Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) Care Guide

237 Shares


There’s no better beginner houseplant than the Madagascar Dragon Tree, also known by its latin name as dracaena marginata.

It’s super easy to care for, requiring little light or water, and is quite hardy in most temperatures.

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

Let’s get started!

Dracaena Marginata Overview

Common Name Madagascar Dragon Tree
Type Broadleaf evergreen
Family Asparagaceae
Origin Madagascar, Mauritius
Zone(s) 10-12
Height 15-20′, 6-8′ indoors
Spread 3-10′
Bloom Time Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description White
Sun Part shade
Water Medium
Maintenance Low
Flower Showy, Fragrant
Leaf Colorful, Evergreen
Fruit Showy
Tolerant Of Drought

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 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.

Madagascar Dragon Tree Care
source

The Madagascar Dragon 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, 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 plants 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 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.

Dracaena Marginata Care

Overall, Madagascar Dragon Tree 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.

Re-potting

Dracaena Marginata Kokedama
A Dracaena Marginata Kokedama. source

Strangely enough, madagascar 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.

Light

Dragon trees do best in partial shade. 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.

Water

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.

To prevent root rot, make sure that you provide good drainage and be careful not to over water.

Temperature

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

Humidity

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 root rot, or add rocks to the bottom of your pot to make sure water doesn’t pool.

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.

Propagation

Propagation of dracaena 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 dracaena 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!

Problems

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

Pests

Spider mites, scales, 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 plant with water every so often. If you notice an infestation, add some liquid 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.

FAQs

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!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:


Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Did this article help you? Yes No
× How can we improve it?
× Thanks for your feedback!

We're always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you're here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube

59 thoughts on “Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) Care Guide”

    • If you know that you haven’t been watering enough and the leaf tips have turned brown and fragile, definitely water more! You can trim off the leaf tips to make it cosmetically look better, but consistent watering is necessary to prevent it from happening again.

  1. I gave my plant too much water and lost a lot of leaves. Two of my three “trunks” only have leaves at the very top. I wondered if I got those “trunks,” will new leaves grown on them? So glad to find this site. Thanks for your help!

    • Hey there Kay – they might be OK, but if you watered too much, you should probably check the root system to see if you have rot. If you do, repot with fresh soil and cut away the dead / rotting root parts.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    I purchased a Dracena plant from Loew’s about two weeks ago. I noticed the top leaves are turning yellow. Can you tell me what’s wrong.

    • Almost always an issue with watering here, especially if you just bought it! I would check the soil to see if it’s too wet, or too dry. Sometimes a plant also goes through a bit of shock when it’s placed in a new environment!

  3. My dragon tree smelled moldy n was root bound, I repotted. I notice that my margin at a is the same. There are two canes in each pot can I have one per pot?

  4. I’ve just jist repotted my plant to a slightly new larger size, it’s doing well but also something strange- some of the inner leaves have started to push into the soil, as if they are attracted to it. I was trying to see if this was a way they propagate but I can’t find anything online. Just wondering if I should let them bury them self or if I should pluck them out?

    • They definitely don’t propagate that way, it seems you may just have a droopy dragon tree. I’d make sure you’re giving it adequate water, and not overwatering…other than that you should be just fine.

  5. Hi!
    I’ve had my dracaena for about a year and I think I’ve done something terribly wrong. All of the leaves have completely fallen off and I am left with only stalks. Will they grow back, or is this plant a goner?

    Thank you!

    • Did you change anything about its environment? With absolutely zero leaves it might be a goner, but I’d try to give it the best growing conditions and hope you get recovery.

  6. My dracaena is on it’s 4th repotting in 18 years and has grown very tall and wide. I have read about pruning to encourage branching, my question is how common is branching without pruning. My draceana currently has 4 branches sprouting out along various limbs. This is not the first time it has happened.
    Stacy

    • Wow, that’s a long-lived dracaena! Congrats for keeping it around for so long. I would imagine that as the plant matures and reaches maximum height on some branches, it reroutes some auxin to other areas to encourage branching out.

    • Lovely to here someone else has a large, old dracena. Mine is 20 years old now and the the stems only get cut back when they try and escape through the ceiling. It will be pruned again this year and I am going to try and propergate for the first time in its life. Thanks Kevin for the video, it has given me confidence.

  7. I have had my dragon tree for just under a year – I was trying not to over water but may have accidentally left it too long as the leaves at the top started falling off although they are not yellowing at all. I watered it but the leaf fall has continued till now there are almost no leaves on the top stalks and the stalks with no leaves have gone pale at the tip.
    The lower growth at the moment seems fine.
    Should I prune it or is there something else I need to do?

