Everything You Need to Know About Growing & Caring for Dragon Trees at Home

In the dead of winter, the best way to warm your home is with fire. So, why not adopt a dragon? A dragon tree, that is. You’ll love this fiery houseplant for its exotic silhouette and low-maintenance needs. It’ll only devour one village per year. Just kidding. Keep reading to find out what dragon trees (Dracaena marginata) actually eat and how to grow one of your own at home.

Whoever believed that dragons weren’t real anyway?


About Dragon Trees (Dracaena Marginata)

About Dragon Trees (Dracaena Marginata)

What Is a Dragon Tree?

Native to the island after which it was named, the Madagascar dragon tree is more simply referred to as the dragon tree (Dracaena marginata). It’s one of about 120 species of succulent shrubs and trees that belong to the genus Dracaena, under the Asperagaceae (yep, the same family as the notorious vegetables) family of flowering plants and the sub-family Nolinoideae.

Dragon trees are most notable for their unique looks. They start with a long, narrow trunk that spires upward. Atop the spindly, brown trunk, dragon trees sprout a tuft of spikey, green leaves edged with red. Mature plants will produce branches, each equally slender with a pom-pom of stiff, sword-shaped leaves at the end. Apart from their traditional brown-and-green colors, dragon trees look a little like the Truffula Trees that grew inside Dr. Seuss’s imagination.

Outdoors, dragon trees produce fragrant white flowers and yellowish-orange berries. Cultivated indoors, however, blooming is unlikely.

5 Most Popular Indoor Dragon Tree Cultivars

  1. Classic Dragon Tree – Features dark-green leaves rimmed with red.
  2. D. Marginata ‘Bicolor’ – Leaves striped with red and green.
  3. D. Marginata ‘Tricolor’ – This plant has similar leaf markings to the original with a band of yellow between the green and red.
  4. D. Marginata ‘Colorama’ – An accentuated red rim gives the plant an overall pinkish or reddish look.
  5. D. Marginata ‘Tarzan’ – The Tarzan is similar in color to the original dragon tree, but its leaves are much tougher, thicker, and broader. They also grow in a slightly different pattern that resembles the spiky ball of a dragon’s tail.

How Long Do Dragon Trees Live?

How Long do dragon trees (dracaena marginata) live

The plant’s lifespan is not precisely known, but we do know that they can live for centuries. A close relative of the Dracaena marginata, a Dracaena draco growing on the island of Tenerife is estimated to be nearly 300 years old.

Are Dragon Trees Poisonous?

Dragon trees contain saponins which are toxic to dogs and cats. They’re not considered toxic to humans, but dragon trees can irritate sensitive individuals. Precautions should be taken to avoid accidental ingestion by pets or children.

Dragon Tree Uses and Benefits

In addition to looking beautiful, the dragon tree has been shown to be an air-purifying powerhouse. NASA’s clean air study found that while replenishing oxygen, dragon trees remove toxins like trichloroethylene, xylene, and formaldehyde from your indoor atmosphere.


Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) Meaning and Symbolism

The name of the Dragon tree’s genus, Dracaena comes from the Greek word for female dragon. The genus of plants earned this name thanks to the red, blood-colored sap that drips from broken or lacerated trunks and stems.

Not all Dracaena species produce this vermillion-colored sap, but it was enough to give them the reputation of dripping dragon’s blood. You can find them in Greek mythology where they were said to have sprouted from a trail of blood from a dragon called Ladon that was slain by Hercules.


How to Grow Dragon Trees (Dracaena Marginata) at Home

How to Grow Dragon Trees (Dracaena Marginata) at Home

Growth Expectations – Dracaena Marginata

Although they grow relatively slowly compared to other houseplants, mature dragon trees are worth the wait. In their natural habitat, dragon trees can reach up to 20 feet in height with about 10-foot foliage spread. Growing indoors, a mature dragon will likely reach around 6 feet in height with up to a three-foot foliage spread.

Preparing to Plant

Before planting, find a good location for your new Dracaena marginata. Choose a room with plenty of bright sunlight and find a spot well away from cold air drafts coming from air conditioning vents, leaky windows, or exterior doors.

Then make sure you have all the supplies you need. Dragon trees grow tall and skinny, making them perfect for tabletop containers and large pots for the floor. Choose a well-draining container 2 to 3 inches larger than your plant’s root ball. Then find an all-purpose houseplant potting soil, perlite or loam, and pebbles or lava rock.

