You just can't go wrong with Draceanas!

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Draceana 'Lemon Lime'Draceana 'Lemon Lime'The dracaena is a popular, easy to care for indoor pot plant in South Africa, and in the warmer subtropical regions of the country it makes a wonderful ornamental plant for the garden. Here’s everything you need to know about your potential new plant friend.

It’s hard to go wrong with dracaenas, they help to purify the air we breathe indoors, are low-maintenance and can even withstand a certain amount of neglect, and because they store water in their trunks, they are drought resilient, in case you forget to water them occasionally.

There are many exciting cultivars and their long, glossy green leaves come in many sizes, from broad to delicately thin, and in zesty, fresh colour variegations, with stripes of green and white, red, pink, yellow and chartreuse. Occasionally the plants set clusters of small, fragrant, white blossoms but rarely flower indoors.

Draceana marginata 'Tricolor'Draceana marginata 'Tricolor'Young plants are small and bushy, and are often sold in pots where several stems of varying heights are planted together, giving them a lovely full look, and because they are slow growing, they make perfect long-time residents for table and counter tops. Draceana species vary in height but they all slowly develop long, elegant stems, and this, combined with their lush foliage makes them great stand-alone plants, and wonderful combined with other plants, adding a tropical ambiance to gardens and indoor décor.

Draceana belongs to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae), and the genus dracaena comprises of about 40 species. The majority of the species are native to Africa, southern Asia through to northern Australia, with two species in tropical Central America. The origin of the plant name Draceana comes from the ancient Greek word “drakaina” which means “female dragon,” and was given to Draceana due to a red gum-like resin in their stems that was likened to dragon blood.

Various beautiful cultivars are available to gardeners including those listed below. Visit a retailer to find the perfect one for your garden or home.

Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India'

Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India' is sometimes sold as Pleomele reflexa. It is one of the most visually striking houseplants, and because it is very slow growing, developing to about 1.8m in height over many years, it is ideal for smaller pots in the office or home. The narrow, pointed leaves are 15 to 20cm long, and green, edged with a broad band of chartreuse yellow. In subtropical regions song of India is striking if planted in the garden, or in pots in a shady outdoor area, like a patio. In garden beds it needs bright, indirect light. Intense, direct sun will burn the leaves and low light will cause the plant’s yellow-lime striped vibrancy to fade, and the growth of the plant will be spindly. Mild morning sun can be an option. In tropical gardens it used as an evergreen focal plant where it can grow to an impressive height of 5.5m with a spread of 2.5m.

Dracaena fragrans marginata ‘Red Edge’

Red Edge hails from Madagascar and is also known as the “Madagascar Dragon Tree”.  It is an extremely popular indoor pot plant because it is a rugged and resilient species which looks graceful in any setting. Indoors it requires moderate to bright, indirect light, and as its name suggests, the long, thin, arching green leaves are edged with dark red. A small specimen can be placed on a counter or table top and mature specimens are extremely versatile because they grow up tall and slim, adding height and impact without taking up too much space. Indoors Red Edge can easily grow to a height of 2.5 to 3m, and outdoors, where it prefers a brightly lit shady position, it can reach majestic heights of up to 4.5m, with a spread of 1 to 2.5m. As this dracaena matures its bare stems can develop interesting curved and contorted architectural shapes, adding even more interest and tropical beauty to any setting.

Dracaena fragrans Massangeana

Dracaena fragrans Massangeana is native to tropical Africa and is also called the “corn plant” or the “happy plant” because it is easy to care for, and its fresh and cheerful looking yellow and green strappy leaves will brighten up any garden, or home. It remains a popular and resilient office plant because it grows in artificial light and does especially well under fluorescent lighting.  Indoors it will usually reach a maximum height of about 3m, and because it grows tall but remains slim, is easy to include in most home or office settings. Avoid placing it in direct sunlight which can scorch the leaves, rather place it in moderate to bright, indirect light.  Low light will cause the plant’s yellow striped vibrancy to fade and the growth of the plant will be spindly. In its natural tropical environment, this Dracaena can reach majestic heights up to 20m, and in subtropical gardens in South Africa it will also eventually attain a good height. Outdoors it thrives in bright, filtered light, but not direct sunlight. 

