see if the roots are okay. Good luck!

          Reply
  9. I have this plant under cover on my screened patio in central Florida but it has about outgrown our space. Can I safely move the potted plan to a place on the screened patio where it will get partial sun and rainwater? What about planting it in a fully shaded area on the north side of our house? I have had it in a mostly sunny area on the patio before and it didn’t do well.

    And BTW, you are correct. These are very forgiving plants to grow!

    Reply

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