Dracaena make up a large genus of over 100 species of plants, and within that genus are some of our absolute favorite houseplants.
These funky plants are native to Madagascar and its surrounding islands, and let me tell you, they’re a total winner for indoor use. Once rare, it’s only become easier to find an exciting assortment of species and cultivars, as people have caught on to their easy care and fantastic ability to filter the air.
But here’s the thing: Dracaena can be a bit finicky when grown indoors, at least initially.
That’s why we’re here to give you the lowdown on the different species and hybrids of Dracaena – from the flat leaf to the round leaf to the trifasciata. We’ll also dish out some tips to keep your Dracaena thriving in your home.
So, let’s grow!
Dracaena Plant Care Guide
History, habitat, and characteristics
Dracaena, otherwise known as the “Lucky Bamboo” or dragon tree, is an incredible plant native to Madagascar and its surrounding islands. I first encountered this almost twenty years ago and have loved them ever since.
It used to be very hard to find some of the more interesting varieties and cultivars, but as their air filtering properties have become better known, they’ve been promoted among growers and can be found a lot easier now.
You can now find Dracaena at just about any gardening center, but also many species and rarer hybrids as well.
Dracaena are durable and strong for indoor use. But they suffer a little bit indoors, so if you can, be sure to take them out from time to time so they get more light and better airflow.
(Helps the soil dry out, too.)
The different Dracaena plant species can be categorized as: flat leaf, round leaf, and trifasciata.
Flat-leaf Dracaena are next to impossible to hybridize and only want to reproduce with other flat-leaf plants. It’s very difficult to cross different types, but maybe you’ll be the first!
Speaking of, let’s actually explore some of these species and hybrids.
Known as a corn plant, this Dracaena species sports a palm-like look with a woody stalk. Because this is such a generic name for Dracaena, you can see these with both brown and green central stalks.
Dracaena fragrans is aptly named after the strong smell of its flowers. There are many corn plant cultivars available that mostly differ in size and color of variegation. You’ll also see these sold as “mass cane plants.” They absolutely love humidity, but actually do just fine in normal household conditions.
Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’
One of the most popular houseplants in the world and a very common first plant due to its ease of care, availability, and affordability. Plus, like other Dracaena, they filter the air.
Janet Craig is a hybrid of Dracaena fragrans and is highly adaptable to a variety of lighting conditions, though it prefers bright indirect light for its deep green leaves that look like swords.
Dracaena Marginata (Dragon Tree)
Contrast the appearance of the foliage on this Madagascar dragon tree with the foliage on the other Dracaena featured. Bright, delicate leaves with red borders that can reach more than 20 feet tall in the wild, but are quite tamer as indoor plants. These Dracaena love light (they’re quite variegated) and do well pruned frequently as smaller plants.
Resilient, adaptive, and pretty slow-growing, Dracaena Reflexa are such easy plants to take proper care of. They are even pretty drought-tolerant.
Similar to the Marginata, these Dracaena plants feature colorful green leaves with red borders and yellow variegated highlights. These leaves are arranged in a rosette and look almost like a starburst from a single point.
You’re probably most familiar with the Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata), but they are actually some of the hardest Dracaena plants to care for. You’ll need to regularly apply not just fertilizer but also fungicide if you really want to keep ahead of possible issues. Always try to under-water your snake plant, as they can go for up to a month between sips.
Since they’re the most common Dracaena plants you’ll find, they’re often the most affordable.
Standard Dracaena (fragrans) is known for its fragrance and flowers, and fortunately, (we’ll explain why in a moment) Dracaena can take up to 8 years to flower.
Their flowers demand so many nutrients that they will potentially hurt your Dracaena or slow its growth. If you do notice your plant blooming, you should cut the flower off immediately to protect it.
If you decide to keep your flowers, they’re how you’ll begin to hybridize your own custom Dracaena, if you want a bit of a challenge.
Hybridizing needs to be done at night when flowers are at their most potent. Dracaena flowers secrete a sticky substance at night that helps pollen stick to the flower. Pollen (taken from the male plant) is manually added to the flower, where seedlings will be formed inside of fruits.
