How to grow and care for Madagascar Dragon Tree Indoors

Houseplant, Dracaena marginata

Botanical name: Dracaena marginata
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae

Dracaena marginata is a colorful houseplant that is adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. It is also a good air cleaner. The plant has its origins in Madagascar and other Indian Ocean Islands. The origin of the plant name comes from the word "drakaina" for "female dragon". The plant produces a red gum-like resin in the stems that was likened to dragon blood. The trunk is tall and snake-like trunk. It branches with age and can grow up to 10 ft high. Its narrow, arching leaves are edged with red. Madagascar Dragon Trees are tough, drought-resistant plants with aggressive root systems. They can grow as single-stemmed plants or grouped or even braided together in the same pot. According to a study carried out by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to find out the effectiveness of houseplants in cleaning indoor air for their spacecrafts, Dracaena marginata was found to remove common VOCs like xylene, toulene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloethylene.

There are three varieties of Madagascar Dragon Tree that are available. The basic variety, Dracaena marginata, whose leaves are predominately green and edged with red. In Dracaena marginata tricolor, a band of yellow separates the green and the red stripes and the overall color is greenish-gold. In Dracaena marginata colorama, the red banding is more prominent and the leaves appear distinctly reddish.

How to Grow Madagascar Dragon Tree

Light

Madagascar Dragon Tree prefers light shade, about 5 feet away from an east- or west-facing window. However, it can also grow under low light but it grows slower and produces smaller leaves with the less intense color. Keep the plant away from direct sunlight as it leads to sun burn on leaves. Learn more on how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

Water

Water Madagascar Dragon Tree thoroughly and allow the top 1-2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering in the cold months and maintain soil slightly moist. Avoid waterlogging as it can lead to root-rot. Use water that is at room temperature that is free of chlorine, flourides and other chemicals to prevent brown leaf tips. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Temperature

Average warmth with a minumum of 120C is ideal for Madagascar Dragon Tree. However, these plants can tolerate a wide range of temperature. Protect the plant from cold draughts. Find out more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

Average room humidity is ideal for Madagascar Dragon Tree. Mist the leaves occasionally and clean them by splashing water on them from a steady stream of water. If the air is too dry especially where temperature is too high mist the leaves more frequently.

Feeding

Feed Madagascar Dragon Tree every 4 weeks during the growing period with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Withhold feeding in the cold season as growth is minimal and feeding at this time can lead to fertilizer burn. Regularly flush out accumulated salts in the soil by running a stream of water through the soil until the water comes out through the drainage hole. Allow it to run for a few minutes and repeat several times. Find out more on feeding houseplants.

Repotting

Repot Madagascar Dragon Tree at the beginning of the growing season when roots begin to grow through the drainage holes; the plant prefers to be slightly root-bound. Use a pot one-size larger than the current one and one that has drainage holes. The soil should be free-draining and rich in organic matter. Never allow the roots to sit in waterlogged soil as it may lead to root-rot. If not repotting, refresh the potting soil annually to replace any that has become compacted.

How to Prune Madagascar Dragon Tree

Pruning Madagascar Dragon Tree involves removal of dead and yellow leaves to maintain the plant neat and tidy. The plant is a slow grower and does not require regular pruning. To encourage bushy growth (branching), the stem can be cut at the desired height and new sprout of stems will emerge below the cut. This will result in the plant producing several stems instead of having just one stem.The foliage emanating from the pruning, can be used to propagate new plants. Learn more on how to prune houseplants.

How to Propagate Madagascar Dragon Tree

Madagascar Dragon Tree can be propagated at beginning of the growing season by air layering, from stem cuttings or by use of the crown from old leggy canes.

Madagascar Dragon Tree propagation by Air Layering
This consists of notching the stem of a healthy Madagascar Dragon Tree, coating the notch with a rooting hormone, surrounding the area with damp moss and then covering it with a polythene film or clear plastic wrap. After the roots have formed sever the stem just below the covered part, remove the polythene and carefully pot the rooted cutting. New shoots will sprout from the shortened stem of the old plant.

Madagascar Dragon Tree propagation from the top crown of leaves
Remove the top crown of leaves bearing about 3 in. of stem, apply a rooting hormone and stick it in moist free draining rooting soil. Place the set in a warm shaded place. Rooting will occur in 3-6 weeks. When new growth is observed, the plant can be transplanted.

Madagascar Dragon Tree propagation from stem cuttings
Take 2-3 in. long stem cuttings, dip the lower cut-end in a rooting hormone and stick it in moist free draining rooting soil. Place the set up in a warm medium lit place. Roots will develop in about 3-6 weeks. Once there is new growth, the plant can be transplanted.

Common Problems in Growing Madagascar Dragon Tree

  • Leaves with brown tips and yellow edges
  • There are four reasons for these in Madagascar Dragon Tree. One is dry air; raise humidity, by more frequent misting or set the pot on a wet pebble tray. Two is underwatering; maintain the soil fairly moist and do not let the soil to dry out. Three is chemical accumulation in the soil; use chemical free water and regularly flush out salts from the soil. Four is cold draughts; place the plant away from draughts.

  • Yellowing of lower leaves
  • This is a natural process in Madagascar Dragon Tree, as the plant matures it sheds the lower leaves. Each lower leaf turns yellow and dries leaving a crown of leaves on top of the cane-like stem.

  • Soft and curled leaves with brown edges
  • If the temperature is too low Madagascar Dragon Tree leaves become soft and curled and the edges turn brown. Maintain an average room temperature and protect the plant from cold draughts.

  • Brown leaf spots
  • Madagascar Dragon Tree will form brown leaf spots if it is underwatered. Maintain the soil slightly moist at all times and never allow the soil ball to dry out completely.

  • Bleached dry patches on the leaves
  • Direct sunlight will cause bleached dry patches on the leaves of Madagascar Dragon Tree. Move the plant to a shadier spot or protect it from direct sunlight.

  • Plant death
  • Madagascar Dragon Tree is prone to Root-rot disease if allowed to sit in waterlogged soil for long. Ensure there is free drainage of both the soil and the pot and also reduce watering in the cold season. Keeping Madagascar Dragon Tree too cold will also kill it; maintain average room temperature and protect it from cold draughts. Another reason for the death of Madagascar Dragon Tree is accumulation of salts in the soil; regularly flush out salts from the soil.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Madagascar Dragon Tree are Mealy Bugs, Scale Insects and Spider Mites. Isolate the affected plant to prevent spread to other plants.

Toxicity

Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) is toxic to both humans and pets. The leaves contain a substance which is extremely toxic. If ingested they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, loss of appetite and depression.

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