If your Dracaena marginata plant seems to be dying, don’t worry, we have all the knowledge you need to revive your plant and get it thriving again. Some common problems with Dracaena marginata are browning leaf tips, brown or yellow soft leaves, and yellowing lower leaves.
You can solve all this and more by following our Dracaena marginata care guide!
What is Dracaena Marginata?
Dracaena marginata, also known as the dragon tree or Madagascar dragon tree, is found in the forests of Madagascar. These plants are well-loved in the houseplant community for being easy to care for and drought tolerant.
They make incredible statement pieces in homes reaching a max size of about 6 feet when kept inside, and 20 feet outside. This makes them a great plant to keep outside in grow zones 10-11, or outside in the summer in other zones and inside in the winter.
If you are looking for a good plant to clean the air in your home or office, dragon trees were used in the NASA clean air study and were well ranked for removing toxins such as formaldehyde from the air.
If you have pets, you may want to skip these popular plants as they are extremely toxic when ingested by animals like cats and dogs.
Caring for Dracaena Marginata
The care of the dragon tree is relatively easy, and if you don’t have pets, they can be great starter plants for the beginner plant keeper. Occasional watering, bright indirect light, and warm temperatures are really all this statement plant needs to thrive.
Temperature and Humidity
Dracaena marginata prefers warm temperatures around 70-80 degrees, but they can tolerate cooler temperatures at night. If your plant is getting too cold it will let you know and you may start to notice its leaves getting soft or turning brown.
Keep your Dracaena marginata away from drafty areas in your house as well as heating and cooling vents, as drastic temperature changes can shock even the hardiest plants.
Normal household humidity is fine for these plants as they are native to a low humidity region in Madagascar. If you use a humidifier for other plants in your house or if part of your house is humid, try to place your Dracaena marginata somewhere it will stay dry.
These plants thrive when they get four or more hours of bright indirect light a day. Placing them a few feet from a south or east facing window will keep them looking happy and healthy. Avoid direct sunlight as it can cause burns to the leaves and stress to the plant.
If you are worried you don’t have enough light in your home to keep your plant happy, using a grow light can be a great option. Grow lights can be purchased at most big box stores as well as specialty plant stores and online. There is a wide variety of grow lights on the market, but even the cheapest ones are very effective at keeping plants happy.
In my house, I use a variety of grow lights from inexpensive bulbs to T-bars. I use my inexpensive grow bulbs in decorative lamps to highlight larger statement plants and I use T-bars above my terrarium plants and in my grow room. Both would work well for dragon trees, so it’s really up to your aesthetic which you choose.
Dracaena marginata is a drought-tolerant plant that comes from a dry desert-like environment. Keep this in mind when watering and be careful you don’t water your plant to death.
Signs of overwatering in these plants are very similar to the symptoms they show when they are too cold. If your plant has browning soft leaves, it’s likely it is either too cold, overwatered, not getting enough light, or all three.
The ideal time to water your Dracaena marginata is when its soil is dry about halfway through the pot. You can check this by pressing your finger a few inches into the soil or by getting a soil moisture meter. I personally prefer to just test the soil with my finger, but what works for me may not be ideal for you and the soil meter does take some of the guesswork out of plant care.
When watering it’s important to keep in mind that it’s much easier to overwater these plants than to underwater them. The ideal watering schedule is once every one to two weeks, but this is affected by the environment in which your plant is growing. Adjust according to your plant and what you think it needs.
When you water, you will want to either collect your own rainwater or use distilled bottled water. These plants are very sensitive to heavy metals and fluoride in tap water and can start to have issues if exposed to them for long periods of time. Symptoms your plant doesn’t like its water are brown crispy leaf tips.
To water, simply pour your rain or distilled water on your plant until excess water begins to come out of the drainage hole. Discard the water that drains out and you are good to go for another week or so.
Since these plants are used to periods of drought followed by periods of heavy rainfall it’s important they have loamy well-draining soil when kept in pots. I recommend mixing your own soil at 1 part potting soil to 2 parts perlite. You can also do 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part loam.
My preferred brand of potting soil is FoxFarms Ocean Forest, but there are lots of great brands on the market, play around with them until you find your favorite.
