Ask a Question forum: Dracaena Marginata Transplant Shock

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North Reading, MA
mry132
May 10, 2018 9:50 AM CST
Hello,
I'm new here and hope I'm not going to get yelled at for the sorry condition I have made my poor plant in. This plant is my parents, and they have a brown thumb as they say. So the plant was in the same pot, same soil, no trimming or fertilizing for over 20 years. So I love all of my own plants and take care of them to the best of my ability and thought I could help because my heart broke for that poor plant. The plant was growing and bent double so the top was laying on the ground and it was just in awful condition. I wanted to propagate the top healthy part, so I cut the top off and put the stem into water and it's on a south facing windowsill (the plant itself was by a south facing window as well). It's super curled and gnarly looking but I'm going to try to tie it to a stake if it ever gets roots. It's been about 2 weeks and I'm not seeing any roots but I'm being patient. I was going to just toss the left over part of the plant because of how terrible it looked but my dad asked me to try and save it. So new soil, a big pot, and a stake to tie it to try to get it to start growing upright. About 2 weeks later, every single leaf has turned brown and fallen off or is hanging by a thread.

So after that long winded post. My question to all of you knowledgable plant growers, is there any hope to getting it back? The stems seem to be nice and firm still and healthy. My theory is that because of the shock (and I make the mistake of putting it into a much bigger pot) it's in transplant shock and the plant is putting all of its energy into regrowing the roots. So if I'm patient will it come back and grow a new shoot or new leaves? Should I leave it where it is? Move it to a different window? Keep it in the same large pot or try to downsize the pot? My parents are pretty mad at me but I keep telling them I have the trimming in the water to re-root. So I hope that works.

Any help anyone could give me would be greatly appreciated! And please go easy on me, I tried my best!!!

I also added images of before the transplant, directly after I transplanted it, what it looks like now, and a picture of the trimming in water.

The before picture looks better than it did when I first started because I had already cut off a big part of the top that was weighing everything down and making the plant trail on the ground.
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Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
May 11, 2018 10:57 AM CST
HI & welcome!

I would encourage you to put your cutting in soil, not water.

When you repotted, did you place the undisturbed root ball into a bigger pot surrounded by more soil?
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North Reading, MA
mry132
May 11, 2018 11:49 AM CST
I really?? I always thought you needed roots first before sticking into soil. I will have to try that.

And yes I took the original root ball and placed it in the bigger pot with more soil!
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
May 11, 2018 2:01 PM CST
Yes, with woody entities, stems are more likely to rot in water before taking root. If you submerge at least a few inches, up to most of the stem, in soil, it should take root all along the submerged length of the stem. That should result in a nice root system. This pic was from about a year after "planting" this stem.
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I thought so about the repotting, that so often happens when potting-up. If there were a lot of roots around the outside of the root ball, &/or a pancake of roots at the bottom, they may be suffocating now, unable to access oxygen in the bigger pot & surrounding new soil.

It's hard to assess what I would do with your particular stump from the pics, between leaving it alone or trying to go back and do a repot (described below). Whichever you choose, this is a good opportunity to put it in a spot where the sun can shine directly on it, near an E or W window, or south if that is all that is available. Not as much sun can come into a S window over summer, but they are great during the shorter days of the year.

Pasting something I keep in my profile because this kind of discussion happens often. I used to pot-up plants too, before I learned why sometimes plants don't live through that experience, even though the roots so obviously needed more room:

No plant likes to be rootbound. 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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Name: Will Creed
NYC
Profess plant consultant & educator
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WillC
May 12, 2018 7:19 AM CST
You are correct that the potted plant is reacting to the repotting. I recommend moving it to a smaller pot that is just large enough to accommodate the roots and enough porous potting mix to cover the roots. Too much soil tends to retain moisture for too long and suffocate the roots. Be careful to allow the top quarter of the soil to dry in between waterings.

I also suggest pruning back the stem to about 3 or 4 inches above the lowest white ribbon. That way if the plant does recover, the new growth will start at that point and you will have eliminated much of the long, bare, leggy stem.

Keep it in a sunny indoor location for best results and very close to a window.

Marginatas are hard to propagate. Air-layering is the most effective way to propagate a Marginata, but it is too late for that. It is best to use only tip cuttings that are no more than 6-8 inches in length. That is because newer stem growth near the growing tip will root more readily than older lower stem growth. Put the tip cutting in damp, porous potting mix in a small pot. Then put the tip cutting and pot inside a clear plastic baggy and blow it up and seal it tight. This will create a mini-greenhouse that will maintain the moisture in the soil and in the surrounding air. Keep it out of any direct sun or it will heat up and cook the cutting. Allow 6 to 8 weeks for roots to develop before removing the plastic tent.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
May 12, 2018 8:26 AM CST
Will, repotting & potting-up are totally different things. Having done both so many times, the difference is obvious to me. I've mentioned this to you so many times, in similar discussions about plants that have been potted-up, but it seems like you ignore my comments, which I think is because you think I am trying to argue with you. This is not the reality because we are always in agreement that potting-up is not a reliable way to keep woody entities healthy. If repotting as I described above was not a reliable way to keep potted woody entities healthy indefinitely, the art of bonsai would not exist.

