Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) Care Guide

Contents

There’s no better beginner houseplant than the Madagascar Dragon Tree, also known by its latin name as Dracaena marginata. It’s one of the more interesting house plants you can grow!

It’s super easy to care for, requiring little light or water, and is quite hardy in most temperatures. Most indoor plants have a comparable care regimen, making it easy to add this plant to your indoor garden.

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about Dracaena marginata care, propagation, and troubleshooting.

Let’s get started!

Quick Care Guide

Common NameMadagascar Dragon Tree
Scientific NameDracaena marginata
FamilyAsparagaceae
Height and Spread15-20′, 6-8′ tall and 3-10′ wide indoors
LightPart shade
WaterMedium
SoilWell-draining potting soil
FertilizerLiquid fertilizer diluted to half strength once per month in the growing season
Pests and DiseasesAphids, spider mites, scale insects, root rot, leaf spot, botrytis, powdery mildew, southern blight

All About the Madagascar Dragon Tree

The Madagascar Dragon Tree looks quite like palm trees, which is why many gardeners falsely assume it’s a member of the palm family. This couldn’t be further from the truth! It’s actually closely related to lilies! The plant originates in Madagascar, true to its name.

The name dracaena comes from a Greek word meaning female dragon. It gets this name due to the red sticky gum-like sap that comes out of the stems when cut. When it dries and thickens up, the gum looks a bit like dragon’s blood. But who really knows what dragon’s blood actually looks like, right?

In ancient Roman and Medieval times the gum was used in alchemy and magical arts. Today, it’s used in more practical pursuits like photo engraving and as a varnish.

The tree is characterized by long, narrow leaves that are extremely spiky. The foliage is generally dark green with edges that are adorned with a reddish purple and can grow up to 16 inches in length. As the tree grows, it will naturally lose it’s lowest leaves leaving tufts of leaves atop a bare woody cane.

Although species vary, this variety can grow as tall as 20 feet in height. But, when kept as a houseplant or a potted plant, it generally only reaches around 6 to 8 feet. The size can be controlled by cutting the tops off.

The cane can be cut at any height and within weeks you will begin to see a new tuft of leaves growing at the cut area. It’s better on the dragon plant’s health to cut the cane during spring or early summer.

Varieties of Dracaena Marginata

Dracaena Marginata Tricolor vs. Colorama Varieties
Dracaena Marginata Tricolor vs. Colorama Varieties

Even within this sub-species of dracaena, there are a few different varieties of this attractive plant that you may want to consider:

  • Dracaena marginata ‘tricolor’ — Tricolor is very similar to the standard dracaena marginata, however it has three colors in its leaves instead of two. There is a yellow band in between the red edges and green center.
  • Dracaena marginata ‘colorama’ — Colorama is the coolest looking variety, in my opinion. It grows slower than the other varieties, but has a much more vibrant red / pink coloration.
  • Dracaena marginata ‘tarzan’ — Tarzan is unique not because of its color (it’s the same as the original dracaena marginata), but because of the shape of the plant. It’s much spikier and spherical, and as it grows has a very unique and alien look to it.

Dragon Tree Plant Care

Overall, the dragon tree plant is really easy to care for. However, that doesn’t mean you can just set it and forget it like succulents! There are a few considerations you should take into account with this plant that we’ll get into.

Light and Temperature

Dragon trees do best in partial shade or indirect light. This means that if you’re growing indoors, you should have it on a north-facing windowsill, near one facing east or west, and further away from one facing south.

You will know you’re giving the plant too much light if the leaves burn. On the flip side, you’ll know you aren’t giving it enough light when the accent colors on the leaves start to fade.

D. marginata can tolerate a variety of temperatures, but does best in between 65ºF and 80ºF (18° to 27°C). If it gets too cold, they will suffer greatly, so make sure you can keep your temperatures within that range for best results.

Water and Humidity

Dragon trees prefer medium amounts of water. One good way to determine if your plant needs water is to wait until the soil is dry to about 1/3 of the depth of the pot. Then give it a healthy drink so the soil is moist all the way to the top.

The leaves will give you a good idea whether you are providing too little or too much water. If you have a lot of leaves that are turning yellow and falling off, you’re probably not giving the plant enough water. If the leaves are starting to turn yellow at the tips, it could be a sign of too much water.

Reduce watering to every few weeks in winter when the dragon tree is in dormancy.

To prevent rot, make sure that you provide good drainage and be careful not to over water. These are somewhat drought tolerant plants, but regular water is needed.

While the Dragon Tree will tolerate most average home conditions, you can provide it with a little extra humidity through regular misting. Misting the tree regularly will also help prevent insect infestations.