    • The best thing you can do is change out your soil completely and chop off all of the rotted roots and top growth, water it lightly, then be patient and see if it comes back 🙂

  8. I also have a specific question regarding my dragon tree.

    It had a rough start, but after drilling some holes in my pot it is doing much better! However now, the inner leaves are starting to turn brown. Any ideas of what this could mean? Thank you!

    • Hm…you would have increased drainage with the holes, so maybe now it’s getting too LITTLE water? Only thing I can think of that would have changed.

  9. Hi,
    I recently repotted my dracaena after 5 years of not doing so. After a few days, a solid quarter of its leaves started turning completely yellow and they are so easy to pull off (for an image: https://i.imgur.com/7jhcJ7m.jpg). I was reading that fluoride might be the cause, I added perlite to the soil but not sure if the whole leaf turning yellow is a sign of fluoride burn?
    Could it be that it’s suffering a bit just from being repotted? It looks like the top is doing fine and it’s still producing new leaves so not sure what to do here, my husband wants to change the soil but not sure if repotting it again would be too much stress on it. Thank you in advance!

    • Often times it’s a simple stress issue from repotting. Mine is going through the same thing right now. I pruned off any dead leaves and am relying on the new growth to support the plant 🙂

  10. Hi dear Kevin. As you’ve mentioned above, partial shade is good enough for this tree. but the place that I actually put this tree is totally in the shade. Is it gonna cause a serious problem? or can artificial lights help at all? I really love to have it at my place(which is almost in the shade)! 🙁 any suggestion would be appreciated!

    • It probably won’t like it a lot…but I’d keep an eye on it and see how it does. If it starts to droop or yellow, you know you need to supplement with lights.

  11. Thanks for the advice but as the tree is worth over 30,000 AUD I have called in the aborist who looks after our capitols botanic garden…. I will let you know the results.. hopefully all good ..

  12. I put my well established dragon tree in my garden office, kept a heater in there to stop it from going below about 6-8 degrees (Celsius) and the leaves started getting limp and the soils was staying cold and damp. Eventually I took it out a put it back in the house, but now all the leaves have gone. It still looks strong and sturdy in the three stems.

    Will it come back if left and kept watered?

    Is there anything else I can do to help bring life back?

    I really hope you can help.

    • Sounds like root rot to me. Best way to solve this is to repot with fresh soil. Wash entire root structure and cut away any dead roots and remove the same amount of foliage at the top too so the plant can recover. Add fresh soil and make sure not to over water 🙂

  13. I have two dragon trees and am having the same problem. They are both tall with nice long healthy leaves at the top but the trunks are thin and spindly, they are about 4 12 feet tall. they have never branched new shoot from the stems but one has grown a baby (last year) from the roots in the same pot. I have had both plants for about 8 years. Should I propagate them?

  14. I have a very mature Dragon Tree at the front of my house…. over 3m high and 3m spread… the trunk is about 300mm diameter and has heavy foliage….. however the tree is yellowing at one side with new spikes rising from the dead area… the bark is beginning to flake all over and some deep gouges are easily seen like the tree branches are splitting…. now this is a tree and not a pot plant can you help ?? Also is it normal that when you tap the trunk it sounds hollow like a boab ?? remember this tree is taller than my house… really scared of losing it.

    • Wow, that is a large one. I don’t have a lot of experience with a tree that big. If it seems hollow, I would imagine that maybe you have a pest in there boring out the tree and damaging that side of the plant. Maybe there’s a way to check?

  15. I’ve had two of these now. The first one died from overwatering, so I replanted the second one with a better potting soil. It’s done fine for months with no change in habit and now it suddenly dropped half of its leaves. I checked the soil for extra water, but it was dry. However, the leaves aren’t changing color in any way, they’re just falling off. I think it is being under watered this time, but I’m afraid to water it more and just have it die anyway like the first one! Thoughts?

    • If it’s dry to 1″ deep, I’d say this time it’s an underwatering issue. With these plants you want to keep them evenly moist, so it’s hard to say an exact schedule. Just make sure 1″ deep is moist at all times:)

  16. I’m confused? I have a very mature Dracaena (the kind with long thin leaves that grow straight up then droop into a big clusters) with 3 major trunks and 2 new shoots. The new shoots are dropping leaves and stopped growing, the tips of leaves on mature branches are drying out and turning yellow and whole leaves are turning yellow and dropping, I have lost one entire trunk and 1 small branch (all the leaves fell off) but it’s still growing new shoots on mature branches! If under watering turns tips yellow (happening now to mine) and over watering means leaves turn yellow and fall off (also happening to mine) then which one is it? I re-potted it to a slightly larger container w/ a large drainage tray (there was no root rot), used gravel as bottom layer with a good draining mulch/potting soil (with a little bit of perelite), moved it to a large sun tinted glass window with morning sun then it gets indirect sun the rest if the day. My water meter reads moist in some areas then dry in others? I’m at a loss here. It is so big we use it as our Christmas tree every year and I don’t want to lose it! Please help!?

