The dragon tree is a simple yet rewarding entry-level option for budding houseplant gardeners. Though slow to mature, it’s easy to get going and growing and difficult to kill.
The dragon tree is one of the few plants you can return home to after a few months of travel and find it still alive!
Here is a comprehensive guide to dragon tree care, propagation, and troubleshooting any issues that might pop up with your beautiful dragon tree.
Commonly known as the Madagascar dragon tree, its botanical name is dracaena marginata. It is a proud member of the Asparagus family, Asparagaceae, like its equally impressive relative, the snake plant. Dracaena marginata is considered drought-resistant and hails from the sub-tropical island country of Madagascar.
This attractive houseplant boasts a variety of elegant cultivars, with tufts of sword-shaped leaves, sometimes shaded with pretty tones of reddish purple, others pin-striped in yellow, pink, and green.
Fun Fact: the word Dracaena stems from the Greek word Drakaina, meaning female dragon.
Types of Dragon Trees
While there are multiple varieties of the dragon tree, we have focused on the five most popular and widely accessible types for indoor use:
- Classic Dragon Tree: Features lovely deep green leaves edged red.
- Dracaena Marginata ‘Tricolor’: This varietal displays a pattern of red, green, and cream along its leaves.
- Dracaena Marginata ‘Bicolor’: From afar, this leaf looks hot pink, but up close, you can see the thin stripes of green and cream interspersed.
- Dracaena Marginata ‘Colorama‘: More green than anything, this leaf is edged in bright pink slivers.
- Dracaena Marginata ‘Tarzan’: With coloring similar to the classic dragon tree, the leaves are broader, thicker, and thought to resemble a dragon’s tail.
Top Tip: The dragon tree is one of the best options for removing xylene and trichloroethylene from inside your home or office. Group your dragon tree with an air purifying power couples like aloe vera and lucky bamboo.
How Big Do They Get?
With proper care, dragon trees, on average, will grow up to 6 – 8 feet (182.88cm – 243.84cm) and have a spread of about 3 feet (91.44cm).
How Fast Do They Grow?
These are slow-growing; they take around 10 years to reach their full height. They should grow about 18 inches (45.72 cm) annually, with optimum light.
How Long Do They Live?
Your dracaena marginata can give your home about 10 beautiful years, making it an excellent investment.
This broadleaf evergreen’s lifespan is related to adequate care and environmental factors, which we have outlined for you further down.
Fun Fact: The jade plant can live up to 10 times longer than a dragon plant!
Are They Toxic to Cats and Dogs?
Dracaena marginata plants are toxic to cats and dogs and must be kept out of your pet’s reach.
Although there is little documented information about the chemical involved, the dragon tree contains steroidal saponins, which are toxic to pets when ingested.
Here is a list of symptoms to watch out for if you suspect your pet has chewed part of it:
- Hyper-salivation (which can lead to dehydration)
- Dilation of pupils (cats specifically)
If you suspect your pet has consumed part of the plant, please get in touch with your vet immediately.
Are They Poisonous to Humans?
This plant is considered non-toxic to humans and is a safe choice for a family home.
Dragon Tree Care
This gracious tree is forgiving for the most part and requires a simple care routine. Let’s work through some of the best growing conditions and how to create a routine to enjoy your plant for many years.
How Often to Water It
Water every 2-3 weeks during the warmer growing season. A tip here is to check the top 50% of the soil and only water it once this section feels dry.
During the cooler months, slow down watering to every 4 weeks.
Like the spider plant, the dragon tree is sensitive to fluoride; therefore, try to use distilled water if possible.
Dracaena marginata is sensitive to over-watering; when in doubt, hold back.
Good draining is very important as too much water will make the plant susceptible to root rot.
Drainage holes, good aeration, and a layer of stones or broken tiles at the bottom of your pot will serve your tree well.
When and How to Prune It
Pruning a dragon tree is best done during the faster-growing months. You may notice during the start of spring that a few of the bottom leaves may yellow; this is the time to prune these leaves as they prepare for new growth. If they are soft enough, slide them down the tree, and they should come off quickly.
Here are some simple pruning steps:
- Sanitize your scissors or shears. Dirty tools can pass bacteria between plants, so wash all your tools well in soapy water and use a disinfectant if possible.
