Ask a Question forum: Dracaena plant dying?

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Abradford
Jan 11, 2017 4:19 PM CST
Please see the attached of my dracaena plant healthy and then after repotting. I let my plant dry out for about 30 days, hoping for an easier repotting; it cracked the previous pot. When repotting, I did not realized a lot of roots were embedded in the bottom, they broke, note they were very small roots. Majority of the large roots stayed intaked. I set the plant in the new pot, already filled about a third of the way with soil. I then added new soil that was already wet, plus the soil from the previous pot. Note there was calcium build up in the previous soil. I assumed there was enough moisture until the plant began to wilt within 2 days. After researching a few websites online, I thought I may have dried it out too much, so I added enough water to saturate but not running. I even added a root stimulator, diluted in water. The repot took place on 12/27/16, the picture with the yellow and brown leaves was taken 1/11/17. I love this plant and have watched him flourish over the past nine years. If there is any hope, please let me know. Thank you in advance.
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Name: Daisy I
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DaisyI
Jan 11, 2017 5:28 PM CST
Welcome!

Its hard to kill a Dracaena so there is always hope. What is that plastic pie plate doing?

The tiny roots on a plant are the important roots, the ones that absorb nutrients and moisture. The big roots hold the plant upright in the soil. But it will recover from that.

Have you checked the old root ball after watering to make sure it has absorbed water? It could be the the soil you left on the old root ball and the new soil you added are having an argument about who gets to drink the water. New soil is more absorbent so it will win, leaving the root ball trying to make it in soil with too many salts, not enough nutrients and old tired soil that doesn't do the 'sponge' thing anymore.

My advice: Re-pot. Get rid of all the soil, old and new. Gently remove as much old soil from the root ball as you can without breaking too many roots. The new potting soil should be damp. After you get the plant repotted, then water well to settle the soil around the roots. Stake it.
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purpleinopp
Jan 12, 2017 5:52 AM CST
I generally agree but have never repotted a woody entity without trimming the roots (potting up.)

What is necessary for plants to stay alive is for their roots to not rot, which can happen so easily in a pot with dense soils, like ground dirt, or bagged mixes of predominantly tiny particles of peat, (or to simply shrivel from simply never getting any water.) Having very little soil around the roots would make the soil dry more quickly, and for even the most dedicated plant-overwaterers to not rot the roots of their plants. This is not ideal, since most non-cactus plants are stressed by dry conditions, it's just a way of coping with soil that has little air in it when moist.

Negative experiences in regard to potting-up, where an undisturbed root ball is placed into a bigger pot with more soil around it, vs. doing a repotting, as described below, can give rise to old wives' tales about plants not liking to be repotted/disturbed. Potting-up a root-bound plant that has roots surrounding the outside root ball often lead to this negative experience because those roots had adapted to accessing oxygen around the outside of the root ball and surrounding them with more dense, soggy-but-airless potting soil will likely lead to suffocation.

The reason bonsai masters are able to keep potted entities alive for hundreds of years is because they care for the roots by trimming them and changing the soil. A plant grows from the roots-up, so if the roots are not healthy, gorgeous foliage will decline &/or no flowers can form. When you unpot a plant and find a pancake of roots at the bottom, chopping that off will give roots a chance to grow normally again for a while and will make removing the old soil easier.

Roots need oxygen & moisture at the same time to function. Just air = shriveling. Just moisture = suffocation & rotting. Either will cause root death and dessicated foliage because the roots have been unable to deliver moisture. Having to let soil dry, as if ones' tropical jungle plant was a cactus, is an unnecessarily stressful coping mechanism for non-desert dwelling plants in soil without enough oxygen for the roots to stay healthy when it is moist and can lead to premature loss of older leaves and in extreme cases, dry shriveled roots/dead plant.

The ability of roots to be able to function properly depends greatly on the soil structure/texture, which can change over time. Potting soil tends to be very dense, mostly peat, with very little air in it. Any kind of organic ingredients decompose into smaller bits over time, and roots fill air spaces over time as they grow through soil. Replacing soil periodically is usually necessary to keep plants healthy because of these reasons. A more porous, chunky, airy soil (like cactus/palm, if one is buying bagged,) can have more air in it even when it is moist because there is space between the particles. When there are tiny particles of any kind in a pot, such as peat, sand, silt, clay, they filter into all of the tiny spaces in a pot, eliminating the air. "Overwatering" is the label and manifestation when roots have suffocated and/or rotted, combo of both. Over time, organic bits decompose into smaller bits, so even the "best" soil, if it has organic components, will need to be replaced when this happens. The speed at which this happens depends on many variables, but on average, about 1-3 years.

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Abradford
Jan 13, 2017 8:00 AM CST
Thank you Daisy and Tiffany for you advice and tips. @Daisy, the party tray top is to keep my cat out of it. Four years ago she decided to mark the plant, in which I repotted him then and put the cover on to protect him. The top has not hindered his growth. I am on my way to the garden center now to get items to repot him.

Thank you both again!!

christy1981
Feb 3, 2017 4:41 AM CST
[Last edited by christy1981 - Feb 3, 2017 4:41 AM (+)]
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Name: Will Creed
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WillC
Feb 4, 2017 8:12 AM CST
This is an excellent example of what can happen when repotting is done unnecessarily or incorrectly...and both are very common.

Your plant was very healthy prior to repotting and therefore there was probably no reason to repot. If the pot was cracked, it would have been better to move the plant to a new pot that was the same size as the old one. Massangeanas don't do well when over-potted.

When repotting, it is best to move the plant to a pot only slightly larger, adding as little fresh potting mix as possible. Excess soil in large pots keeps the roots from drying out sufficiently to allow oxygen in around the roots.

Repot several days after watering when the soil is no longer wet but is still damp. Keep the rootball intact as much as possible during the repotting. The less you disturb the roots, the better. Add soil to the bottom of the new pot, around the sides of the rootball, but do NOT add soil on top. Then, water thoroughly one time and do not water again until the top quarter of eh soil is dry.

Root hormones are unnecessary. Use a peat-based potting mix without "moisture controls" as those tend to keep soil moist for too long. Add some perlite to the basic peat-based potting mix to provide better porosity and aeration around the roots.
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purpleinopp
Feb 6, 2017 5:24 PM CST
That describes potting-up, which I would never do. Bonsai translates to potted tree. Regardless of size, and whether or not manipulative shaping and/or manipulating the foliage size is practiced, caring for the roots is a crucial element in the care given to bonsai trees that are hundreds of years old. By following the practice, my trees have been healthy for decades.

The amount of soil is irrelevant to root health, unless there is not enough of it for roots to grow normally. The amount of oxygen in the soil while moist is what dictates whether roots can function normally, or rot.
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