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Indoor Gardening With Foliage Plants - Dracaena

Dracaena Madagascar Dragon Tree, Red-edged Dracaena (D. marginata)

The Dracaena family of plants are highly regarded for their striking foliage, usually variegated. While some of its many varieties come from tropical Africa or Guinea, D. marginata, commonly called Madagascar Dragon Tree or Red-edged Dracaena, originated in Madagascar. This plant is becoming increasingly popular as a specimen plant, providing an exotic, strikingly attractive focal point for a garden room, foyer, living room, or hallway.


There are a number of different types of Dracaena. Many are naturally erect, single stemmed shrubs; some are low-growing, many stemmed, and spreading; and some grow into tall trees. Many mature dracaenas are called False Palms: the leafless woody trunk and crown of leaves giving the plant a palm-like appearance. The canes can be grown straight to produce a tall plant with a compact form or trained to curve, creating unique character plants. Several canes are generally planted in each pot, often of varying lengths to produce a more interesting specimen.

Dracaena marginata can grow to 10 feet (3 m) in height, supported by a long, slender truck or ‘cane.’ The sturdy greyish trunk is usually bare stemmed with narrow, lance-shaped, arching leaves borne on the top of the stems. Leaves are usually colored dark green, 2 feet (60 cm) long and ˝ inch (1.2 cm) wide with thin purple margins. Some varieties have a lighter green color or red ‘stripes’ down the center.

D. marginata’s foliage is a near vertical to horizontal mass of narrow pointed green leaves with red to purple stripes along the outer edge. The mature leaves on the bottom turn yellow when new leaves emerge from the top, leaving attractive triangular scars as they drop away. A splendid variegated form of D. marginata is available and sold under the named D.m. ‘Tricolor.’ The plant has leaves striped with pink, cream, and green and is no harder to grow than the type plant.

D. marginata is one of the best plants for cleaning toxins from the indoor environment particularly xylene and formaldehyde. (For more information about the best plants that eat toxins, see Article.Plants_that_Clean_the_Air and Chapter 9, Creating An Indoor Garden, pages 95 – 96, in my book The Healing Garden: A Place Of Peace.)

Proper Care

Light Close to an east or west window is ideal for dracaenas. They like bright light but should not be placed in direct sunlight. The best position is one that gets two or three hours a day of sunlight filtered through a translucent blind or curtain. Outdoors D. marginata should be placed in a shaded area as direct sunlight will damage the leaves.

Temperature Dracaenas do well in normally warm temperatures. They like high humidity, so place plants on trays or saucers of moist pebbles or damp peat moss and occasionally mist-spray the foliage.

Watering Water plentifully during the active growth period to keep the soil moist at all times. Never allow the pot to stand in water. During the rest period, allow the top 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the potting mixture to dry out between watering.

Propagation Propagate dracaena by taking tip or stem cuttings or basal shoots in spring or summer. Cuttings should be young and 3 – 6 inches (7 – 15 cm) long. When planting make sure the cuttings are placed the same way up as the stem originally grew. Place each cutting or shoot in a pot of slightly moistened soil and close in a plastic bag and keep in a warm, partially shaded area until rooted. Do not water while the cutting is in the plastic bag. After rooting has occurred, water the plant moderately, allowing the top half-inch (1.2 cm) to dry-out between watering. Re-pot into one size larger when roots appear on the surface of the mixture, and treat as a mature dracaena. Dracaena is a terrific plant for bonsai as it is very easy to wire and shape.

Potting/re-potting Dracaenas do not require frequent re-potting to sustain growth.

Feeding Feed with standard liquid fertilizer regularly except in the fall and winter.

Special Problems

Leaves with brown tips and yellow edges. The most likely cause is dry air, cold draughts, or underwatering.

Leaves with brown spots. Underwatering. Keep dracaenas moist at all times.

As with all plants, Dracaena plants tend to become dusty overtime. Spray leaves with water or wash leaves gently with a damp cloth. When sponging off leaves of the larger plants, use one hand to support each leaf so as not to put too much strain on the stalk.

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