The dragon tree is a tropical plant that is becoming increasingly available in garden centres. This hardy plant is relatively easy to maintain and grows well in containers. However, it is very sensitive to low temperatures and drought. Dracaena is known for its depolluting properties against benzene or carbon monoxide, which makes it a very useful houseplant.  With proper care, it is a plant that has an exceptional lifespan.

The dragon tree or Dracaena is a tropical plant native to Africa and Asia. It is a plant that looks like a small palm tree with its segmented stem and its tuft of leaves at the top. Actually, it belongs to the Agavaceae family, along with yucca, sisal and thorny agave. In nature, dragon trees flower in summer and are adorned with white, very fragrant flower stalks. These slow-growing plants gain about 4 inches (10 cm) per year and have a very long lifespan. Grown in an apartment, they can reach 10 feet (3 m) high, while in the wild large varieties exceed 20 feet (6 m). Dracaena has absorbent and depolluting properties that make it very useful. It absorbs benzene, toluene, xylene and carbon monoxide, releasing more oxygen than it takes in.

Dracaena growing and maintenance techniques 

The dragon tree is a plant that has a hard time withstanding the cold. Only the cabbage tree, or Cordyline australis, can withstand temperatures down to 23 ° F (-5 ° C ). Moreover, provided that precautions are taken, it can also be planted outside. Meanwhile, the Canary Islands dragon tree or Dracaena draco, tolerates cold down to 34 ° F (1 ° C). All other species perish when the temperature falls below  50 ° F (10 ° C). The dragon tree will then be planted in pots and kept indoors during the winter. Dracaena is propagated by taking cuttings from its head or stem. Rooted seedlings are available in pots in garden centres. Prepare preferably a light rich soil that has good drainage. A compost amendment is however recommended and potting is carried out in the spring. Water thoroughly and make sure the soil remains moist without standing water. Too much water can cause the roots to rot; balls of clay can be used to line the container’s bottom to improve drainage. Regular watering every 4 to 5 days is ideal in summer, but in winter it can be spaced out  down to twice a month. The dragon tree likes heat and grows ideally at a temperature between 65 ° and 72 ° F (18 ° and 22 ° C). They are then placed near a sunny window during the cold season. To foster the growth of the dragon tree, it is advisable to provide it with a supply of liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks in spring and summer. Preferably use a fertilizer enriched in nitrogen, as it will benefit the foliage. Stop any supply of fertilizer from the month of October until March or April to allow the plant to rest.

Pruning, repotting and propagation

Although it is not necessary, Dracaena in early spring to induce branching. After cutting off the main stem, pour healing wax on top of the plant. The removed branch can be used to make new cuttings and produce new seedlings. To do this, cut the branch in 2.5 to 4 inch (7 to 10 cm) segments and apply a little powdered hormone at the tip to facilitate rooting and the sprouting of buds. Plant the cuttings in pots of 3 inches (8 cm) in diameter, filled with a mixture of peat and wet sand. The pots are then put in special boxes, or enclosed in a transparent plastic bag and kept in a warm (64 ° F to 68 ° F, 18 ° C to 20 ° C) and shaded place. Do not water during the rooting phase, which can last 4 to 6 weeks, without the help of hormones. When the cuttings have developed roots, you can begin to water sparingly. Dracaena can also be repotted every 2 or 3 years in the spring. Its roots grow quickly and repotting into a larger pot can only be beneficial. However, some species such as Dracaena goldieana or Gold Dust Dracaena (Dracaena surculosa) are slow-growing and can reach maturity in pots of 5.5 inches (14 cm). Otherwise, a regular surfacing with compost perfectly satisfies the plant’s needs.

Common problems of dragon trees

The dragon tree is a plant sensitive to light, cold and moisture. The leaves can fall heavily if the atmosphere is too dry or warm. Feel free to spray water on the leaves during hot weather. Put the pot on a tray filled with water and clay pellets to provide it with better ambient humidity. The leaves may discolour and soften if they lack light. A dimmed bright light is ideal for the dragon tree. Dracaena can also be attacked by scale insect or spider mites. A treatment using insecticide and acaricide may be appropriate in these circumstances. Beware, if the seeds and shoots of some Dracaena species are edible, most dragon trees are generally toxic. One should thus take precautions to protect children and pets.

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Published in Green plants by Alexander on 28 Jul 2011