Draceana 'Lemon Lime'

Dracaena lemon lime is a sport of Dracaena deremensis, and that also makes Lemon Lime related to Dracaena Janet Craig and Dracaena Warneckii. The plant is sometimes referred to as ‘Dracaena fragrans‘, referencing the plants highly fragrant flowers. As its name suggests, this is a vibrantly fresh looking Dracaena with a predominantly lemon-lime background colour, sometimes tending towards yellow, with a central stripe of darker green, edged in white. Indoors it requires plenty of bright, indirect light to retain its vibrant colouring. Avoid direct sunlight which can scorch the leaves. It has lovely long, arching, lance-shaped leaves, and the multi-stem version gives a unique look, providing height in tiered levels of foliage. Its zesty freshness brightens up gardens, homes and office interiors, and because it grows slowly, it can fit in a particular space for a long time without requiring much maintenance. Its ultimate height indoors is about 1.5 to 2m, but outdoors it can reach 7m in height. Choose a spot in the garden that is not in direct sun, but which receives a lot of bright, indirect light.

Dracaena fragrans ‘Janet Craig’ Compacta

As its name suggests, this Draceans is a compact version of Dracaena fragrans, which is native to southeast Africa. It is an elegant, plant similar to the other members of its family, however, its thick green stems and tufty, glossy, dark green foliage is tighter than its cousins', making it an excellent addition to corner spaces indoors. Indoors it will grow in darker areas but prefers a brightly lit space. Compacta is very definitely a stylish option and looks stunning in modern, contemporary settings. Outdoors it also loves a brightly lit spot and can take a little sunshine. Janet Craig grows very slowly to about 1 or 2m tall and small specimens are perfect for tables and countertops. Larger specimens are very expensive but make great focal plants both indoors and in garden beds.

Draceana fragrans ‘White Jewel’

White Jewel is a compact plant with quite distinctively rich green and white-striped leaves.  It makes a stunning table top plant displayed in a brightly coloured or metallic container, and its slender silhouette also makes it a good choice where floor space is limited. Indoors it does best in bright, indirect light, and outdoors it also likes bright shade to semi-shade. Avoid direct sunlight which can scorch the leaves. It grows slowly to about 1 to 2m in height.

Dracaena deremensis Warneckii

Dracaena deremensis has lovely grey-green leaves which are striped with white or green. It grows slowly to about 1.5 to 2m tall and is ideal for offices with fluorescent lighting. The multi-stem version is a unique look that gives height and tiered levels of foliage for maximum indoor greenery to brighten up any indoor space. It requires moderate to bright indirect light. In the garden it also thrives in bright, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves.

Draceana 'Lemon and Lime'Draceana 'Lemon and Lime'Uses:

Centuries ago, the resin of these plants was used for toothpaste, dyes, and medicines. Today, it is still used for varnish and photo engraving.

In the Home & Garden:

These easy to grow and forgiving plants are perfect for the novice gardener. They are excellent to use in darker areas indoors and will grow easily in artificial light in offices. Indoors they make striking, table plants or short trees, and not only does their dramatic foliage and beautiful colour patterns make a great focal point in any room, they can also help improve air quality. According to research conducted by NASA, dracaenas can clean benzene, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from indoor air.

If grown in the garden in warm, frost free zones they are wonderful to use as focal plants or as a unique hedge or flanking plant at entrances.

Cultivation:

Indoors:

When growing dracaena plants indoors, as with most potted plants, location is of prime importance. Although they are known to tolerate low light conditions, and grow well in artificial light indoors, doing well in brightly lit offices and homes, they thrive in natural, brightly filtered light, such as through a sheer curtain in front of a sunny window, or in a bright shady spot. Varieties sporting bright colours always require bright light, because if the light is too low they will lose the vibrancy of their colours. Never place the plants where they receive direct sun, as the rays will scorch their foliage. Also, keep in mind, plants kept in lower light situations will grow slower and produce smaller leaves.

