potted dragon tree (dracaena marginata)

Dracaena Marginata (Dragon Tree) Care Guide

potted dragon tree (dracaena marginata)

If you are looking for an indoor plant that isn’t just going to add a lot of visual interest to your space (while remaining relatively compact and easy to care for) but also works to scrub the air you breathe inside, too, it’s tough to beat the Dracaena Marginata.

More commonly referred to as the Madagascar Dragon Tree (or just Dragon Tree), people all over the world have found that these plants to be perfectly suited to thriving indoors.

They do well in lowlight situations, aren’t going to grow all kinds of leaves that have to be pruned or taken care of while living indoors, and do quite nicely at temperatures inside that you’ll be comfortable at, too.

In the rest of this detailed guide we do a deep dive into everything you need to know about growing healthy, happy, and gorgeous Dragon Trees. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel completely comfortable tending to them. So you’ll have the pleasure of adding a really visually interesting plant to your indoor garden while boosting the quality of your air at the same time.

Dracaena Marginata: Background

Native to Madagascar (as well as Mauritius), the Dragon Tree is very attractive with stiff leaves that sort of looked like green swords atop their skinny little stems that reach to the sky – making them perfect for indoor gardens at home as well as at the office.

These skinny little grey stems are (for the most part) 100% free of branches until you get to the very top, where they split to support those green sword like leaves we mentioned a moment ago. The leaves are very shiny, strong, and have a unique arch shape to them when they are healthy. 

In the spring you can expect tiny little white flowers to bloom and blossom – provided your Dragon Tree is getting enough light.Tiny little yellow and orange berries are also known to grow on plants when they are healthy, though this usually only happens when you are growing these trees outdoors. It can be kind of difficult to generate the kind of growth activity inside necessary to go through the full flower blossoming and very stage of this plant without a lot of UV light.

In the wild of Madagascar it isn’t at all uncommon for the Dragon Tree to get up to 20 feet in height, especially if the soil composition is really dialled in, they get plenty of water and sun, and there’s room enough for these plants to sort of stretch their limbs.

When you take this plant inside, though, you are (obviously) going to stunt its growth quite a bit. Most of the time you will be dealing with a tree that gets to about three or four feet tall, though it’s not at all uncommon for some people to grow their Dragon Tree to 6 feet tall (or taller) if they have the space available.

dracaena marginata potted

Light For Your Dracaena Marginata

Dragon Trees are highly adaptive when it comes to the amount of light that they get, surviving well in bright light conditions as well as lowlight conditions – which is why they are so beloved as indoor houseplants.

To really maximize the health and wellness of your plan, though, you’ll want to keep it out of direct light as much as possible while still helping it soak in bright, filtered sunlight throughout the day.

The one thing you really do not want to do when caring for your Dragon Tree, though, is expose it to direct sunlight.

The broad leaves of this plant do not do well when left in direct light or too long a time. They’ll burn and destroy the health of the plant faster than you would have ever expected, even with just a day or two of direct light exposure.

Keep them shielded from direct light by placing them in the middle of spaces with plenty of windows or skylights, helping them to get ambient light for the best results.

Ideal Temperature For Your Dracaena Marginata

Again, the Dragon Tree is highly resilient when it comes to different temperature swings – though it’s a good idea to make sure that things don’t get any cooler than about 65° for too long a period of time if you want to keep your plant happy and healthy.

Temperatures between 68°F and 80°F or so are usually the ideal temperatures for these indoor trees. 

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Any hotter than 80°F and your plant is going to struggle to grow. As soon as you start to push 90°F or higher you start to threaten the actual health and vitality of that plant.

Below 68°F your plant is likely going to shut down and start to go dormant, though you have a little bit of time to rejuvenate and reawaken your Dragon Tree by heating things up a bit – so long as you catch the temperature swing in time.

Regular household humidity hits the sweet spot, too – though it’s not a bad idea to spritz the leaves of your plant every now and again during the winter if things are getting dry.

Soil Requirements

As far as soil is concerned, you want to keep things as natural as possible and as close to the same kind of soil conditions that these plants thrive in when found in the wild.

As it grows very successfully outdoors in places like Madagascar and Hawaii, you want soil that is loose, drains very quickly, and isn’t going to gum up or solidify when it becomes a little waterlogged.