Around 80% of the physical traits come from the mother plant, although color is closer to 50/50, leading to nearly endless varieties.
Dracaena can self-pollinate, but it’s very rare. Seeds become seedlings after around a year, and it takes another year or so from that for these to reach their juvenile stage. Hybrid plants do take a lot of development, so this is partially why they cost so much.
Flowering happens once, and afterward, the plant will die off, leaving some pups behind.
If you aren’t planning on pollinating this plant (most aren’t!) you’ll want to cut off these flowers at first sight. If you want them to flower earlier, you’ll want to supplement your fertilization with phosphorous.
The amount of light your Dracaena will want does vary by species. As indoor plants, they prefer a lot of bright, indirect light.
So where to place your Dracaena?
First, you want to consider that they are fantastic air-filtering plants, removing many harmful substances that off-gas from paint and furniture. So for me, that brings to mind both the living room and bedrooms.
You’ll next want to avoid putting them too close to a south-facing window, as they will get burnt from too much direct sunlight. If you do want to place yours in a sunny window with lots of sunlight, that’s okay – you’ll just need to move it back a bit into the room or add a sheer curtain.
West/east-facing windows are fantastic for these plants.
Too much direct sun will have your green leaves looking yellow at first, then all brown, then they’ll just drop off completely.
Not enough light, especially with the variegated varieties, will make them turn completely green – so your variegated Dracaena fragrans will look just like a Janet Craig.
(A variegated Dracaena plant needs significantly more indirect light because its leaves contain less chlorophyll.)
Dracaena are more sensitive to the quality of water you give them than they are to how much or how often. But one thing is for sure: Dracaena should never stand in water.
Make sure you have drainage holes in the bottom of your pot and that you have good drainage in the soil.
So how do you know exactly how often to water? Always use a finger.
Check 2 inches down and make sure it really is dry, feel that soil, and let it tell you itself. The actual frequency will depend on the planting medium (how well-draining it is), your local environment, the material of the pot itself, and the size of the pot, etc.
This is why we suggest feeling instead of giving a blanket statement like “once a week!” or even worse, “1 cup a week.”
A cup a week? Yup, we’ve seen it recommended.
You will water these houseplants more often in the growing season, and they’ll want regular hydration to reach their full potential. As temperatures drop, you’ll likely be able to drop a few of those drinks of water, too.
This plant is quite forgiving and will tolerate occasional miscalculations – but look out for droopy stems and faded leaves to tell you it needs a bit of water.
Dracaena are adapted to drier soil, so it is possible to overwater it. Too much water can lead to wilting, yellowing, and curling leaves; if that is the case, make sure to reduce your watering frequency.
As for the water itself, we suggest only using filtered, distilled water, or rainwater if you can – however, non-fluoridated tap water will suffice. Don’t forget to empty out any standing water that’s been drained out of the pot, since this will help reduce the chance of root rot or stem damage.
Temperature and humidity
Let’s start with temperature. Your Dracaena is a tropical native, so you’ll want to replicate its native environment while it’s indoors: cozily warm but not too hot. Aim for room temperatures between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
During the day, it’s perfectly fine to have a 10-degree drop-off at night time. Think of it like tucking your Dracaena plant in for the night!
Dracaena are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures, which means it’s essential that if you’re transporting them in the winter (even if just outside for a little while), you’re going to want to cover them and keep that car toasty.
Shock from the cold can damage all parts of the plant, from roots to leaves. Drafts also can damage the leaves and roots pretty significantly. If a window is opened and closed a lot, especially in winter, consider moving your plant back.
Next, the humidity level. Dracaena loves a humid environment. To replicate its natural habitat, you’ll want to aim for somewhere between 40-60% humidity. If you notice the leaves start to droop or the tips start to turn brown, this could mean the humidity level is too low.
Radiators can really lower humidity in the fall and winter, and this plant can struggle. Misting with water won’t do much unless you make yourself into a human humidifier and just stand there all day. Worth considering, but maybe not the best use of your time.