Soil

Nothing special here. They just need well-draining potting soil. Use a pot with drainage holes and a saucer to prevent rot, or add perlite to the soil mix to make sure water doesn’t pool.

Fertilizer

They don’t need much fertilizer, but if you do want to fertilize, do it once a month in the growth season (spring, summer) with a standard houseplant fertilizer at 50% strength. Try to find one with an NPK of 3-1-2 with added trace minerals.

Propagation

Propagation of D. marginata is so simple that retail nurseries often propagate it themselves rather than order more from wholesale nurseries. What does this mean for you? It means you can buy one plant and propagate from it to have an entire army of dragon trees!

To propagate:

  1. Cut off a stem of one of your mature plants
  2. Trim some of the lower leaves
  3. Allow cuttings to dry for about an hour
  4. Wet the soil you will plant them in
  5. Plant cuttings in the soil and they will start rooting after 1-2 weeks

Pruning

You don’t have to prune your dragon tree, but it’s definitely fun! You have a lot of control over how your D. marginata looks, which is why nurseries will often sell them in twisted shapes – they’re easy to train!

You can either just let it grow naturally, or you can twist several stalks together. They can even be trained to grow in spirals and can easily be bent to grow in various ways. It’s sort of the alternative to a small bonsai tree! You can also prune away dead leaves as they crop up.

Re-potting

Dracaena Marginata Kokedama
A Dracaena Marginata Kokedama. source

Strangely enough, dragon trees do well when they are root bound. Don’t rush to re-pot it when you purchase it from a nursery like you would with many other types of houseplants. You can transplant them into an Air Pot, which is a great way to support a plant long term. If you do repot, plant in a planter just slightly larger than the root ball.

Troubleshooting

D. marginata is pretty hardy, but the classic pests and diseases that affect most houseplants can also affect your dragon tree.

Growing Problems

Too little light will cause green leaves of your dragon tree plant, and too much will cause browning leaves. Overwatering can create conditions for rot, and give your plant mushy leaves and stems. Underwatering will cause crispy brown leaf tips. Remember to keep your schedule consistent and your light sources ample — but not too ample!

Pests

Spider mites, scale insects, and mealy bugs can attack your dragon tree if you’re not careful. To prevent them from ever getting near it, mist the leaves of your dragon plant with water every so often. If you notice an infestation, add some insecticidal soap to the water and mist more aggressively. That should kill them all.

For serious infestations, either rid yourself of the plant or get an systemic insecticide.

Diseases

Aside from root rot and leaf spot, both of which are standard houseplant issues, Dracaena marginata is quite sensitive to flouride. This means you should water it with distilled water if possible to avoid any flouride toxicity. You’ll know your plant is suffering from toxicity if the leaves start to die at the tips, the color starts to warp, or there are large brown areas in the middle of your leaves.

The leaves of your dragon plant can take on water-spotted lesions when they’re infected with botrytis or southern blight. Powdery mildew shows up as powdery white film that occurs on the upper surface of the leaves. You can prevent these through adequate light and water.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: The leaves of my dracaena marginata are dropping off like crazy. The stalks feel a bit mushy, too. What is going on? 

A: The most common problem here is over-watering or soggy soil. This is such a common problem that almost all houseplant owners suffer from. Make sure to get a well-draining soil, don’t water too much, and make sure your pot has drainage holes. Get one with a saucer underneath to capture extra water,l but also as a reminder not to over water. If you see too much water in the saucer…water less!

Q: Is Madagascar dragon tree an indoor plant?

A: In most parts of the world, yes, it’s a house plant! In zones 10 through 12, you can grow the plant outdoors.

Q: How big do Madagascar dragon trees get?

A: In the wild, they’ll grow to 70 feet. In domestic settings, plan for up to 10 feet of growth.

Q: Is Madagascar dragon tree pet friendly?

A: Unfortunately, this plant is not pet friendly. The tree contains saponins which can severely damage the health of cats, dogs, and people too. Keep them away from pets an children.

Q: How long do Madagascar dragon trees live?

A: Put this tree in your will! The dragon tree lives for hundreds of years.

Q: Should I mist my Madagascar dragon tree?

A: Yes. While you’re indoor gardening this plant, give it a daily misting to keep it in the right level of humidity.

Q: Should I cut brown tips off Dragon Tree?

A: Yes. This will improve the look of the tree and keep it funneling nutrients to healthier parts of the plant.

Q: Do you water a Dragon Tree from the top or bottom?

A: Water at the base of the plant to prevent powdery mildew. Mist with distilled water to provide adequate humidity.

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