In fact, some people have a lot of success with traditional potting soil mixed in with a bit of lava rock just to guarantee that there is plenty of aeration that might not have occurred otherwise. 

Sometimes you’ll have a Dragon Tree shipped directly to you planted 100% in lava rock as well – but it’s not a bad idea to mix in some potting soil and a little bit of fertilizer just to really fuel that plant as it balances itself out in relation to its new home.

dragon tree with purple leaves

Fertilizing Your Dracaena Marginata

A little bit of fertilizer can go a really long way when you are feeding your Dragon Tree.

As a general rule most plant experts recommend that you only ever feed your Dragon Trees once or twice a year with a very small amount of fertilizer, a fertilizer that features controlled-release capabilities that are going to slowly leech those nutrients out into the soil for your plants to absorb over time.

Most experts also recommend that if you are going to feed your Dragon Tree you do so only in the spring and maybe at the very end of fall. There aren’t any experts out there that recommend you fertilize over the winter when you’re Dragon Tree is going to sort of “shutdown” so avoid that whenever possible.

Watering

One of the trickier parts of keeping your Dragon Trees healthy is finding the perfect balance between watering too much and not watering enough.

Believe it or not, finding that perfect balance is a lot harder to do with these plants specifically than it is with a lot of other indoor varieties.

The last thing you want to do is drown your tree, something that’s going to happen if you add even just a little bit of extra water more frequently than you really should.

It’s always a good idea to let the top half of all the soil that you have planted this tree in to go dry – completely dry – which means giving it up to two or three weeks between watering’s whenever possible.

You’ll notice that you are overwatering your plant if you start to see a lot of brown developing on the ends of your leads. This is a sure fire sign that too much water is being added and you need to cut back ASAP.

Thankfully though, these trees are pretty resilient and should bounce back quite quickly. As soon as they get green again you’ll know that the soil has started to balance things out in the roots aren’t swimming underwater any longer.

Do everything you can to avoid remove any extra salt or any fluoride from the water that you are giving your plant.

Anytime the leaves start to turn a yellowish color it’s time to add a little more water. Don’t go overboard, though, as you don’t want to add too much water and drowned your plant when it is already in trouble. A little bit will go a long way.

Too Much Salt
The extra sodium (especially the fluoride) will discolor the leaves and the stem of your Dragon Trees, and obvious sign that the health isn’t great and that something needs to be adjusted ASAP. You don’t necessarily have to water your plants with distilled water to fix this problem but it might not be a bad idea to go in that direction if your plant starts to change colors as a sign of toxicity rearing its ugly head.

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Potting Dracaena Marginata

If at all possible you want to keep your Dragon Tree inside of the pot that it arrived in, even if it looks a little too small or little to constricted.

Truth be told, these trees do very well (VERY well) when the roots themselves are constricted and confined. The more space these roots have to swim around the worse off they are going to do, the more stress you are going to actually put on your plant, and the less healthy it’s going to be until it’s able to fill out that root system once again inside of its new pot.

If you are going to make a change when you get your Dragon Tree, though, you’ll want to be sure that you are using fresh, loose, and highly aerated soil and lava rocks (or something similar) to put your plant in.

You don’t want anything that’s going to clump up, you don’t want anything like clay, and you certainly don’t want anything that is going to hold a lot of water and a lot of moisture. You also want to err on the side of having to little soil inside of your pot when you drop your new Dragon Tree into it – giving those roots plenty of room to bind up again to slow things down as far as its annual growth rate is concerned.

Signs That It’s Time to Repot Your Dragon Tree

Because of how quickly the root system of these trees grow when given plenty of room to expand you might find yourself repotting plant at least twice a year if there’s a lot of space for these roots to work around.

As a general rule, most people that keep Dragon Trees for extended amounts of time allow the roots to get really congested – almost to the point where the plant starts to suffer a little bit, showing next to no real signs of growth over several months consecutively.

A lot of experts recommend that you let your trees get almost to a breaking point when it comes to root congestion, even. Once again, if you repot to early and give these roots too much space they are inevitably going to grow out of control – and you’ll end up repotting this plant at least twice or three times a year, and nobody wants to go through all that headache and hassle.

