Dracaena marginata: the ultra cool and exotic Dragon Tree

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

Dracaena marginata

Dracaena marginata, commonly known as the dragon tree, is a familiar, but still very cool, house plant.

It works in most settings, especially bright modern interiors. Its slim, sword shaped leaves and snaking woody stems bring to mind hot, dusty locations and rooms with cool tiled floors and slow turning ceiling fans.

Originating from Madagascar, this plant is both elegant and tough. It has a strong root system and is pretty drought tolerant. It is also known for its air purifying qualities.

Dracaena marginata prefers bright indirect light, but can stand some morning sun. I have seen it grown in full sun and it survives. But, in my experience, the dryness of such conditions make it more susceptible to pests, like scale insects and red spider mites.

It can tolerate low light, but will grow less vigorously, with smaller leaves, of less intense colour.

Display it as a standalone feature or group it with other plants for a lush, exotic feel.

Remember, these are statement plants, so the large, mature specimens can be quite expensive. However, because they are robust plants your investments should be safe if you follow the basic care instructions here.

Dracaena marginata quick care guide

Dracaena marginata is generally easy to care for. It is a low-maintenance plant that can tolerate some neglect, which makes it ideal for beginners or the less careful plant lover.

  • Light Requirements: Bright, indirect light.
  • Water Requirements: Allow the top part of the soil to dry out between waterings.
  • Humidity Requirements: Prefers moderate humidity but can tolerate dry air. Mist if the air is very dry.
  • Temperature Requirements: Thrives between 65-80°F (18-27°C), with a minimum of 50°F (10°C) and a maximum of 90°F (32°C).
  • Potting Soil Requirements: Well-draining potting mix, but with organic content (loam or coir) to retain moisture.
  • Fertiliser Requirements: Balanced, dilute, water-soluble fertiliser every 2-3 weeks during the growing season.
  • Propagation: Through stem cuttings or air layering.
  • Repotting: Every 2-3 years, or when roots become crowded.
  • Pruning: Trim to maintain shape and remove dead leaves.
Dracaena marginata
Dracaena marginata – strong root system makes it drought tolerant

All about Dracaena marginata

As noted, Dracaena marginata is known for its durability and its capacity to improve indoor air quality by filtering out pollutants. Outdoors, it can grow up to 20 feet (6m) tall, but as a potted houseplant, it is usually kept pruned to 6 feet (2m) or less.

Dracaena marginata key facts

  • Scientific Name: Dracaena marginata
  • Meaning of Name: ‘Dracaena’ means female dragon, ‘marginata’ refers to the leaf margins.
  • Common Names: Dragon Tree, Madagascar Dragon Tree
  • Plant Family: Asparagaceae
  • Origin: Madagascar
  • Type of Plant: Evergreen shrub
  • Size: Up to 6 feet indoors
  • Foliage: Long, slender leaves with red or purple edges
  • Flower: Can produce tiny white flowers in the spring, but rarely flowers indoors
  • Fruit: Rarely fruits indoors
  • Toxicity: Toxic to cats and dogs if ingested (ASPCA)

Dracaena marginata

US Buyers

Dracaena marginata

Uk Buyers

Uk

How to grow Dracaena marginata: the detailed guide

Dracaena marginata is a forgiving plant, and will not complain too much when you go away or forget to feed or water it for a while. However, it is worth bearing in mind the information below.

Read more about house plant care in general in our comprehensive guide to the 7 critical requirements of house plant care here.

Light

Dracaena marginata thrives in bright, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves. If light is too low, the plant may become leggy.

House plant bright light
Dracaena marginate: ideal location for optimum light

Soil and feeding

Use a well-draining soil mix, that retains water.

Dracaena marginata is not demanding when it comes to fertilisation. Feed with a dilute balanced fertiliser every 2-3 weeks during the growing season. Stop feeding in winter.

Watering

Water when the top part of the soil is dry. Except in the hottest conditions, where evaporation occurs quickly, it is best to wait until the top half of the soil is dry before watering. This can often take three weeks or more.

Ideally (although I admit I rarely do this), use distilled or non-fluorinated water to prevent brown tips on the leaves.

Over-watering can lead to root rot, while under-watering can cause leaves to droop.

Pruning

Dracaena marginata mainly takes care of itself and sheds old leaves as it grows. But you can give the plant a helping hand by removing the leaves as they fade.

Prune to maintain shape and encourage bushier growth. Use clean, sharp secateurs to trim the top or remove dead leaves.

Propagation

The most common method is stem cuttings. Cut a stem, let it dry for a day, then plant in moist soil. Keep it warm and humid until new growth appears.

You can also place your cut stem cuttings in water until a decent set of roots has grown and then pot it up.

Below are step by step guides to propagating your Dracaena marginata by stems cuttings – in soil and in water.

