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Home » Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata): Plant Care and Growing Guide – House Plants Expert

Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata): Plant Care and Growing Guide – House Plants Expert

by Elyssa Goins
This article was fact checked.
Helpful: 100%
This article was fact checked by Nadia Saleh MS Botany

The Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) is one of the easiest indoor plants to grow and maintain. The D. marginata tree is a true statement piece in a room. The plant is slow growing and can flourish up to 6 ft high indoors. Its leaves appear spikey at the beginning and eventually resemble swords or a spear. The final look is bold and striking.

I mention easy and tough because I have seen this indoor plant barely given any care and attention and they still thrive today. I’m guilty of leaving one for six months while I was away (the family did not water it) it is now doing very well after I thought it was dead. Dracaena can do well in average room conditions even with low light and low humidity.

https://youtu.be/tGb9QZs8YzA?si=oIpAhYXulpPIMnCI

Dracaena Marginata Care

Temperature:Average room temperatures are ideal between 65°- 75°F (18°- 24 °C) or more. The dragon tree plant will live through much colder temperatures during winter (as I have observed), but keeping them in optimal health requires the room to be no less than 50°F (10°C).
Light:Bright conditions with shade are suitable for the dragon plant. Direct sunlight will damage the leaves, unlike bright indirect light.
Watering:Avoid overwatering, keeping the soil slightly moist is the best indicator of correct watering. During the winter, like most plants, they need much less. The Dragon Tree is drought-tolerant.
Soil:I have always used an all-purpose potting mix that works fine. Keep the soil well drained for the optimal growth of the Madagascar dragon tree. One of the ideal soil mix is, one half to three fourth of shredded pine bark and sand.
Re-Potting:These can be re-potted every two years during spring or later if needed. Be sure to use drainage holes.
Humidity:Normal household humidity levels are fine and misting the leaves is advised. They do like fresh air during the summer from an open window and do not like stuffy hot rooms from central heating systems.
Propagation:Cutting and re-planting stem cuttings a couple of inches long is an easy method to use. For ideal results, you can also apply root hormones for a few weeks to begin rooting.
Pruning:Remove old leaves that are ready to fall from the bottom of the trunk which will make it look more attractive. And, cut back stems to keep the plant to the size you want.

Madagascar Dragon Tree Description

The Madagascar Dragon Tree, a great statement piece

The Dracaena marginata is a species from a large plant genus (Dracaena) that has many variations in leaf sizes, leaf colors, and different trunk types. The marginata species is one of the most popular seen indoors that grows into an attractive plant and becomes a great focal point of a room, once it has matured enough.

How It Looks

Dracaena marginata is an evergreen shrub that consist of multiple thin curving stalks that emerge into narrow ribbonlike leaves. The upright stem is supported by several slender canes.

Foliage

The leaves are quite slim compared to other Dracaena species with arching leaves. They have three popular cultivars, one has dark red outer edge leaves with a green center (‘Bicolor’), another is ‘Tricolor’ green in the center with red and yellowish stripes and the other the ‘Colorama’ has thick red edges.

The leaves are produced when the trunk grows stems (cane) from the side that often needs to be trained (keeps them growing upwards). These stems have a grayish-brown bark (the trunk) that can also produce smaller ones, so the Dragon tree really needs to be pruned to avoid the plant from growing in all directions.

This dragon tree plant is a slow grower that can take about 10 years to reach over 5ft tall but look lush once they reach about a foot high. They have a very similar look to palm tree plants.

Flowering

Dracaena marginata produces fragrant, tiny, white flowers in the spring season which turn into yellow orange berries. Flowers rarely bloom on Dracaena sp. houseplants.

How It Grows

Level of care: 

The Madagascar dragon tree is one of the easiest house plants to grow and takes neglect on the chin – then recovers quickly once the correct conditions and care are provided. The one I gave to my sister (about 5ft in height) over 10 years ago was neglected more than cared for and is now looking great.

Leaves falling:

 If leaves start dying and coming away at the bottom of the plant – do not worry. This is natural and similar to how a yucca tree sheds its bottom leaves for new growth. You can remove them once you see them deteriorating in appearance.