    • in a situation like this I would definitely make sure you are using good quality potting soil and checking your moisture levels every day by putting your finger down intot he soil 3-5″ and seeing how moist it is. You can even get a soil meter to troubleshoot – I agree, it’s confusing when a plant responds the same way to opposite issues!

  17. Mine had spiked leaves that point upwards and now that it’s grown a bit I’ve noticed that the leaves aren’t erect anymore but still spikey. Just not pointing up. Leaves are not falling out and no discolouration. Also saved it from a mealy bug infestation recently btw. Is it still happy even though the leaves aren’t all pointing up? Thanks!

  18. Hey Kevin,

    Our Girl is getting white spots….all over some of the leaves, some towards the center of the plant….any idea what’s going on, or how to treat….She is a Madagascar dragon tree…..Thanks

    Thanks

    • Hey Dianna…my first guess would be some kind of mildew, but if it’s the actual leaf tissue that’s becoming white you may be dealing with a disease. I’d spray with neem and repot, then hope for the best!

  19. Hey Kevin,

    Our Girl is getting white spots….all over some of the leaves, some towards the center of the plant….any idea what’s going on, or how to treat

  20. Hi, nice article, I was wondering what’s wrong with my tree, I have two canes potted in the same pot, the short one is fine, but the taller one is a little mushy at the bottom, not totally soggy but feels like the outer paper is loose from the stalk, couple of yellow leaves, possibly over watered, I haven’t watered since but do you think it can recover from it? Thanks

    • Almost always is an over watering issue. If you want to make sure you give it the best chance to survive, I’d repot it in fresh soil and clean the roots off!

  21. My dragon plant has started to have a couple (1-2) leaves towards the bottom of the plant turn completely yellow, literally overnight. I either clip them or they come off on their own if lightly tugged.

    I’ve had my plant about 2 months & the nursery advised I water my plant every 2 weeks, which I’ve been doing. I switched to filtered water after I learned they’re sensitive to fluoride.

    Other than this, the plant seems to be thriving.

    Any reason why the leaves are turning yellow? Thanks!

    • Hmm…could be a nutrient deficiency issue, or perhaps the water is being retained by your potting soil? Check by putting finger down into soil after 1 week and seeing how wet it still is. My guess is over / under watering or a potential nutrient deficiency in soil!

      • Thank you, Kevin, for your response! I’m going to check in a few days to see if I’m not watering enough and start from there, as I just watered him on Saturday.

  22. Hi there! Thanks so much for your dedication to this site! I come here to get so many of my questions answered! My plant has been doing great, it seems it be liking the amount of water I’ve been giving it, I drench it once every 7-10 days in the shower in a pot with good drainage and then place it back in it’s spot. This past week a yellow fuzzy mold has began to cover the top of the soil – the soil seems dry so I’m not sure if its because of moisture and I’m afraid to water to water it more in case it is. :/ Any ideas?

    • Thanks for the kind words Ella! For your plant, I would scrape off the mold and do a moisture depth check – see if it’s wet near the bottom of the pot after 4-5 days of watering. That might signal an over-watering or water retention issue.

  23. Tricolor bloom, I have a clump outside zone 10. The new growth in some older canes looks different. Shorter leaves. Is this how a bloom begins?

  24. Hi there,

    I have had this plant for about 5 months now. The leaves are falling off gradually and the ends are brown, crispy and curly. Then red colour on the leaves has also faded and is a lot less and is now yellow along the edges. Please help! I’ve tried loads of things but can’t see to revive!

    • I would highly recommend you do a troubleshooting session. Figure out if it’s over or under watered, if the lighting is right, and if there are any root-borne diseases that are hurting the plant. You may want to repot with fresh, clean potting soil in a new pot as well just as a safety measure! Good luck Annabel.

  25. My cat has eaten several leaves off my plant and I was woundering if there was a possibility of them growing back because the plant was given to me by a good friend and I really hope it dosent die

  26. It’s normal for the plant to lose some leaves. But, a lot of leaf loss is usually caused by watering, either too much or not enough. When the plant isn’t getting enough water the dropping leaves are generally all yellow. Too much water will cause the leaves to start yellowing at the tip and eventually die and fall off.

  27. I have been enjoying my madagascar dragon tree, but in the past month or 2 months, the leaves have begun to droop. I’m not finding much online help. Can you give me some tips? Too much water? Too little? Sunlight? Disease? It’s still producing new foilage on top. Thanks for your thoughts! Blessings. Anna. 🙂

Leave a Comment

Ready to boost your yields?

in 2019 we're growing big...

Sign up to get exclusive growing tips, techniques, and tricks delivered straight to your inbox…you won’t find these anywhere else!