Temperature and humidity care tips:
- Keep dracaena in temperature ranges between 65-80°F away from windows and drafty doorways.
- Aim for an average air humidity of 40-50%.
- Increase indoor humidity by placing a tray of water and pebbles beneath the plant or using a humidifier.
- Avoid misting the leaves directly. If they do get wet, just wipe them off with a cloth to get rid of any accumulated dust.
Soil and planting
Dracaena do best in well-draining soil that doesn’t compact too easily.
A good mixture for your Dracaena is 70% standard potting soil with 30% pumice or perlite.
Prune your Dracaena as soon as some of the stems become too tall. Instead of waiting for it to hit the ceiling, you can really influence its look quite a bit (while propagating more!). You can prune by making a cut anywhere between two leaves; or if it’s just a stem with no leaves, you can cut from there as well.
When you prune, you’re going to get new buds from where you cut, but you’re also going to activate the rest of the nodes down the stem. If you really want a fuller crown with new foliage and lots of node activation, it’s best to do this at the beginning of spring.
Fertilizer is easy: in the growing season, add fertilizer a few times a month, diluted 50%. A balanced liquid fertilizer is best.
When it’s time to repot your dracaena, the new pot should be 1-2 inches wider than the current one, and ensure that it has drainage holes.
In the flowering section above, we went into some detail about hybridizing your plants through pollination, but if you want something a bit easier and faster than waiting 8 years for your Dracaena to flower… we get it.
To propagate Dracaena, you can take a cutting or just uproot any pups they create. Dracaena do produce fewer pups as they age, but here’s a nifty trick.
If you pierce (with a nail or anything sharp) the terminal or apical bud of this plant, it not only keeps it from flowering, but also induces pup formation.
If pup propagation isn’t your thing, you can take a cutting as well. It’s best to do this in the spring and summer.
Propagating dracaena by stem cutting
You’ll need: sterilized shears, potting mix (regular mix + perlite) or water, a jar/pot, and a healthy Dracaena plant.
- Cut off a section of your Dracaena stem around 5-8 inches long with at least a few healthy leaves. Remove any leaves from the bottom of the stem and trim it just below an exposed leaf node.
- Optional: dip the cut end of your stem into a powdered rooting hormone.
- If propagating in soil, place your cutting into a small pot, then water thoroughly.
- If propagating in water, place your stem cutting into a jar of water, and change the water every 2-4 days.
- Place your propagated plants in a spot with plenty of indirect light and as high humidity as you can muster.
Propagating dracaena by harvesting pups
An alternative is taking advantage of how Dracaena produce pups. Whether or not you choose to pierce the apical bud, you will notice that Dracaena plants produce pups, almost like succulents, in the soil around them.
As one becomes mature and has sufficient leaves to support itself, you can remove your pot, break apart some of the soil, and cut away these smaller Dracaena plants with a sterilized knife.
Afterward, you’ll repot both plants in fresh soil and water thoroughly.
While Dracaena houseplants are fairly resilient, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the common problems these plants can suffer. If you’ve cared for tropical plants before, most of them will be pretty familiar.
We’ll start with the issues most unique to Dracaena.
Brown leaf tips
You’ll often notice that your Dracaena leaves turn brown near the tips/point. It’ll be a small area and so dry that touching it causes it to crumble away. This is very common, with a few causes.
Most often it’s from brushing against the plant, mechanical damage from you or even another plant. Not really too much to be done about this, and it’s not more than a cosmetic issue.
If you notice brown that transitions into yellow before green, it’s a strong sign that the tap water you’re using has a very high mineral content, possibly from water softening.
These minerals are brought up through the roots and pushed back out the tips of the leaves. As they accumulate, they kill off the plant cells there.
Start filtering your tap water, using distilled, or even rainwater if you’re handy enough to collect it.
Yellow or brown tips can be trimmed off with clean sharp scissors. If you follow the contours of the leaf, it’ll be hard to tell that it was ever there.
If your Dracaena leaves are yellowing throughout the plant, and you notice slow growth: this could be too much direct sunlight. You’ll want to check that your plant isn’t right up against a south-facing window. If it is, move it back a bit, and add a sheer curtain – just make sure to avoid low-light conditions.