Draceanas are forgiving of temperatures, as long as they are not too cold. Room temperatures between 18 to 24°C are ideal daytime temperatures. In winter, temperatures below 13°C will harm the plant, so keep your dracaenas away from cold drafts from open windows and doors. Also, make sure that you display them away from any heating or cooling appliances.

Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor'Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor'Dracaenas are tough indoor plants and will tolerate the natural humidity indoors, but because they prefer the higher humidity of their natural rainforest habitat, they will greatly enjoy higher humidity indoors. If you see their leaf tips turning brown, that's often a sign that the humidity is too low, and misting the leaves down regularly with water will help to prevent this, as well as keeping them looking clean, fresh and healthy.

Another way of increasing humidity around the leaves is to place fine gravel or pebbles in the drip tray and filling the tray with water to just below the bottom of the pot.  It is important that the pot does not stand directly in the water as this can cause root rot. As the water evaporates, it will add humidity to the surrounding air. You can also improve humidity with a commercial humidifier.  

Wiping both the upper surfaces and undersides of the leaves regularly with a damp cloth will keep them clean, and allows the plant to exchange air freely. Do not use leaf shine on these plants.

Draceanas require a good quality potting soil which drains well, and although they require less water than most indoor plants, they should still be watered regularly in summer. Watering about once a week or so should suffice, but this can vary depending on the size of your plant, and the size of its pot. For best results keep the soil slightly moist but not soggy, always allowing the top soil to dry out before watering again.  To check the moisture levels most gardeners gently insert a finger into the top soil to check, but if you are a novice gardener, this is where a moisture meter may come in very handy for all your potted plants. In winter reduce the amount you water, especially in cold regions. And if you are growing dracaena in low light it will not require as much water as those growing in warmer, brighter conditions.

Dracaena trees are sensitive to salts, minerals, fluoride and chlorine in tap water, so try to use rain water or purified water when caring for this plant. If you don’t have rain or purified water you can use tap water, but let the water sit for 24 hours in a bucket before giving it to the plant. This will allow for some of the unwanted materials to evaporate. Leaves with dark brown and dead areas with yellow edges may indicate fluoride toxicity.

Drooping or yellowing leaves indicate over-watering or poor drainage, but don’t worry if you notice the bottom leaves beginning to turn yellow and fall, as it is normal for dracaenas to shed their lower leaves in order to grow new ones, and as the lower leaves fall of they form their long canes. 

Because dracaenas grow slowly it is not necessary to overfeed them, but a light feed every month or two in summer with a balanced houseplant fertiliser will  keep them looking at their best. As the plants benefit from a period of winter dormancy, reduce feeding and watering in autumn, and stop feeding completely during the winter months.

Rotate potted dracaenas weekly so that they don’t grow toward the light, become one sided, and lose their beautiful shape.

As with most pot plants dracaenas like to be a bit pot bound and do not require huge pots. Repot into slightly bigger pots about every two to three years, or when their potting media is exhausted.

Draceana fragrans MassangeanaDraceana fragrans MassangeanaOutdoors:

Dracaenas grown in the garden need warm temperatures, as you'd expect from plants that are native to the tropics. They thrive in the subtropical regions of South Africa but do not like low temperatures and frost, but if you only get an occasional cold snap, you may be able to save your dracaena by covering it temporarily. Be sure to remove the cover when the temperatures warm back up.

They are not fussy about soil and will grow in most garden soils that have good drainage. However, they do best in garden soil amended with compost or other organic matter.

Just like dracaenas grown indoors, they thrive in bright, indirect light and can't take full, direct sun, which will scorch the leaves, but a little dappled sunlight won’t harm them.

