Dracaena is a large family of popular houseplants that can grow in a variety of conditions. It is grown mostly for its tall, strap-like leaves, which can be green or have different colors. Sometimes the plants produce clusters of small, fragrant, white blooms, although this only happens very infrequently indoors. The compact, bushy form of young plants is ideal for mantels, tables, and desks.
With proper care, the plants can reach heights of 5 to 6 feet, making them ideal for bringing life to a corner of the living room, dining room, or den.
Several species of the Dracaena genus of tropical broadleaf evergreen shrubs and trees are widely used as houseplants throughout the world, especially in the United States. However, dracaena is also a frequent name for plants that belong to other genera.
For instance, even though it is still occasionally sold as a dracaena, the houseplant formerly known as the ‘ti tree’ is now formally categorized as Cordyline australis.
Regardless of the official genus to which it belongs, when you buy a dracaena, you are typically purchasing a species with spear or grass-shaped leaves that extend from one or more thick, cane-like primary stems.
The slender foliage of dracaenas can be entirely green or have stripes or edges that are green, cream, red, or yellow. The leaves start out as rings around the center stem, but as they get older, they take on the look of bamboo.
In fact, one of the most widely cultivated dracaenas is known as lucky bamboo. Use this plant outdoors as a vibrant accent in various containers and seasonal displays.
Botanical Name: Dracaena spp.
Common Name: Dracaena (variety of species with other specific common names)
Plant Type: Evergreen shrub and tree
Hardiness Zones: 10 – 11 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect sunlight
Soil Type: Moist, well-draining
Soil pH: 6.0 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
Height: 2 – 8 feet tall
Flower Color: White
Native Area: Asia, Africa, and Australia
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Dracaena
- Most varieties of dracaena can be easily grown as houseplants if they’re provided with large pots that have good drainage.
- These houseplants can tolerate a wide range of lighting conditions but grow best in bright, indirect light.
- They thrive in any standard peat-based commercial potting mix since it’s slightly acidic which these plants prefer.
- During the growing season, keep these plants regularly moist, but allow them to dry out during the dormant winter time.
Dracaena Plant Care
Most species of Dracaena that are grown as houseplants are easy to grow in large pots with good drainage and a standard commercial potting mix. They will stay healthy if they get enough water and the right amount of light which means lots of indirect light and not much direct sunlight.
Some species of dracaena can reach heights of 20 feet or more in their natural tropical habitats but as houseplants, they typically top out at around 6 to 8 feet.
It is possible for dracaena plants grown outside to produce yellowish-white flowers, which are then followed by berries; however, this does not typically happen with houseplants.
Although dracaenas are more commonly seen as houseplants, they may be successfully cultivated outside in the summer in areas that receive bright, indirect light.
Some dracaena varieties are winter-hardy in semitropical USDA Zones 10 and 11, where temperatures persist at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since dracaena plants are toxic to dogs and cats, keep them out of reach of your pets.
Dracaena is tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions, thriving anywhere from a dimly lit office building to the sill of a south-facing window.
But, in general, dracaena plants thrive in bright, filtered, or indirect light, though they can tolerate brief exposure to direct sunlight. Bright light is especially important for dracaena plant varieties that feature bright colors.
When grown outside, this plant enjoys partial sunlight since full sun could burn foliage.
When kept as houseplants, dracaenas thrive in any standard peat-based commercial potting mix because of the mix’s slightly acidic composition. The soil should be rich and well-drained if grown outdoors in tropical landscapes.
During the growing season from spring through fall, keep these plants regularly moist, but allow them to dry out during the dormant winter time.
Water them well once a week and let the water drain out of the pot into a tray or bowl below during their active growing season. During winter, water moderately every two weeks.
Since these plants dislike salts and minerals, use filtered, rainwater, or distilled water.
Temperature and Humidity
Most types of dracaena do well when the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but they don’t do well when the temperature drops below 50 degrees.
It can be tricky to maintain these tropical plants indoors during the dry winter months due to their preference for a relatively high humidity level. So, if the air in your room seems dry, try misting it or turning on a room humidifier.
During the spring and summer, dracaena plants benefit from a monthly feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer designed for indoor plants. Feeding should be reduced in the fall and winter when plant growth slows down.
Dracaena plants tolerate being pruned when it is important to control their shape or height, even when it is not absolutely necessary. Spring and summer, when growth is at its peak, are ideal times for pruning. Remove any yellowing or dead leaves as soon as you notice them.