Dracaena marginata is slow-growing, which means it only needs to be repotted every few years or when you notice its soil is compacted.
You will know if your soil is compacted if you see it pulling away from the edge of the pot toward your plant.
When you repot these plants you want to choose a pot that is slightly bigger than your current pot. Draecena marginata prefers to be somewhat root bound, so you don’t want to give them a pot that is too large.
Gently remove your plant from its pot. You may need help if your plant is over a few feet tall. Keep an eye on where the soil naturally falls on your plant as that is where you will want the soil line to be in the new pot.
Fill your pot partially with your soil mix and place your plant inside, fill the rest of the way to the soil line, and gently pat down. Wait a day or two to water and then resume your normal watering schedule.
Dragon trees appreciate a gentle fertilizer during their growing season in spring and summer. Since they are slow-growing they can’t absorb too many nutrients, so a 10-10-10 fertilizer at quarter strength once a month is ideal. Don’t fertilize in the fall or winter.
It’s tempting if you want a larger plant to over-fertilize, but this won’t cause your plant to grow any faster and can actually burn its roots. Symptoms of over-fertilization and root burn are similar to overwatering. Brown or yellow leaves and soil that stays wet longer than it should.
If you want your Dracaena marginata to maintain a certain shape, you can accomplish this through pruning. The best time to prune your plant is in the spring, but any time of the year is fine. These plants do grow quite slowly, so don’t worry if you prune and then don’t see new growth for a while.
Propagating Dracaena marginata can be a daunting task, but it really is easier than it sounds.
There are two main methods of propagation. The first is top cuttings, to do this, you will cut the top of your dragon tree off several inches below the leaves. Place the cut end into water and change the water weekly. It should only take a few weeks for you to start seeing root growth and then you can move it to soil.
If you don’t want to use water, you can also dab the cut end of your plant into root hormone and then place it in soil. The cutting will usually root a little slower in the soil, but it’s also a bit more foolproof than water.
The second method of propagation is very similar to the first, but instead of taking a few inches of the plant, you will cut off basically the entire thing 8 inches at a time. Place the bottoms in water or soil as above and wait for them to start growing roots.
While both of these methods will mean your parent plant will no longer have leaves, it should bounce back fine and will regrow in time. Reduce watering until your plant’s leaves begin to grow back.
Common Issues and How to Fix Them
Brown leaf tips
If your plant has developed brown leaf tips this is likely due to toxins in your water or too much sunlight. Switch to distilled or rainwater if you aren’t using this already. If water isn’t the problem, try moving your plant a bit further from its light source.
Brown mushy leaves
This is most often a sign of overwatering. Check your soil and if it is completely waterlogged you will want to repot your plant. While repotting, check for signs of root rot, which are brown mushy roots. If you see root rot, simply remove the rotten roots and replant as normal.
This can also be a sign your plant is getting too cold. Check the temperature where you are keeping the plant. If it is below 70 or in a drafty area, move it somewhere more sheltered and warm.
Another reason for brown mushy leaves could be a lack of light. If your plant isn’t getting enough light it can lead to overwatering. Plants absorb water as they photosynthesize, so if your plant isn’t getting enough light it won’t absorb enough water. Try moving it to an area that has more light, or use a grow bulb to encourage growth.
Yellow or yellowing leaves
If the leaves on your dracaena plant seem to be turning yellow it could be that your plant is dehydrated and isn’t getting enough water. Check the soil. If it is dry, try watering more frequently. If it is compacted, water may not be reaching the roots. To fix compacted soil, you will need to repot your plant.
To prevent pests, I recommend using Leaf Armor. This spray will help keep your plant’s leaves safe from the bugs they are prone to, which are spider mites and mealybugs.
If you see these bugs on your plant, you will want to remove as many as you can with a lint roller, then use an insecticidal spray once a week until they are gone. Be sure to isolate your plant at the first sign of bugs or they could infect your other plants.
If you are petless or have an area in your home or office that is pet-free, Dracaena marginata could be the perfect plant for you! These plants are drought-tolerant, slow-growing, and low maintenance enough for even the blackest thumbed plant lover.