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Dracaena marginata Growing Guide

Grow Madagascar Dragon Tree in your Garden or at Home as a House Plant

The Dracaena marginata plant is a native of semi-desert areas of the Madagascar and Mauritius islands close to Africa. It therefore comes as no surprise that it is more often grown as a houseplant than in the garden because it cannot tolerate temperaturse below about 41°f (5°C). That said many people may wish to put the plant outside in a container during the warmth of Summer. As a member of the 120 species member Dracaena genus this plant is often referred to as being a Dragon Plant, but perhaps a little bit more accurately should be referred to as Madagascar Dragon Tree.

The genus name, Dracaena, is derived from the ancient Greek word for female dragon 'Drakaina'. One of the most distinctive parts of members of this genus is that they have a secondary thickening meristem within their trunk; this phenomenon is known as Dracaenoid thickening.

Madagascar Dragon Tree

Dracaena with variegated leaves photograph by Forest and Kim Starr.

D. marginata is pretty easy to distinguish from other Dragon trees as it has slenderer linear to lance-shaped leaves with a leaf margin. Stems are slender and grey. Naturally leaves are deep green with thin red edges, but numerous cultivars are available: D. marginata 'Tricolor': Center of leaf has a white/cream stripe, main leaf green, edge dark red; D. marginata 'Bicolor'; Striped red and green.

Growing Dragon Tree Indoors as a Houseplant

This slow growing plant is considered easy to grow indoors as an House plant and does well in locations with indirect light. Don't keep it in too dark a place though as this will have a negative effect on leaf colors. The plant can reach up to 20 feet (6 m) in height in ideal growing conditions so you may want to prune the top with scissors to control its growth (don't worry new growth will appear over time). Typically indoor plants are grown to about 6 feet (2M), but this depends on space availability.

One of the biggest issues with this plant is that people tend to overwater it (remember it naturally grows in arid semi-desert regions. Ideally only water when the topsoil has completely dried out; this will usually be about every two weeks. Ideally use distilled water or non-fluorinated water as this prevents the tips turning brown (Dragon tree is fluoride sensitive). Don't over fertilize, perhaps once or twice a year with a standard weak indoor plant feed. If your home is not humid then give the plant an occasional spray with water.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific name: Dracaena marginata
  • Common Name (s): Madagascar Dragon Tree, Dragon Tree, Dragontree, Spanish dagger, Rainbow tree, Red-stemmed dracaena.
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 10 to 12 / H1b (outside in the summer). Often grown indoors as a Houseplant.

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle/Type: Evergreen. Tree.
  • Plant Height: 12 to 20 feet (4 to 6 m). Bushy habit.
  • Plant Spread: 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
  • Blooms: Spring
  • Flower Details: Green-white. Tiny. Fragrant.
  • Leaf Foliage Details: Sword-shaped. Long. Dark green with red edges. Colourful cultivars available.
  • Fruit: Berry. Orange or red.

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Partial shade, Indirect sunlight
  • Suitable Soil Types: Well drained. Loam
  • Suitable Soil pH: 6 to 7
  • Soil Moisture: Fairly moist whilst in growing season. Dryer in the autumn and winter.
  • Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Sow seeds on the surface in spring. Initially soak seeds for four or five days in tepid water. Sow in pots containing slightly moist potting compost. Use plastic lid or cling film to maintain moisture until germination occurs. Germination temperature: 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C). Once seedling emerge relocate pots to an area with indirect light.
    Propagate from semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings in the summer.
  • Care: Requires year round temperatures of above 41°F (5°C) just to survive (may need to grow under glass); ideally the majority of the year temperature should remain above 65°F (18°C). Leaves will drop off if exposed to cold temperatures. If growing in containers it is fine to share with other Dragon trees whatever their size.
  • Houseplant Care: Grow in indirect sunlight. Ideal temperatures 65 to 80°F (18° to 27°C). Well drained lose soil or potting mix. Water about every two weeks with fluoride free water (to prevent leaf discolouration) when top 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) of soil are completely dry. Prune tops to control height (new shoots appear after about two to three weeks). Use weak fertilizer twice a year (once in spring, and again in autumn). Spray leaves occasionally with water. Remove spider mites with soapy water. Spots on leaves are a sign that a plant is receiving too much light; leaves lack vibrant colours if too much shade. Re-pot plants into bigger pots about every two years.

Further Information

  • Best used for: Containers, House Plant, Conservatory, Removing chemicals from the air.
  • Miscellaneous: Drought tolerant. Gets its name from the Ancient Greek word for Female Dragon. Aggressive roots.
  • Family: Asparagaceae
  • The plant's family Asparagaceae contains closely related species and genera to Dracaena such as: Yucca plant How to grow Asparagus; and Galtonia
  • Further Reading and References used for this Dracaena marginata growing guide: How To Care For Dracaena Marginata; and NC State Extension


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