The Best Dragon Tree Soil Mix

The Best Soil Mix for house plants

Dragon trees are low-maintenance and can survive in just about any well-draining soil. However, they’ll do best in a mix containing 50% neutral (6 to 7 pH) houseplant potting soil and 50% loam or perlite.

How to Plant a Dragon Tree

  1. Prepare a soil mix of 1/2 to 1/3 potting soil and 1/2 to 2/3 perlite or loam.
  2. Create a 1 to 2-inch layer of pebbles or lava rock in the bottom of your container.
  3. Add a few inches of soil and place your dragon tree’s root ball on top. Be sure you have at least 2 or 3 inches of space between the top of the roots and the top of the container.
  4. Fill in around the sides with your remaining soil mixture until the entire root ball is covered and only 1 to 2 inches of space remains in the pot.
  5. Water thoroughly and allow all excess moisture to drain. This should settle the soil. You can add more to the top of your plant if needed.
  6. Finally, place your dragon tree in its new location and enjoy.

Dracaena Marginata Light Preferences

Indoor dragon trees prefer bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight will scorch their leaves. While they can tolerate lower-light conditions, dragon trees won’t produce foliage of the same brilliance as they would with proper sunlight. A room with a south-facing window is best, as long as you don’t put your plant directly in front of the window.

Temperature and Humidity Preferences

Dragon trees grow comfortable in temperatures between 70°F and 80°F. Average household humidity is usually adequate. If your home is particularly dry or you live in an arid environment, you can mist your plant’s leaves with water once a week. Alternatively, you can place your plant atop a homemade humidity tray. Simply fill a cake tin with pebbles and add water.


How to Care for Indoor Dragon Trees (Dracaena Marginata)

How to Care for Indoor Dragon Trees (Dracaena Marginata)

How to Water a Dragon Tree

In an average environment, a dragon tree will need watering once or twice a month (more frequently in the spring/summer and less frequently in the fall/winter).

Overwatering is one of the most common pitfalls of dragon tree care. That being said, dragon trees do like their soil to hold a little moisture at all times. It’s best to water a dragon tree when the top-half of its soil is dry. A moisture meter or soil probe can help you monitor your plant’s needs.

Dragon trees are sensitive to fluoride and salty water. They’re best watered with distilled, filtered, or non-fluoridated water.

Fertilizing a Dragon Tree

Slow-growing dragon trees don’t require much feeding. To avoid burning the roots, only fertilize once at the beginning of the growing season. Use a balanced water-soluble fertilizer that’s been diluted to half-strength.

Pruning a Dragon Tree

Pruning a Dragon Tree

Dragon trees don’t have to be pruned. However, they’re very tolerant of pruning, and trimming them back can help you obtain the look you want. You can trim their leaves to remove brown tips or weak areas of growth. You can also prune a dracaena by cutting its stem to shorten your plant or remove branches.

Whatever your desired look, be sure only to prune your plant during the growing season and always use sharp, sterile pruning shears.

How to Propagate a Dragon Tree

Like pruning, dragon trees should only be propagated during the spring and summer. They’re easy to propagate with stem cuttings. You can simply cut a portion of the stem from the tree’s main trunk and then plant it in soil.

If you remove a sizeable portion of the trunk from your plant, you can cut it into several smaller sections (at least 4-inches long). Keep track of which end is the root and which is the top. Plant each section root-side-down in soil and water. New growth should appear within weeks.

To speed the process of propagation, dip the root side of your cuttings in growth hormone before planting.

How to Repot a Dragon Tree

Dragon trees should be repotted during the spring or summer. They actually like to be slightly root-bound, so they don’t need to be repotted too frequently. On average, repotting once every two years should be often enough – unless you notice your plant’s roots sprouting above the soil or a root coil pushing your plant up and out of its container.

To repot, first find a new, well-draining container no more than two or three inches larger than your current pot. Remove your dragon tree from its current container and tease the soil from its roots. If yours has a large coil of root, this can be trimmed away (to repot in the same container and restrain growth) or left intact (to move into a new container and encourage growth).

Then simply, follow the potting instructions from above.


Common Dragon Tree Problems and How to Fix Them

Common Dragon Tree Problems and How to Fix Them

Dragon trees are easier to train than actual dragons, but you could still encounter a few problems.