- Snip the leaves close to the stem at a sharp angle. For aesthetic purposes and to avoid infection, try not to cut a jagged edge. Sharp tools are a necessity!
It’s normal for the tree to shed a few leaves; you can either help by snipping them or waiting for them to fall off.
Top Tip: Dragon Trees, if left to their own devices, will grow into tall trees. If you prefer a shorter, bushier tree, you can cut one of the center stems at its top to encourage the tree to branch out sideways.
When and How to Replant It
To encourage your dracaena marginata to proliferate, repot it every two years. As with most indoor plants, dragon trees prefer to be repotted during the spring or warmer months.
Check the bottom of your pot; if the roots are peeking through the holes, they are likely to be root bound.
Follow these steps to repot your dragon tree:
- Lean the pot on its side and gently wiggle the plant to loosen it.
- Ease the plant from its pot.
- Check for any unhealthy roots and trim them off.
- Loosen the roots from one another, especially any spiraling ones, as these are likely to be root bound.
- Choose a new pot that is 1-3 inches (2.54cm – 7.62cm) larger than the first one.
- Layer stones or gravel at the bottom of the pot to create a healthy drainage system.
- Fill the pot with an all-purpose potting soil,
- Place your dragon tree at a similar level to where it sat before.
- Water the plant and treat it as per the care instructions above.
Dragon trees are happiest in bright indirect or filtered light, although it’s unfussy, and should adjust to medium and low-lit settings with little issue.
Harsh direct sunlight may scorch the leaves of your plant and fade out the colors and is therefore not advised.
Loose, loamy, and fortified with peat moss is the ideal mix for these plants; they are, however, likely to survive in any well-draining soil.
If you want to give it its best shot, then here’s the ultimate recipe for dragon tree soil:
- 1 part compost (6-7 pH)
- 1 part loamy soil or perlite
- 1 part peat
Dragon tree plants appreciate a soil neutral – acidic environment with a pH of 6-7. The soil mix outlined above will offer a high nutritional content for your plant.
It is not necessary to feed a dragon tree with fertilizer. You can, however, treat your plant with a little boost during its growing season with a liquid, slow-release fertilizer like a 10-10-10.
Feeding your plant during winter should be avoided.
Pot Size and Type
The ideal pot is a terracotta one that is 2-3 inches (5cm – 7.62cm) wider in diameter than the plant’s root ball. Terracotta is a porous material, meaning the water will not linger and cause water logging issues.
Alternatively, you can use a plastic pot; you will need to ensure the pot is draining correctly.
Dracaena marginata thrive in a sublime environment of 70 to 80°F (21 – 26°C).
This plant will not be able to survive in temperatures below 50°F (10°C)
Your dragon tree will flourish with humidity around 30-50%.
Dragon trees should be kept away from drafty areas; here is a checklist of potentially drafty areas:
- Next to a window
- Dear appliances such as a refrigerator
- Underneath an air-conditioning unit
- Beside a radiator
- Close to a door
Top Tip: Use a humidifier to speed up your plant’s growth. Another leafy friend that loves this is the peace lily!
Can They Live Outside?
The Dragon tree grows in USDA hardiness zones of 10-12, as per the fiddle leaf fig tree, so if you live in an area with this type of summer and lovely mild winters, your dragon tree plant will grow happily.
Be sure to provide your plant with a mix of shade and sun. A spot on your balcony during the warmer months will work, although the rules about no direct sunlight apply. Be sure to nestle your plant back inside your home as soon as the season cools.
How to Grow It
These hardy plants can be grown from cuttings or seeds.
The best time of year to grow your dracaena marginata is during the spring and summer months.
How to Cut and Divide It
Cutting off the top section might feel terrifying, but it will yield a lovely single new baby for you. Working with a cut section from a thicker part of the stem and then dividing it will give you multiple new plants.
Use a knife, scissors, or shears that have been cleaned and sanitized.
- Select a top stem to cut. You will notice a few top branches coming off the central stem. Select one of the stems that looks mature, healthy, and does not show any signs of disease such as yellowing or spots.
- Choose a stem with a few stable leaves and make a diagonal cut that maximizes the exposed cut surface and can yield roots.
- Your selected piece should include a few nodes; try to cut with a clean edge.