Poisonous: 

This D. marginata plant is toxic to both cats and dogs. The problem with cats is they love chewing the leaves, as I found out with my parents’ cats. My parents’ cats were fine, although they only nibbled a small amount. Because the leaves are very slim I’m sure they think it’s a type of grass. See more about pets and the effect toxins have here at the ASPCA.

Improving air quality: 

The Dracaena marginata is one of the plants on NASA’s air filtering plants list (part of the NASA clean air study) that reduce benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene, within the air.

Madagascar Dragon Tree Facts

Origin:Native to Madagascar and Mauritius Island.
Names:Dragon Tree, Red-edged Dracaena (common). Dracaena marginata (botanical name).
Max Growth (approx):Height 6 ft.
Poisonous for pets:Toxic to cats and dogs.
Madagascar Dragon Tree with leaves up the stem
Madagascar Dragon Tree Large Potted, dracaena marginata

Types of Dracaena Marginata – Cultivars

This type of plant can be displayed either indoors or outdoors. There are a lot of varieties, or cultivars, of the Madagascar dragon tree but these three are the most found in your nearest plant stores:

1. Dracaena marginata ‘Bicolor’

bicolor dragon tree in a pot

This is a well-liked indoor plant with long, elongated green with red edged leaves. These plants are excellent for novices because they can withstand drought and don’t care much about the amount of light they receive. It makes a wonderful houseplant since it has the ideal balance of beauty and toughness.

2. D. marginata ‘Colorama’

Dracaena Marginata Colorama red foliage

This is an easy-care indoor plant with bright foliage that is striped in pink and scarlet. This grows to a height of around 60 cm and can be used as a potted plant or blended with other plants in your garden with the contrast of its dark red margins.

3. D. marginata ‘Tricolor’

Tricolor dragon plant on the ground and is measured using a measuring tape.  Vibrant red

This plant features of green leaves with dark crimson borders and an ivory stripe running through the middle.

Common Problems

As mentioned above the dragon tree will take lots of neglect, although this is not advised of course. Here are some potential problems to look out for.

  • Brown leaf tips: Brown tips could be dry air (little humidity), cold drafts, or under-watering. Check room humidity and water levels, then see if there are any drafts to identify the cause. Once the cause is found just provide the correct care or conditions needed.
  • Brown soft leaves: The room has become too cold for the plant and the soil could be waterlogged. Provide higher temperatures and check the soil.
  • Brown spots on leaves: The possible cause here is lack of water or may be due to excessive sunlight. The remedy of course is to water more often and keep the soil slightly moist.
  • The bottom leaves becoming yellow: This as mentioned above is normal. The plant is shedding lower leaves to allow new growth.
  • Insects: Red Spider Mite, Mealy bugs, and scale insects can be a slight problem and treated with insecticides.

Here you will find instructions and advice for pruning and repotting a Dracaena marginata »

If you like plants from the Dracaena genus then you may want to take a look at the most popular plants here »

Frequently Asked Questions About Madagascar Dragon Tree

How often should I water my Madagascan Dragon Tree?

Once every 2-4 weeks will do just fine. Just make sure that when you do water it, it’s getting enough. Check the moistness of the soil in between waters if you think it may be underwatered. 

Why does my dragon tree plant have brown, dry tips?

This is a common sign of underwatering. If the leaves begin to dry up or become brown around the edges or on the tips, give your tree a little extra water and it should do the trick.

How do I clean my Dragon Tree?

You may notice that the leaves of your tree have started to collect dust. This is really common, so don’t worry. Simply give them a wipe down with a wet paper towel and try misting the leaves in the future to prevent dust from settling.

What kind of pot should I put it in?

Any semi-porous, well-draining pot will do. Terracotta pots are a favorite with this plant.

What happens if I forget to water my marginata plant?

Not to worry, these plants are so easy-going they can happily bounce back. These trees can go over a month without watering and when water is added, the tree can revive within days.

Do they attract any pests or diseases?

Generally, the tree is protected from a lot of pests and diseases, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. When the plant is too dry, mealy bugs, thrips, and spider mites are more likely to crop up. To prevent this, mist your plant or raise the humidity in its surroundings.

Do they need to be fertilized?

Not really, because they’re slow growers. Adding a bit is fine, but don’t add too many nutrients!

How do you care for a Madagascar dragon tree?

