Dragon Tree: Care Guide

dragon tree

The long sword-shaped green leaves with deep-red edges flaring upwards from long, slim gray stems make the Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) a striking and dramatic addition to the home. It's also fantastic because it is easy to care for, and almost impossible to kill. I've known these houseplants to suffer months of neglect and still come back strong as ever. 

The dragon tree grows up to 6' tall and retains its slender grace throughout its life. It fits any space in the home without overwhelming it as thicker tree varieties do. Dragon trees tolerate a range of temperatures, watering schedules, and environments. Even though it is hardy, to keep your dragon tree at its thriving best, it's best to follow the care instructions below. Dragon trees grow slowly, taking up to 10 years to reach 5-feet tall.

Types of Dragon Trees

  • D. marginata – The classic dragon tree, with red edging around dark-green leaves.

dracaena marginata

  • D. marginata “Bicolor” – Features leaves with maroon red edging, like the classic type. The center of the leaves, though, are alternating dark-green and a very light-yellow, which almost looks ivory.

dracaena bicolor

  • D. marginata “Tricolor” – The leaves on this type have the same maroon red banding on the edges and dark-green interiors as the original. In addition, though, it shows off an ivory-white or golden-yellow stripe down the middle.

D marginata tricolor

  • D. marginata “Colorama” – The red edging on this variety is much thicker, which makes it look redder than all the others. The leaf interior features dark-green and golden-yellow or white stripes.

marginata Colorama

D.marginata “Tarzan” – Shaped significantly differently from the others, this type does have the same leaf coloring as the original. The dark green leaves with deep red edging are broader and a bit thicker. The leaves also form a loose, spiky sphere, instead of just pointing upwards like the others. All dragon trees look Dr. Seussian, but this one looks like remarkably so.

Marginata Tarzan

Light: 

Large amounts of daily indirect light are best. A north-facing window is ideal, or close to an east or west-facing one. If placed near a south-facing window, it should be at some distance, so the leaves don't burn. Shady locations are fine, too, but the leaves suffer and lose some of their brilliant green color. Dragon trees in low light areas will also grow slower. Never put this plant in full sun because direct light will scorch the leaves.

Water: 

Over-watering is a common problem with dragon trees. They don't want to be watered constantly. The top 3-4” of soil should be dry before watering again. This can take 2-3 weeks, depending on the climate and where the plant is located. A definite sign of overwatering is brown-tipped leaves. Yellow leaves indicate the tree needs watering.

Reduce watering in the winter as the plant rests. Overwatering will result in soft stems and root rot, two things you want to avoid!

It is best to use distilled water for dragon trees. All Dracaena plants are sensitive to fluoride, which will cause the tree's leaves to yellow. Tap water often has a lot of fluoride and should not be used.

Fertilizing: 

At the start of spring, fertilize the dragon tree with a diluted controlled-release fertilizer. That's all it needs. Never add fertilizer in winter, as the tree is resting at that time.

Temperature:

Dragon trees are sensitive to cold. Do not put it anywhere where temperatures fall below 50F. The ideal temperature range is between 60F-75F. If you have your dragon tree outside in summer, bring it indoors as soon as temperatures begin to fall. 

Potting Mix: 

Loose, well-draining potting mix will give your dragon tree what it needs to thrive. The pot or container must have room for the extensive root system of the tree.

Original habitat: 

A native of Madagascar, the dragon tree gets its name from its cousin, Dracaena draco. They look a lot alike, which is why they share a common name. But, D.draco oozes a red resin when cut, which looks a lot like blood. The houseplant dragon tree, though, does not have red resin, so please don't cut it! 

Repotting: 

Dragon trees need repotting on a regular schedule. They grow slowly, but their root systems become vast and need larger homes. Every 2-3 years, check the root system, and move the tree to a larger pot, as needed. Or, if you notice that it has stopped growing for several months, that is generally a sign it has outgrown its current container. 

When your dragon tree has reached a height you like, discontinue repotting it. It will adapt to whatever pot size you give it. Be sure to change the soil annually to prevent it from compacting and refresh nutrients to the tree.

Pet-Friendly:

Extremely toxic to cats and dogs. We do not recommend this plant for any household with cats, as they are known to sometimes chew on the leaves. Poisoning symptoms include excessive salivation and vomiting. 

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Dragon trees are hardy outdoors in USDA zones 9-11. They will grow significantly taller outdoors, reaching upwards to 20-30' tall.

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