Types of Dracaena
A relatively small number of the more than 100 species in the genus Dracaena are commonly sold as houseplants.
The size of these species varies greatly, but the species sold as houseplants often have spear or grass-like leaves that develop from one or more stems that grow thick and cane-like over time.
Here are five of the most popular types of dracaena you’ll find:
- Dracaena sanderiana: This popular variety, also known as lucky bamboo, is frequently trained to have curled stems by manipulating the direction of the sun. This is a common ornamental plant that can stay just a few inches tall or grow to be several feet tall.
- Dracaena fragrans: This variety features leaves that look like straps and come out of a thick, woody plant in a fountain-like cluster. When grown in a pot, this plant can reach a height of up to 6 feet. It has been known to grow over 20 feet tall in zones 10 to 12 where it is hardy. It is also known as striped dracaena, compact dracaena, and corn plant.
- Dracaena reflexa: This Dracaena variety, also known as Song of India, is a shrubby plant that is typically grown in a pot with multiple stems. The leaves are 6 to 8 inches long and have a gold band around the edge.
- Dracaena deremensis: Many high-quality cultivar names exist for this species, and it is a popular choice for plant owners. These plants can grow to be rather huge when planted outdoors in zones 10 to 12, but when grown in pots and containers, they typically stay under 10 feet tall.
- Dracaena marginata: This variety is also known as the dragon tree and features thinner, grass-like leaves that fountain off of multiple thick stems.
How to Plant and Grow Dracaena
How to Propagate Dracaena
Since indoor dracaena plants rarely produce flowers and fruit, propagation from seeds is uncommon.
On the other hand, dracaenas are typically quite simple to propagate by rooting stem cuttings, which is most effective in the spring as the plant begins to grow actively.
Most of the time, a new plant will grow from even a small piece of bare stem. It’s also quite simple to propagate a dracaena using this method.
To start, take some clean, sharp pruners and cut off an 8-inch section of the stem, then pull off the leaves. Alternatively, you may just ‘behead’ the plant’s top and use that part for growing a new plant.
Next, plant the stem in a small pot containing moist potting mix after dipping the lower end of the stem in rooting hormone powder.
It can take up to three weeks for new leaves to appear after you plant a cutting, so be patient and keep the cutting moist until you see new growth from the exposed nodes. Make sure to place it in a spot that gets plenty of bright indirect light.
When the young plant outgrows its initial container, repot it into a larger container. You can alternatively suspend a cutting in water until it forms a healthy root system, and then plant it in potting soil.
How to Pot or Repot Dracaena
Dracaena plants thrive in any peat-based commercial potting mix in a large container with adequate drainage. It is best practice to position a saucer or tray beneath the pot. This will allow you to thoroughly soak the plant each time you water it.
When the plant starts to lift up or when roots begin growing through the drainage holes, repot it into a container that is two inches larger than the existing pot.
Water deeply so that the soil is wet about a day or so before you intend to repot. This will help maintain the integrity of the transplanted plant.
Carefully cut away any roots that have grown through the drainage holes as you move the plant out of the container. If the plant is stuck, you might be able to get it out by running a knife around the inside edge of the pot.
After filling the new container with damp potting soil, insert the root ball. Thoroughly water.
Instead of repotting, replace the top few inches of soil with new soil if the plants are exceptionally big, heavy, or unwieldy By applying a top dressing at least once a year, you can replenish nutrients without harming the plant’s roots.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Dracaena
Dracaena is sensitive to many of the same pests that affect other houseplants, particularly thrips, mealy bugs, and spider mites.
Neem oil applied on a regular basis to the plant, particularly the undersides of the leaves and the soil beneath it helps in pest control. Rinsing dracaena with water periodically will keep spider mites at bay in the garden. As soon as you notice a pest, use our guides to identify it and follow the instructions to control it before it damages your plant.
In terms of plant diseases, dracaena plants can be susceptible to leaf spot disease if the soil is overly moist.
Melissa Askari is a biologist and master gardener who is known for her contributions to the field of sustainable living. She is a regular contributor to Planet Natural, a website that provides information and resources for gardening, composting and pest control. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices and helping people create beautiful, healthy gardens using natural methods. With her expertise in both biology and gardening, Melissa is able to provide valuable insights and advice to gardeners of all levels. Her passion for the natural world is evident in her writing and her dedication to promoting sustainable practices that benefit both people and the planet.