How to Grow and Care for Dracaena Marginata

Dracaena Marginata

Quick Overview

Plant Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Asparagaceae
Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
Watering: Light
Colors: Green, red, pink, and white
Size: 15–20 ft. tall, 3–10 ft. wide
Hardiness Zones: 10-12
Soil Type:
Soil pH: 6-7
Propagation: Cuttings rooted in water
Toxicity: Toxic to animals

Dracaena Marginata, also known as the Madagascar Dragon Tree, Dragon Tree, or Dragon Plant, is a plant that is easy to grow and popular worldwide as a houseplant in home and office settings. This elegant, wispy tree has long slender canes and spiky, deep green leathery leaves with beautiful bands of color on the leaf margins. These striking plants with evergreen foliage and multiple stems add immediate height and visual interest when added to the indoor landscape.

In their native, humid, semi-arid, desert environments of Madagascar, Mauritius, and Indian Ocean Islands, Dracaena Marginata can grow to 20 feet high and 10 feet wide, but as houseplants they are much more slow growing, and can easily be kept pruned to 6 feet in height and 3 feet or less in width.  Outdoors this tree will do well in US/UK Hardiness zones 10a, 10b, 11a, 12a and 12b.  These plants are considered relatively easy to grow, but careful selection of a healthy plant, correct potting, light and watering should be taken into account before you purchase this plant.  

Dracaena Marginata are one of approximately 120 species in the Genus Dracaena. They are members of the Family Asparagaceae, and are related to plants like hostas, hyacinths, yuccas and spider plants.  While they may look like a palm tree, they are actually in a group of houseplants considered “false palms”.  The four main cultivars of Dracaena Marginata include:

  • Bicolor – deep green leaves with rich red margins
  • Tricolor – rich green leaves edged with margins of cream and ruby
  • Tarzan – has thicker leaves and a sturdier looking trunk than other cultivars
  • Colorama – has leaves that are strikingly deep and hot pink 

Some plant nurseries offer Dracaena Marginata with stems that have been woven or braided together, which gives the tree an even more striking appearance and adds visual appeal. 

Dracaena Marginata

Growing your Dracaena Marginata

Toxicity

Before bringing this plant into your home, you must be aware that Dracaena Marginata is extremely poisonous to dogs and cats, so if there is any chance that your curious pets will chew on your plants, this is not the houseplant for you.  Dracaena Marginata has not been found to be toxic to birds or humans.

Selecting a Pot 

The Dracaena Marginata plant has a long, graceful trunk and bears its leaves in a cluster at the top.  Select a pot with this in mind, since the plant may be slightly top heavy.  Keep the scale of the plant in mind and select a pot that is sufficiently heavy to compensate for the potentially top heavy nature of the plant.  Make sure that your pot has a drainage hole in the bottom and that you place small stones or pebbles in the bottom of the pot below the soil to help with drainage.  Select a pot that is several inches larger than the root ball of the plant so that the roots have room to grow.  While Dracaena marginata is a slow grower, it can become root bound, and will need to be transplanted into a larger pot every 2-3 years.  

Soil for Dracaena Marginata

The soil in your pot should be well drained and be slightly acidic, with a pH of 6-7.  Adding peat moss to a quality potting mix will help to lower the pH, and loosen the soil.  You should plan on refreshing or replacing the soil in your pot once a year, or if you notice that the soil is getting hardened, compacted, or is pulling away from the edges of the pot.  When you replace the soil in your pot, gently break the existing root ball to encourage new root growth.  If your soil is too alkaline (pH greater than 7), you may notice brown or tan coloring on the white areas of the leaves, or your plant may develop yellowing at the leaf tips.

Dracaena Marginata

Light Requirements

Your Dracaena Marginata will thrive in moderate to bright, indirect light.  You will want to keep it out of direct sunlight to avoid leaf burns, which appear as scorched areas on the plant leaves.   Plants in lower light conditions tend to grow more slowly and produce leaves that are less intensely colored. Try to find a spot with bright, yet filtered light, and you will be rewarded with a more vibrantly colored, faster growing plant.  

Watering Dracaena Marginata

One of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make with their Dracaena Marginata is overwatering them.  The amount of water that your Dracaena Marginata will require depends on the amount of light that it receives.  Only water your tree when the top 1-2” of soil is dry, and then water until the excess water flows freely out of the bottom drainage hole.  You may only need to water your plant once a week, depending on how quickly your soil dries, making this the ultimate in low maintenance houseplants!  Allow the surface of the soil in your pot to dry to the 1-2” depth between waterings. 

You will find that your tree is somewhat drought tolerant, so there is no need to fret if you forget to water it for a while. You will know if you are overwatering your tree if the stems become soft and begin to rot.  Another indication of overwatering is if you notice brown edges on a green leaf.  You do not want the soil in your pot to ever remain soggy for long periods of time. Yellow leaves are telling you that your plant is thirsty and needs more water. 

Dracaena Marginata are sensitive to chemical additives such as fluoride and chlorine sometimes added to tap water from city or commercial water systems.  If you notice that your plant leaves are discolored you may want to switch to watering your plant with spring or distilled water.  Any water that you use to water your tree should be at room temperature – remember this plant comes from the semi arid desert, and likes a warm environment.