Soft, Browning Leaves

Leaves might go soft and brown if your plant is water-logged and suffering from root rot or if your plant has gotten too cold. First, check the plant’s soil and make sure it’s draining properly. Next, check the room temperature and ensure your plant is in a location that’s completely safe from cool drafts. Move the plant to a warmer location, if necessary.

Brown Leaf Tips

Cold drafts can also cause leaf tips to brown. Additionally, dry air and drought can also lead to brown leaf tips. If you’re certain your plant is safe from blasts of cold air, try increasing the frequency of your watering schedule, misting your plant with water once a week, and/or adding a nearby humidifier.

Yellow Leaves

Your plant is likely thirsty. Increase your watering schedule and make sure you provide enough water to balance the sunlight, temperature, and humidity.

Brown Spots on Leaves

Brown spots indicate thirst. While ensuring excess water drains completely, increase your watering schedule to keep the soil moist at all times.

Discolored Stem and Losing Leaves

If your plant has a discolored stem or is losing lots of leaves, it likely has root rot. Several different types of fungi can cause root rot. They’re all brought about by over-watering.

If your plant has root rot, remove it from its container. Trim off any diseased roots (they’ll look and feel slimy). Repot in clean soil and adjust your watering routine.

Why is my Dracaena Marginata Plant Not Blooming?

Don’t worry if your dracaena hasn’t bloomed. Indoor dragon trees rarely bloom. If you live in hardiness zone 10 to 12, you can move your plant outdoors during spring and summer to encourage flowering. If not, don’t fret. Sit back and enjoy your whimsical plant’s foliage and spiraling trunk.


What You Need: Dragon Tree Growing Supplies

Essential House Plant Tools
  • All-purpose houseplant potting soil
  • Perlite or loam
  • Lava rock
  • Well-draining pot
  • Watering can and misting bottle
  • Water-soluble fertilizer
  • Moisture meter or soil probe
  • Sharp secateurs

Wrap Up

You have the know-how, now it’s time to gather supplies and head to your local garden center to pick out your newest plant baby. Whether you select a young Dracaena marginata for tabletop display or a full-grown, fire-breathing (just kidding) dragon tree to give an empty wall character, you’ll love the visual impact. Plus, you’ll find it surprisingly simple to keep yours alive and thriving.


Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) FAQ:

Dracaena marginata should be potted using a soil mix of 1/2 to 1/3 potting soil and 1/2 to 2/3 perlite or loam. Find a spot in your home with bright, indirect sunlight throughout the day where possible and water every 14 days in spring and summer (and every 21 days typically during the winter months). Fertilizer only once or twice during the growing season with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength.

Indoor dragon trees prefer bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight will scorch their leaves. While they can tolerate lower-light conditions, dragon trees won’t produce foliage of the same brilliance as they would with proper sunlight. 

Dracaena marginata is native to Madagascar where they grow in abundance in the wild. Due to their tolerance to varying light conditions and infrequent watering they can also be successfully grown as indoor plants. 

In an average environment, a dragon tree will need watering once or twice a month (more frequently in the spring/summer and less frequently in the fall/winter).

A very gentle misting of dracaena plants can be beneficial to boost the relative humidity around the plant though a humidity tray placed underneath the plant’s pot is generally a safer solution. Misting can lead to stagnant water on the leaves which may contribute to the emergence of fungal infections and pests. 

Cold drafts can also cause leaf tips to brown. Additionally, dry air and drought can also lead to brown leaf tips. If you’re certain your plant is safe from blasts of cold air, try increasing the frequency of your watering schedule, misting your plant with water once a week, and/or adding a nearby humidifier.

Yellow leaves on dracaena marginata plants is a common sign that your plant is thirsty. Increase your watering schedule and make sure you provide enough water to balance the sunlight, temperature, and humidity.

In addition to looking beautiful, the dragon tree has been shown to be an air-purifying powerhouse. NASA’s clean air study found that while replenishing oxygen, dragon trees remove toxins like trichloroethylene, xylene, and formaldehyde from your indoor atmosphere.


Author

I’ve long been fascinated with the world of flowers, plants, and floral design. I come from a family of horticulturists and growers and spent much of my childhood in amongst the fields of flowering blooms and greenhouses filled with tropical plants, cacti, and succulents from all over the world. Today, my passion has led me to further explore the world of horticulture, botany, and floristry and I'm always excited to meet and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts and professionals from across the globe.

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