This is an easy-care house plant. Water occasionally, indirect light, and most other conditions it can tolerate.

How big can a Madagascar dragon tree get?

Indoors around 6 ft tall over time. They are slow to grow so don’t worry about it getting out of control anytime soon.

Are Dragon Trees toxic to cats?

Yes but likely not fatal. Dracaena plants contain saponins that are toxic when ingested. Drooling, vomiting, weakness, and dilated pupils are signs to watch for.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance, evergreen, decorative plant then the dragon tree may be perfect for you! They’re chilled out, don’t need much attention, and will grow slowly so you don’t have to worry about feeling overwhelmed or out of control.

The Madagascan Dragon Tree can be happy in any room, as long as it’s not exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight. A brighter room in the shade is the perfect pick – maybe stay away from conservatories or windows. 

These trees are happily left alone, just feel free to clean/mist them whenever you feel like they need it. Water it every 2-4 weeks within growing months – just make sure the topsoil is slightly moist at all times. Make sure to consider that your watering routine will have to change in the winter. When the tree is not growing, water the Dracaena every 4 weeks.

If you notice waterlogging on the top of the soil, falling leaves, or start smelling root rot, your plant is drinking too much water. 

Watch out for brown leaf tips, brown soft leaves, brown spots on leaves, and yellow leaves. These can all be signs that your tree needs to be moved or your care routine needs to be adapted. 

Make sure to remember that these trees can be harmful to pets!

References

Gilman, E. F. 1999. Dracaena marginata, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Cooperative Etension Service.

Dracaena marginata, Dragon Tree. Henderson County Master Gardener Association.

Tanner, S. J., Dragon Trees. Chippewa Valley Master Gardener.

Odenwald, N. G. and James R. T. Identification, Selection, and Use of Southern Plants: For Landscape Design. Claitor’s Pub. Division, page 193.

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Alice Pounders
Alice Pounders
1 year ago

I picked up a free plant that looked like it was dead. After care, removing dead leaves and proper watering, the good part of the plant looks healthy, but, as it looks like it comes from one trunk, 2 of them are definitely dead. Those are about 1″ to 1 1/2″ in size. What do I do with these dead stems

Mary Lloyster
Mary Lloyster
Reply to  Alice Pounders
1 year ago

Hey Alice! It is good to hear aboutthat the plant that you saw and survived, I guess the dead stem should be pruned so it may not affect the healthy one.

Elise Grebe
Elise Grebe
1 year ago

Hi! I have had my Dragon Tree plant for over 10 years. It looks healthy but I noticed some drops of sap (honeydew) on many of the leaves. I know that’s a sign of a pest infestation, but don’t see any evidence, such as mealybugs, aphids or scale. I’m not sure how to proceed. I’ve never had good luck getting rid of pests in the past on my plants, and eventually have to throw out the plant, as much as I hate to. I’m wondering if you have any advice. Thank you!

Mary Lloyster
Mary Lloyster
Reply to  Elise Grebe
1 year ago

Hi, Elise Grebe! That was also one of my struggles with my dragon tree two months ago, and I got rid of the insects creating the honeydew with a strong blast of water. That was all that was needed to knock the damaging pests off the affected plant and get rid of the sticky stuff that was in the leaves. You can also use neem oil, white oil, and insecticidal soap, which are useful when considering how to remove honeydew-causing insects and what they’ve left behind. And now my dragon tree plant is as healthy as I am, hahha :)!

ROBIN
ROBIN
11 months ago

My tree has a very iong empty trunk and is top heavy and the tree is actually bending – the leaves at the top are all heathy – any suggestions

Mary Lloyster
Reply to  ROBIN
10 months ago

Robin, You can behead a Dragon Tree. In fact, you can plant the top and it will grow a second plant for you!

joe
joe
Reply to  Mary Lloyster
10 months ago

wow that’s good to know!

joe caputi
joe caputi
10 months ago

How do i make a branch sprout along the trunk? it is very tall and skinny.

Elyssa Goins
Admin
Reply to  joe caputi
10 months ago

Joe,
The only option I know of would be to cut the main trunk lower where you want more branches. It will send out a couple new shoots at the cut point. You can then cut those stems to make it spread again.

Rehoboth
7 months ago

Nice post

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