Dracaena Marginata can benefit from an occasional light misting of warm water on the leaves.  This is especially important when the air is dry, which often occurs indoors in the winter months.

Fertilizing Your Dragon Tree

Dracaena Marginata has low fertilizer requirements, and will only need to be fertilized once every 4-6 months with a controlled release water soluble commercial houseplant fertilizer.  Select a low dose liquid fertilizer recommended for indoor plants.  Look at the label and find a fertilizer with a nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K) ratio of 3:1:2.  Fertilize your plant early in the spring before it enters the active growing phase, and again in the fall before growth slows during the winter months.  You can search online and purchase fertilizers that have been formulated specifically for Dracaena Marginata plants if you are unable to find a local resource for this fertilizer.

Dracaena Marginata

Temperature

Dracaena Marginatas like temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees F (18 to 27 degrees C) making it an ideal houseplant.  It (like most people) does not like to be in a cold, drafty environment, and also doesn’t like temperature variations.  Position it away from air vents or drafty, cold winter windows.  Yellow colored bands across the leaves of your Dracaena Marginata may be a sign that your plant needs to be relocated to a warmer spot.

Propagating

Dracaena Marginata is easy to propagate from cuttings.  To do so, cut an 8” cane section from the plant, making sure to include nodes. Treat the cutting with a house plant propagation promoter to provide nutrients and protect the cutting from diseases.  Place the cutting in moist soil in a warm spot in indirect sunlight to root.  Be patient – since Dracaena Marginata is slow growing, it may take several months for roots to develop.  Two or more branches may form after propagating a stem.  

Dracaena Marginata can also be started from seeds.  These seeds must be soaked in warm water for four to five days in room temperature water.  Sow the seeds in a loamy soil with a pH in the 6-7 range, covering the pots with a plastic cover to retain moisture.  Maintain the temperature between 70-80 degrees F.  It may take 30-40 days for the seeds to sprout.  Once they do, move them to a location with bright, indirect light.

Dragon Tree

Potential Pests

Before bringing home your Dracaena Marginata from the nursery, check the underside of the leaves and the stems for pests.  Avoid bringing home any specimens that have pests, as these can easily spread and infest your other houseplants.  Occasionally, when watering your Dracaena Marginata, check the underside of the leaves for spider mites, scale or mealybugs.  If you see any, remove them or spray them off of the leaves with a hose or kitchen faucet.  You can then treat the tree with a horticultural oil spray.

Potential Disease 

Dracaena Marginata can be susceptible to leaf spot disease, which is characterized by light brown or reddish colored spots surrounded by a yellow halo.  To avoid this, reduce the amount of moisture that comes into contact with the leaves, and water the plant at the soil level.  Remove any infected leaves from the plant.  You may consider moving the plant to a location with more, but not direct, light.

Dragon Tree

Dracaena Marginata General Care Pointers  

You can dust or wipe the leaves occasionally with a damp cloth to keep them shiny.  Gently pull off any leaves that have become brown or that have died off.  

Pruning 

Because Dracaena Marginata is slow growing, you won’t have to prune it often, but when you do, use clean, sharp pruning shears or scissors to prune it to the desired size and shape. Wiping down the blades of your pruning shears or scissors with rubbing alcohol or an all purpose disinfectant prior to pruning can prevent the spread of disease.  You can prune off any brown leaf tips by cutting at an angle to match the natural sword shape of the leaves.  An occasional pruning can encourage new leaf growth.  You may wish to prune your tree to increase the density of the plant.  Try to prune your Dracaena Marginata in early spring before it enters the active growing phase of spring and summer.

Flowers 

In its warm, semi-desert. native environment, Dracaena Marginata produces small, lilac scented, white flowers in summer that develop into little orangish-yellow berries.  Because our indoor environments are much drier than their native growing environments, Dracaena Marginata rarely produces blooms as a houseplant.  If you are fortunate enough to have an indoor plant that produces blooms, simply deadhead the spent blooms after you have enjoyed the flowers and before the berries develop.  If you want to attempt to start Dracaena Marginata plants from seeds, save the berries, and follow the instructions for seed propagation.

With proper planning and a minimal amount of care and fuss, your Dracaena Marginata plant will bring beauty and elegance to your home or office environment for many years.  It will become the focal point of your indoor landscape.

Dracaena Marginata

Dracaena Marginata Fun Facts

  • According to the Houseplant Rescource Center, plants from the Genus Dracaena were used in NASA’s 1989 clean air study, and were shown to remove formaldehyde from indoor air.  In this study, common indoor plants were studied to test their ability to remove organic chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde from the air.  The results showed that plants can play a major role in removal of these chemicals from indoor air.  Having a Dracaena Marginata plant in your indoor environment is a win-win:  it beautifies your living and working space while potentially removing harmful chemicals!
  • Dracaena Marginata grows slowly as a houseplant, attaining a height of 5-6’ in about 10 years.  
  • If you like the appearance of a Dracaena Marginata with a woven trunk, you can find instructions on how to attempt this yourself here.