- Follow the same steps as above, except, instead of choosing a top section, you can select a much thicker part of the plant’s main stem, located lower down.
- Choose a piece roughly 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) in length.
- Slice the section lengthways to get a few pieces and ensure that each section has at least a few healthy leaves.
Dragon Tree Propagation
Dragon tree propagation can be achieved through rooting in water and soil. The great part about propagating these plants is that you don’t need to wait for the mother tree to reach full maturity.
How to Propagate It in Water
Propagation in water is the preferred method to use.
Propagation from Top Cuttings
Here is how:
- Remove any lower lying leaves from your cutting to avoid rotting while rooting in their water home.
- Pop your cuttings into a glass vessel and fill with enough purified water to cover the stems, not the leaves. While dragon trees are relatively unfussy, offering them water free from chlorine and fluoride will give them a better chance of healthy root growth and avoid yellowing leaves.
- Place your cutting in an area with filtered light. Replace the water every few days to keep it oxygen-rich and bacteria-free.
- Your cutting may take several weeks or months to root.
Propagation from Stem Cuttings
- Remove low-lying leaves from your stem cutting to avoid potential rotting.
- Place your cutting into a vessel of clean, lukewarm water, preferably distilled.
- Allow your cutting to root in indirect sunlight in a draft-free area.
- Please note the roots may take quite a few weeks or even months to grow.
Propagation in Soil
While most indoor gardeners choose to propagate dracaena hydroponically, both the top and stem cuttings can be reproduced in well-hydrated soil.
Choose a warm area for them and ensure your soil remains moist.
Planting the Rooted Cuttings and Divisions
Once your little cuttings have sprouted healthy roots around 1 inch (3cm) long, they’re ready to pot. Choose a nutrient-dense potting soil that drains well and will provide good aeration. Create a little hole and gently plant your rooted cutting into its pocket.
How to Plant the Seeds
Dracaena seeds should be planted in a high-quality seedling mix with decent aeration during the warmer growing months. Here are some steps for you to follow:
- Soak your seeds in ambient, purified water for five days.
- Spritz your seedling mix lightly so that it is moist but not soaked.
- Choose a container with drainage holes and fill it with your seedling mix.
- Sprinkle a few seeds onto the surface and cover them lightly with seedling mix.
- The ideal environment is between 68 and 80°F (20-27°C) for the seeds to germinate. A lovely greenhouse effect can be created by covering the seedlings with clear plastic.
- Choose an area with good filtered sunlight rather than direct sunlight.
- Germination should take around 5 weeks. Once your little shoots pop through and have two little leaves, transplant them into 3-inch (7.5cm) pots.
Why It May Be Dying
While we know the dragon tree is one of the hardiest indoor plants, they are still vulnerable to a few issues.
Here we address a few of the problems experienced by houseplant gardeners and what to do about them.
Why Are the Leaves Drooping or Falling off?
Root rot is a good indicator if your plant’s leaves have started to droop or fall off. Another symptom to check for at this point is discoloration of the stem, close to its base. You may also notice fungal growth in the soil and close to the roots.
This problem may be the result of overwatering.
Remove the plant from its pot and check the roots for slime or rotten roots. Cut off these roots and repot the plant in fresh soil.
Why Are the Leaves Turning Yellow?
Dragon tree plants are sensitive to fluoride and chlorine. A common indication that the water you are using is high in these chemicals is if the leaves start to turn yellow and then brown. What happens is these chemicals build up in the soil, and this process will eventually kill the plant if not rectified.
The preferred remedy is to repot the plant and water using distilled or rainwater only. The second option is to flush the soil with distilled water.
It is usual for dragon plants to lose older leaves, and these leaves will turn yellow and light brown when they’re on their way out. They can just be slipped off at the base to ease them along.
Why Are the Leaf Tips Turning Brown?
Dracaenas do not fair well in dry air, and the leaf tips turning brown may indicate dry air damage.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with this:
- Group houseplants to encourage collective transpiration.
- Use a humidifier in the room and monitor the room’s humidity levels.
- Mist near your plants regularly.
Despite its name being rooted in fairytales and magic, there is hardly any mystery in how to raise a dragon tree successfully. This plant is a spectacular addition to your collection.
So long as you follow the basic rules of watering and good drainage, you should enjoy years to come with your new pet dragon.