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How To Care For A Dracaeana Marginata

Dracanea Marginata care

I was an interior plantscaper many years ago – yes, I maintained plants in offices, lobbies, hotels and the likes.  I saw and took care of my share of Dracaena marginatas. This plant, also known as Madagascar Dragon Tree, was favored by people who wanted an Asian, modern or architectural feel. As a floor plant, this one grows with a lot of cane (or trunk) and you can find it in many interesting forms.  Dracaeana marginatas are as easy as can be to care for if follow the points below.

Dracaena marginata care

this is a candelabra marginata

I wrote another book, Keep Your Houseplants Alive, and this one is on houseplant care.  It’s guide written in very simple terms with lots of tips and pictures. I guess this post a little warm up to that. Like all Dracaenas, this is a very easy care plant.  The majority of interior plants are replaced because of two reasons. The first one is they are put in the wrong place and the is that they are overwatered. Head’s up – this is what you need to pay attention to:

Dracaena Marginata Care

Light:  They like nice bright light but no direct, hot sun.  On the other hand, keep it out of low light areas – no dark corners please.

Watering:   Water when the top 2-3” of the soil is dry. I water mine every 2 weeks maybe a little more often if it’s really warm.  Water less in the winter. These plants grow much slower in the cooler, darker months and need a little rest time.  The tips of this plant will brown if you have salts and/or flourides in your water. The salts will settle to the bottom if you fill your pitcher or watering can and let it sit for a day or two.  The flourides won’t settle nor will they evaporate.  You need to use distilled water for houseplants if these two are a problem.  

Fertilizing:  Houseplants appreciate a little food once or twice a year. People over fertilize their plants which is worse that not doing it all.  I would recommend Organics Rx Indoor Plant Food or Superthrive (this is not certified organic but it’s natural).  Be sure to sure them at the recommended strength because if you up the ante, you’ll burn the poor babies.

Pests:  Yep, your marginata will get spider mite and/or mealy bug at some point.  For the spider mite, use a spray with a few drops of mild dish soap in water.  You can use insecticidal soap for a bad infestation. Be sure to get the undersides of the leaves too because that’s where these critters hang out. You can use alcohol diluted by half with water dipped on a q-tip for the mealy or spray if your plant is larger. Be sure to get deep inside the nodes.  If the infestation is not too bad, then a strong but gentle spraying off of the plant should do the trick. Any of these treatments need to be done at 7-10 days intervals for 4 weeks. Sorry, 1 treatment won’t knock them out.

Pruning/Cleaning:  You can cut off the brown tips if you’d like. These plants are native to the humid tropics and tipping occurs because our homes are dry. Be sure your scissors are sharp otherwise the leaves will tear.  The bottom leaves will yellow and die. That’s normal – it’s how the plant grows.  Spray the leaves with water or take it to the sink, tub or outside to hose it down.  It likes humidity and will love you for doing this.

Dracaena marginata care

By the way, kitties love to chomp on these tender, crispy leaves. This is my Oscar who is 14 years old and naps all day but gets the energy to gnaw away on this plant any chance he gets.  The plant has been moved to safer grounds high atop a bookshelf where he stares at it daily with longing.  Sorry Oscar.

This architectural, sculptural plant is a great addition to any home environment.  Oh … be sure to keep an eye out for my houseplant book. It’s going to be a no nonsense guide to keeping 23 of the most reliable interior plants alive and kickin’.  Confessions of an interiorscaper!

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18 comments:

  1. This is a stunning looking plant! I have never heard of a Dracaeana Marginata before, but I have been looking for something to suit my modern dining table. By the looks of it I should be able to keep it small enough to be an attractive centre piece. Thanks for the run down!

  2. It would suite your modern dining table so well. It comes in all sizes & forms so you could find one that suits you. I’m working on a book about houseplants right now so keep a head’s up for that!

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  4. Awesome tips, I have a dragon tree that looks fine but not perfect. After reading your post I guess I must feed it as I never did that before.

  5. Thanks Elena. Be sure to not over fertilize your dragon tree. Once or twice a year is plenty. That’s one of the plants in our newly published book “Keep Your Houseplants Alive”, so you should check it out on amazon. It’s got lots of tips on houseplant care.

  6. Thanks for the very informative blog post, I was wondering if you had any tips for me as we made a mistake and left the plant outside for a couple of days and it looks a bit worse for wear. Would you also recommend the best place to keep it in a room?
    Thanks a lot for your help 🙂

  7. Hi Zak – You’re most welcome. If you left your marginata in the sun it may have burned or if it was freezing, it could have gotten cold damage. Marginatas like nice bright light but no direct, hot sun. In a north or east window is fine. If you have a south or west exposure, then near the window but not in it. Hope that helps, Nell

  8. Your candelabra D. marginata is exquisite! Is it possible to get mine to branch or does one have to buy it that way? I’ve had success with propagating rubber plants and “pruning” a Scheflera, so I’m willing to experiment.
    One other question… I have a tree in my sunroom that’s gotten over 10 feet high; it grows only from the top. I thought it was a palm, but might it be a tarzan tree Dracaena? Could i get it to branch or is air-layering the only way to get it under control?
    Thanks for your great site!