No, it’s a better idea to stick to a two-year repotting schedule for the most part. If your plant is showing obvious signs of degradation because the pot is too small you’ll want to switch things out, but you really can “redline” these plants a little harder and a little more aggressively than you can other ones without negatively impacting its health and well-being too much.

dragon tree in a wicker pot

Pruning Guide

At any point in time when the canes or stems of your Dragon Tree start to become bare (they shed their “skins”) it may be time to cut things back to encourage healthy growth.

When you take this approach to pruning a handful of new stems will shoot out of the cut, giving you an opportunity to pick and choose how many new stems you want your Dragon Tree to feature while also allowing you to cut back on any extras to really carefully craft how this indoor plant looks moving forward.

You won’t have to do seasonal pruning and you definitely shouldn’t be pruning this Dragon Tree any more than absolutely necessary. The beauty of this plant is that it is very much a “set it and forget it” kind of indoor plant that you don’t have to babysit all the time.

Propagating

If you do decide to cut back the canes or stems during a little bit of pruning it’s a good idea to save them in some water to generate a little bit of propagation.

Snip the stems that you want to cut away and soak them in a bit of water, cutting them down to 12 inch sections and marking them at the top and bottom with a sharpie. Fill up a glass of water and drop the stems into it, allowing the stems to soak as much water as they want – and then wait until new roof systems start to develop at the bottom of each of these cuttings.

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It’ll take a couple of weeks for things to really start to rock and roll, but after a month or two you’ll start to see new leaf growth at the top of the stems as well.

As soon as you see those green leaves start to poke their way through the top of these cuttings you can replant the root ball system, choosing to plant the new Dragon Tree in the old container next to the old stems or creating an entirely new potted plants that you can place somewhere else in your home or office.

F.A.Q’s

Here are some questions we’ve frequently been asked about Dragon Tree’s. If you can’t find yours below, leave a comment and we’ll do our best to help you!

Do Dragon Trees Breathe Fire?

No! But it would be quite exciting….

Will My Dragon Tree Flower?

Beautiful little white flowers are known to pop out these woody, cane style stems every now and again – what you’re usually only going to see that these flowers when these plants are allowed to grow outside in almost picture-perfect conditions.

Dragon Trees that are thriving outdoors naturally not only flower once a year but they also develop these tiny little yellow/orange berries that are next to impossible to see when these plants are grown indoors as well.

Every now and again, though, you’ll get a unique plant that flowers as well as grows fruit. Don’t be shy about taking pictures of that occasion as it really is quite rare!

How Well Do Dragon Trees Do Indoors?

Dragon Trees are highly adaptive to the indoor environment, loving indoor room temperatures and basic room humidity levels for the most part – all while growing pretty steadily without a lot of direct sunlight, too.

In fact, there may not be a whole lot of other tree varieties out there that do as well indoors as these trees will.

Best of all, there are a couple of things you can do to control the growth and development of these trees to really maximize how they look and how they fill out indoor spaces. They usually don’t grow a whole lot taller than 4 feet to 6 feet tall inside, aren’t going to fill your home with leafy branches, and aren’t going to invite all whole lot of pests or bugs to make a home inside of their canopy, either.

If you want a great-looking, easy to take care of, and not at all fussy indoor plants to scrub your air and to look fantastic at the same time you could do a lot worse than Dragon Trees.

Are Dragon Trees Dangerous?

While these plants are not at all poisonous or toxic to humans they can be highly toxic to dogs and cats (and other pets).

These plants are so dangerous to our furry little family members, in fact, that it’s probably a good idea to avoid growing them indoors if you want to keep your dogs and cats healthy. The leaves as well as the stems of these trees are both pretty poisonous, and it doesn’t take a whole lot for the substances inside of these plants to be absorbed into the bloodstream of your animals.

Eating a couple of leaves or chewing up the stems on these plants can leave your pets with significant stomach pains and discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, and more. Eating any more than that and you could have a full-blown veterinarian emergency on your hands, one that could be life-threatening – and one that is inevitably going to be very expensive to take care of.

You might think that these plants are safe enough put up on a shelf somewhere or in a large pot that keeps them off of ground floor levels, but it’s really not worth the extra risk if you’d like to keep your animals safe.

Other than that, though, these plants are absolutely gorgeous to look at, super easy to take care of, and really do have some health boosting properties with the way that they scrub our air of toxins. Even the folks at NASA use Dragon Trees as natural scrubbers and a lot of their facilities!

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