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|
|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!
Dracaena marginata light and temperature
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.
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 soil and planting
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 physiology, 37(9), 1182-1197.