The Q&A Archives: care for Dracaena marginata

Question: I need advice on the care of my Dracaena marginata (Madagascar dragon tree). It did OK in the house in the winter and I put it outside 1-2 months ago because I figured the sunlight and warm weather would be good for it. However, it doesn't seem to be thriving outside as I had expected. There are a lot of brown leaves. Maybe I am watering it too much or not enough. Maybe the direct sunlight is not goo for the plant. Maybe I should bring it back indoors. How often should I water it? It's still in the pot it came in originally from Home Depot. Maybe I should repot it in a big pot. Maybe I should add fertilzer spikes or a dilute liquid fertilizer. Any advice? It is only about 3-4 feet tall.

Answer: I think your plant is reacting adversely to the change in light levels and temperatures that it is experiencing outdoors. Most tropical plants benefit from going outdoors during the spring and summer months but they need some protection from the hot summer sun. Move your dracaena to a site that receives only morning sun and afternoon shade and the new leaves it produces should retain their color. You can prune away the browning leaves. Your plant will naturally shed the oldest, lowest leaves as it produces new leaves.

It may or may not need repotting. If the roots are trying to escape through the drainage holes, it's time to repot. If not, you can leave it in the original pot for another year. By that time you'll want to replenish the potting soil. Choose the next sized pot and fill it with fresh potting soil when you repot. Dracaena will tolerate both moist and dry soils; just make sure that when you water, the rootmass gets thoroughly wet, then allow the top inch to dry out before watering again. I find it beneficial to soak the pot once in a while, especially during the summer months. Do this by filling a large container with water and immersing the pot. When the air bubble stop coming to the surface, I know the potting soil is thoroughly wet. Remove the pot and allow excess water to drain away.

Don't fertilize just yet; wait until your plant stabilizes. When you're sure it's healthy, feed it with a half-strength dilution of liquid fertilizer. Don't use fertilizer spikes - they can over fertilize and burn the roots of your plant.

Best wishes with your dracaena!

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