  9. Thank you Pat! I bought my candelabra in that from a grower. They’re hard as the dickens to train so it’s best to buy it that way. It could be a graft or the small “knobs” could be where the cuts sealed over. They’re quite striking as they get taller. Tarzan tree dracaenas really don’t look like palms to me – just bushy, fuller marginata with bigger heads & more foliage. So, I can’t advise you on that one unless you send a pic. nell@joyusgarden.com Hope that helps! Nell

  10. I love your blog! I have watched your videos before on youtube, and now I’m gonna read the blog. I have a few dracaena marginatas.. One of them has a white mould coming from the bottom of the clay pot its in. It actually looks like roots, but its definitely not. Do you have any idea what it could be? Thanks for all the advice on this page, I have successfully propagated a few baby dracaenas, and I am going to try again next summer with your method, mentioned in another blog post. Also, do you have any tips on good garden centers? I live not too far south of you in San Diego. I am looking for somewhere that has an excellent range of pot sizes for careful up-potting! Thanks again for sharing your plant knowledge, I look forward to reading more of your blog!

  11. Thanks so much Jenna! If the pot is sitting directly on the ground or floor, there’s no air circulation flowing under the pot. Clay pots are porous & that’s why mold & moss is able to grow on & under them. Pot feet help to get a bit of air movement under a pot. This doesn’t happen with plastic pots. Another reason for white patches on clay pots is too much fertilizing. Fertilizers have a lot of salt in them & it builds up on the outside of the pots. I love pottery! I’ve been to funky, smaller nurseries in SD on a hunt for unusual succulents but here are a few of the “biggies” that I’ve been to: Armstrong (there are several locations), Walt Anderson & Weidners. I love the Madd Potter for pots but they also have some plants too. Happy gardening! Nell

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  13. I recently bought one of these beauties and it’s the perfect desk plant for me. I was wondering if there’s any way to keep this plant small?
    Thank you!

  14. Hi Irene –
    You can keep it in a small pot which will restrict the root growth. However, over time it’ll start to suffer. If it starts to get too big, you can easily cut off the top to the height you want it to be & new sprouts will appear at the top. Nell

  15. Hi Nell,

    For the first time in–I hate to say it–8 years I reported my marginata. It’s been thriving overall. However, after repotting with new soil in a larger pot (was extremely root bound), I fed it for the first time ever with Miracle Grow as I watered it. It’s looking droopy as I imagined from transplant shock, but how bad of a mistake did I make with fertilizing it??
    Thank you! Dana

  16. Hi Dana – I don’t use Miracle-Gro but I do know that it’s a water soluble fertilizer which is recommended to be used on houseplants every 7-14 days. That means it’s pretty mild. If you used it at the recommended strength, that shouldn’t be an issue. The droop is caused by low light &/or a watering issue. It’s most likely transplant shock. Don’t fertilize it until spring – I only fertilize my houseplants once a year. Nell

  17. I use Miracle Gro on a row of newly planted hedge plants, about10 to 12 inches long. It was early spring. They ALL died. Afer that lesson, I use only half the recommended dose of ANY plant fertilizer and watch closely.

  18. Yes Linda, a lesson learned the hard way. I’m not a big advocate of commercial fertilizers because people tend to over do it. Also, they contain a high amount of salts. Thanks for sharing! Nell

  19. Nell,

    I am a college kid, and the Dragon Tree is my first plant! Been reading some articles to make sure I do this right . . . thank you for writing this! The most comprehensive article I’ve found, and you clearly write it for this plant. Some articles feel as they might apply to any species, so it’s nice to know you have a purpose in your writing. Anyways, I have one question. You mentioned that this plant likes humidity and appreciates misting, is there any limit to how much one should do this? Watering is obviously done more carefully, but is misting bad on a daily basis? Or does it matter? Thank you!

  20. Hi Wesley – Thank you, I’m glad you found the article to be helpful because I always write in a manner which I hope people can easily understand. This plant, like many houseplants, is native to the tropics. It can adapt to a “normal” houseplant environment just fine but would appreciate a weekly misting. Just know that this plant is subject to tipping (dried brown tips on the leaf points) so don’t be concerned about that. My marginata grows outdoors here in the desert & I hose it down every week. It’s doing great which you’ll see in a video & post next month. Nell

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