Pruning & Propagation:

You can control their height by pruning down the canes of older plants. New foliage will sprout from just below the cut in a couple of weeks. For best results, prune your plant when it's actively growing in the spring or summer and use a sharp, clean knife or pruners. It's a good idea to dip the blade in a little bleach and water before you make the cuts, to be sure it won't transmit any plant diseases. When you prune, cut the canes at an angle. Also, remove any injured or damaged canes and dead or dying leaves.

The trimmed tops can easily be rooted in water, but it may take several months. Once the roots have developed a few centimetres or so, they can be planted into small pots to grow on. Multiple cuttings of different heights can be planted in the same pot for a bushy effect.

They can also be rooted in soil, and the addition of a rooting hormone will speed up root development. Some people have reported successfully growing cuttings by simply laying them down on top of some soil and keeping the soil moist to encourage root growth.  

Draceana marginata 'Red Edge'Draceana marginata 'Red Edge'Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Dracaena plants are generally free from serious insect or disease problems.

The most common cause of the collapse is generally too much water during the winter in combination with cold conditions.

Drooping or yellowing leaves indicate over-watering or poor drainage.

If the plant begins to show brown leaf margins, raise humidity by misting regularly.

When left to grow in the same pot for a long time indoors, the edges and tips of leaves may brown and die back as a reaction to a build-up of fertilisers and may indicate fluoride toxicity.

Fungus gnats can be a problem in pots if they are planted in soil that contains compost or bark, so use a potting or planting soil without these elements to help prevent them.

Scale, aphids, thrips, and mealybugs are pests that sometimes suck sap from dracaena leaves, weakening the plants and even killing them. Check underneath your plant's leaves, along its trunk and at its base for these kinds of insects.

Mealybugs look like white, fuzzy or cottony masses. Try blasting them off with a strong spray of water from the sprayer at your kitchen sink, or, if your plants are outside, from the garden hose. You can also use a cotton ball or cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe them off. Rinse your plant with clean water when you are finished. Mealybugs can also be treated with an insecticide that contains pyrethrin.

Aphids can be green, yellow or black in colour, with round, translucent bodies. They cause leaves to yellow and often leave a sticky secretion on your plants. Hose them off with water or wash them off with a cloth dipped in soapy water. An insecticidal soap can also be used.

Scales are small tan, dark brown or white pests with waxy coverings. Natural predators like ladybugs and parasitic wasps can help control them on outdoor plants. For indoor plants, use an old toothbrush dipped in soapy water to scrape them off. If scale persists, apply a horticultural oil or insecticidal spray that contains pyrethrin, following the product's directions.

Keep your eyes open for spider mites, which love the hot, dry environment commonly found in household settings. They are too small to see without a magnifying glass but suspect they are present if you notice webbing and stippled foliage.  Spider mites (which are arachnids, not insects) reproduce quickly and should be eradicated as soon as they are noticed. Periodically wetting the plant (especially the undersides of leaves) and the soil beneath it with neem oil spray helps control this pest. Prevent spider mites outdoors by rinsing dracaena regularly with water, but if that doesn't control them, apply a commercial miticide, following the label directions.

Thrips are tiny winged insects which can damage dracaenas. They can also be washed away with a stream of water, and badly infested leaves should be cut off. Commercial insecticides can also be applied. Avoid feeding your plant with a fertilizer high in nitrogen, which often results in a lot of tender, new growth that attracts these pests.

Dracaenas aren't often attacked by disease, but they can suffer from soft rot and fusarium leaf spot. To help prevent fungal diseases in the garden water, at their base, and avoid getting water on their foliage. Leaf spot can be treated with a fungicide, but if your dracaena has soft rot, and it looks and smells like it's rotting, go ahead and discard it. Soft rot can't be cured.

Warning:

While it's not harmful to humans, Draceanas are considered slightly poisonous, especially to curious cats and dogs who like nibbling on plants. Cats may have dilated pupils, and both cats and dogs can present symptoms such as vomiting, excess saliva and lack of appetite. As a pet owner, it’s important to select your houseplants with care and doing so means being educated about plants that are poisonous to our furry friends. Pot plants should also always be kept away from small children.