Propagation

Propagating Dracaena marginata in water

  1. Select a healthy stem: Choose a healthy-looking stem with at least one node (a small bump where leaves grow). The stem should be about 4-6 inches long.
  2. Cut the stem: Using a clean, sharp pair of scissors or a knife, make a cut just below a node. It’s important to ensure your cutting tool is sterilized to prevent infection.
  3. Prepare the cutting: Remove any leaves near the bottom of the cutting, leaving a few leaves at the top. This helps to reduce moisture loss and focuses the plant’s energy on root development.
  4. Place in water: Fill a glass or jar with water and place the cutting in it, ensuring that the node is submerged. The leaves should remain above water.
  5. Choose the right spot: Place the glass in a location with bright, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight as it can be too intense for the cutting.
  6. Change water regularly: Change the water every few days to keep it fresh and prevent bacterial growth.
  7. Root development: Roots should start to appear in a few weeks. Once they are about an inch long, the cutting is ready to be potted in soil.

Propagating Dracaena marginata in soil

  1. Select and cut the stem: As with water propagation, choose a healthy stem and cut it just below a node. The cutting should be about 4-6 inches long.
  2. Prepare the cutting: Remove the lower leaves, leaving a few at the top.
  3. Rooting hormone (optional): Though not necessary, you can dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder to encourage root growth.
  4. Prepare the pot: Fill a small pot with a well-draining potting mix. You can use a mix designed for cacti and succulents or a regular potting soil mixed with perlite or sand to improve drainage.
  5. Plant the cutting: Make a hole in the soil with your finger or a pencil, and insert the cut end of the stem into the soil. Gently firm the soil around the stem to support it.
  6. Water the soil: Water the soil lightly to moisten it. The soil should be damp but not soggy.
  7. Create humidity: To create a humid environment, you can cover the pot with a plastic bag or place it in a mini greenhouse. Make sure to open it occasionally for air circulation.
  8. Place in indirect light: Keep the pot in a warm place with bright, indirect light.
  9. Root development: Check for root growth after a few weeks by gently tugging on the plant. If there’s resistance, roots have formed. At this point, you can remove any humidity cover.
  10. Care after rooting: Once the plant is established, care for it as you would a mature Dracaena marginata.

Both methods are effective, but propagating in water on allows you to see the roots as they grow, which can be fun, especially if growing with kids. Soil propagation, on the other hand, can be a bit quicker.

Dracaena marginata: Common problems and solutions

As befits an easy care plant, Dracaena marginata is pretty tough and doesn’t suffer too badly from pests or diseases.

Root rot from overwatering, can be a problem, as with every house plant. But, in my experience scale insects and red spider mites can be the biggest problems, especially in hot and dry conditions.

Dracaena marginata troubleshooting guide

Leaves and shoots

  • Yellowing leaves may indicate over-watering.
  • Brown tips on the leaves, which can be a sign of too much salt or fluoride in the water.

Roots

  • Root rot from excessive moisture.

Pests

  • Spider mites and scale insects, mealybugs, and thrips.
  • Spider mites can be a real problem in warm and dry conditions.
  • Use neem oil, rubbing alcohol or a soapy solution to get rid of the pests. Horticultural oils are good for dealing with soft bodied insects

Diseases

  • Leaf spot can occur in humid conditions. Adjust the humidity if you can.

Winter care

Reduce watering and stop fertilising in winter. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and heating vents.

Read more about how to overwinter your house plants here.

Buy Dracaena marginata

So, if you’ve got this far and are feeling like you can’t resist this beautiful plant, I’ve listed some buying options below – depending on whether you are US or UK based.

The buy links are affiliate links, which means I’d be paid a (very) small commission if you go on and buy after clicking these links. But that does not affect the price you pay.

Dracaena marginata

US Buyers

Dracaena marginata

UK Buyers

Uk

Dracaena marginata frequently asked questions

1.Can Dracaena marginata tolerate low light?

It can tolerate low light but prefers bright, indirect light.

2. How often should I water my Dracaena marginata?

Water when the top inch of soil feels dry.

3. Is Dracaena marginata safe for pets?

No, it’s toxic if ingested.

4. Can I use tap water to water my Dracaena?

Use filtered or distilled water if you can. Tap water may contain fluoride, which can cause leaf tip burn.

5. Why are the leaves of my Dracaena turning brown?

Brown tips can be due to dry air, over-fertilisation, or fluoride in water.

Dracaena marginata

Other Dracaena to grow

Other varieties of Dracaena marginata, include:

  • ‘Tricolor’ with dark red margins and green leaves with an ivory stripe,
  • ‘Colorama’ with pink, white, and green stripes, and
  • ‘Bicolor’ with red and green stripes.

Other nice Draceana are:

  • Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’ – bushier plant with broader striped leaves
  • Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’ – again a bushier Draecena, but with leaves somewher between the thickness of D. marginata and D. fragrans

Other great foliage plants

See our guides to caring for these other great foliage plants:

Key references and resources

Alloway, Z and Bailey (F). (2018) RHS Practical House Plant Book: Choose The Best, Display Creatively, Nurture and Care, Royal Horticultural Society, UK.

Camilleri,L and Kaplan, S. (2020), Plantopedia: The Definitive Guide to Houseplants, Smith Street Books.

Hessayon, Dr D.G. (1991) The New House Plant Expert, PBI Publications, UK.

Brickell, C. (2016). Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants. 4th Edition Dorling Kindersley.

Squire, D. (2017). Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants, CompanionHouse Books.

Nelson, G (2021). Plant – House plants: Choosing, Styling, Caring. Mitchell Beazley. London

Brickell, C. (2011). American horticultural society encyclopedia of plants and flowers. Penguin.

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