Why must you insist on continuing to say that D. marginata is hard to propagate? This is a very rare opinion.

Myr, here are some more instructions:
The thread "How to Propagate Madagascar Dragon Tree" in Ask a Question forum

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The less I interfere, the more balance mother nature provides.
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☕👓 The only way to succeed is to try.
Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

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plantladylin
May 12, 2018 9:14 AM CST
Although I have a habit of taking cuttings of many plants and sticking them in vases or jars of water for rooting, I've had little success propagating Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) in water. For me, water roots seem to have difficulty acclimating from the water to soil conditions. It could be do to the humid environment where I live. I usually just stick D. marginata cuttings back into the same pot as the mother plant or in very small pots with a good quality potting soil and I've never found it difficult to propagate them this way. They are actually grown in the ground as landscape plants here in some parts of Florida.
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[Last edited by plantladylin - May 13, 2018 11:15 AM (+)]
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North Reading, MA
mry132
May 13, 2018 8:24 AM CST
Thank you all so much for your help! The clipping is now in a small pot with fresh soil in a south facing window! I'm going to try to take the mother plant and put it back in its smaller pot
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Profess plant consultant & educator
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WillC
May 13, 2018 10:43 AM CST
Tiffany - We have different experiences with plants and probably care for them in somewhat different environments. I have no cause to argue with you and I respect your knowledge and experience. Indeed, I have often given your responses thumbs up. In my responses, I try to provide the best advice I can offer based on my experience helping people with plants in a variety of circumstances. More often than not folks who post questions here are inexperienced so I try to respond accordingly.

For example, I think that for most people replanting or repotting does mean moving into a larger pot. I agree that it may be appropriate to replant into the same pot after root pruning, but that is not often warranted in basic plant care. In fact, I have several Bonsais that I care for that have been in the same pots without any root pruning or replanting and they are thriving after a dozen years. I know what the conventional wisdom is about plant care. Often experiences with plants in other people's environments prevent me from following the conventional wisdom and to my surprise, alternative methods often work very well or even better.

I don't insist on anything. I simply provide the advice I think will be most beneficial to the person seeking assistance. I am delighted that your Marginata propagations have been so successful. That is not my experience nor that of many others. I am simply pointing out that there are other ways to propagate Marginatas. Too often folks try something and it doesn't work and then they blame themselves.

Folks often do what seem to be strange things with their plants, yet they have success. I never argue with someone else's success, including yours, Tiffany. But I will continue to offer alternative and usually simpler ways to do care for plants even when they seem to go against the conventional wisdom. I never pretend to have the final answer.

Now, can we please be friends while we respectfully agree to disagree about certain things?! Shrug!

Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
North Reading, MA
mry132
May 13, 2018 11:03 AM CST
Thank you all so much for your help! The clipping is now in a small pot with fresh soil in a south facing window! I'm going to try to take the mother plant and put it back in its smaller pot
Name: Karen
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plantmanager
May 13, 2018 11:09 AM CST
For me, this has been a hard to propagate plant. I had one reach the ceiling in my greenhouse so I cut it off and stuck the pieces in soil. It took all winter for them to finally root, and they're now starting to sprout leaves, but it's been many months! It's a slow process here, but it finally works!
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Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
Houseplants Organic Gardener Composter Region: Gulf Coast Miniature Gardening Native Plants and Wildflowers
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purpleinopp
May 14, 2018 1:25 PM CST
Best luck, Myr. ;)

TY for your reply, Will, of course we're friends. I'm friends with everyone, whether they friend me back or not Smiling I have no interest in having or creating any enemies. I still don't think there's any disagreement about repotting plants in that both of us recognize that merely potting-up an undisturbed root ball more often leads to negative results than positive ones. If the choices are only between that & leaving it alone, I would leave it alone too.

Karen, 1 try over winter isn't much on which to base a generalization. I usually do something at least 50 times over at least 5 years, before stating to draw any of my own conclusions. Then do it 50 times another way for the next 5 yrs to see the difference. ;)
👀😁😂 - SMILE! -☺😎☻☮👌✌∞☯🐣🐦🐔🐝🍯🐾
The less I interfere, the more balance mother nature provides.
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☕👓 The only way to succeed is to try.

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