Next, you’ll want to think about humidity. If it’s too low, discoloration is not uncommon. Increase humidity by bringing other plants close together, adding a humidifier, or creating a pebble tray.
Lastly, root rot can cause yellowing leaves, but they’ll also be falling off, and the entire plant will look like it’s drooping. If the soil stays wet or feels dense/compacted, you’ll want to repot your plant in fresh soil.
- Make sure your pot has drainage holes that aren’t clogged.
- Your potting soil has plenty of perlite or pumice.
- You are waiting for the soil to dry out before watering again. Wet soil that remains soggy should be avoided.
Diseases and pests
Dracaena plants are incredibly hardy, so disease and pests aren’t as large of an issue as they can be for other tropical plants.
Root rot makes its appearance when soggy soil stays wet for too long, which causes issues with air flow in the soil and compacting. As roots die, so does the plant, and the problem accelerates.
Three key steps to resolve this:
- Immediately remove your plant from its pot and cut away any affected roots. They’ll look dark and slimy.
- Repot your plant in a new pot in fresh soil, making sure it has plenty of perlite or pumice (we have a mixture in the soil section above we recommend). Don’t reuse the same pot; instead, let it sterilize in the sun.
- Only water the plant once the soil feels dry 2 inches down. It shouldn’t feel too cold (often how moisture can feel), but dry and pliable.
Dracaena plants can suffer from pest infestations, most commonly spider mites. These mites are incredibly difficult to notice because they’re so small, and you typically won’t spot them until there are nearly millions.
If you notice webbing, it’s likely gone on for a while. Unlike actual spiders, these spider mites don’t spin webs to catch prey – they feed directly off of the plant itself, taking its sap and nutrients while damaging its cell walls. The webbing wards off other potential insects, but fortunately, it also notifies us that there’s an issue.
The solution is to really rinse off your plant – hose it off outside if possible. Mites hate water.
Next, you want to apply a neem oil spray to really kill off any mites that remain, along with their eggs. Reapply every few weeks, and you can inspect the underside of the leaves with either a 10x magnifier or even use your camera’s zoom to take a close-up photo.
That’s it for our Dracaena care guide!
Whether you’re growing lucky bamboo, a corn plant, or another Dracaena species, you should now feel confident to take on any challenges that come up and keep your houseplant in tip-top shape.
Dracaena growing tips:
- Avoid direct sunlight or placing your Dracaena in a location with too little light. Although they tolerate low light conditions, they will lose their variegation and grow slowly.
- Occasional misting is actually great as long as you wipe down the leaves to keep them dry. This will remove dust and give you an opportunity to inspect them for damage or pests.
- Poor drainage can lead to a lot of problems, so really make sure you’re using the right soil and that your pot doesn’t leave your plant in excess water.
- Speaking of water: filtered water is best, especially if you notice that leaves begin to turn yellow.
Dracaena houseplants are a pleasure to own, and I hope you really enjoy yours. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!
Do Dracaena make good first houseplants?
All Dracaena make fantastic indoor plants for a beginner. If you’re looking for an easier plant, maybe avoid the Madagascar dragon tree, Dracaena deremensis, Dracaena reflexa, or other variegated Dracaena plants.
Should I cut the brown tips off of my Dracaena?
This is absolutely fine to do, and we recommend following the natural lines of your plant growth so that it’s barely noticeable. You will want to address the underlying issue, of course, and any cutting of a plant can introduce the potential for pests to take advantage.
Can Dracaena plants go outside?
In the spring and summer, your Dracaena will very much thank you for taking it outside! Just make sure that when night temperatures start to get under 60 degrees, you bring it back in, as this plant does not like a cold shock. So once it gets chilly, return it to those happy room temperatures it’s accustomed to.
Are Dracaena toxic to pets?
According to the ASPCA, as Dracaena houseplants contain saponins, they are toxic to pets and are considered toxic to dogs and cats. Make sure to keep them out of the reach of pets and small children.