Houseplants: Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)

My husband says that “car-guys” don’t name their cars; they call them what they are. Which is why my car is named “Hector-the-Adventure-Car”, and his is just “the Hyundai” (except that I’ve taken to calling it “the Vanilla Bean”, a name bestowed by a friend and former roommate of my husband, so there’s that).

Well, in my opinion, the same goes for “plant-people”; we call our plants by their rightful names. Which is why his plant is named Wilson, and mine, of the same variety, is “the dracaena”.

dracaena marginata

This is Wilson. He’s grown quite a lot (like probably a foot) over the last couple years that he’s lived here. I’m sorry I don’t have a “before” and “after” photo, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I suppose we complement each other well.

Wilson and the dracaena came to us through similar means – he was given his plant as a house-warming gift and I inherited mine from a friend who was moving across the country. If there’s anything I love more than a good houseplant it’s a free houseplant.

dracaena marginata

This is “the dracaena”. It too, has grown a bit since I acquired it. But, our bedroom gets less light than the kitchen, so its growth hasn’t been quite as noteworthy. I’ve had it for almost three years, though, so I should probably repot it soon.

Dracaena marginata is the technical name for what is commonly called the Madagascar dragon tree, or just simply: the dragon tree. It’s an incredibly low maintenance plant, and with it’s multi-colored (variegated) leaves its really quite attractive. To keep it looking its best, there are some things you’ll want to remember:

  1. The dragon tree needs bright, indirect light. If it’s in an area that doesn’t get enough light, you’ll know because the leaves will become pale rather than the vibrant colors it once was. If it’s getting too much light, the leaves can become scorched (brown, crispy spots will appear).
  2. It doesn’t like to be soggy – so water it well once a week (or when the top inch or so of potting mix is dry) and don’t let it sit in standing water.
  3. To really thrive, feed it once a month (or up to twice a month in the spring and early summer) with a general houseplant fertilizer.

If your growing conditions are just right, the dracaena can grow quite tall (10-15 feet, indoors). As it grows taller, you’ll be able to see more of the pale, gray stem with the leaves bunched at the top. If it is growing quickly (as it can during the first few years) you may need to re-pot it every year into a larger pot. As the growth slows, you can delay repotting for every 2-3 years, keeping the same size of pot (really just to refresh the potting mix).

dracaena marginata

Here are Wilson and the dracaena together. Wilson is definitely catching up in height – but still has leaves along most of the stem, while the dracaena (which is considerably older) is showing a lot of stem.

How about you? Do you name your plants? (or cars?)


  1. Hi Heather, thank you for your post. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of house plant I have for years and I think from your post that it is a dragon tree! I’ve had my single stem tree for around 17 years and it’s currently around 7ft high. I’ve had to support its stem with some bamboo to keep him upright. Although I haven’t named my tree, he’s like my baby! I’m wondering if I should repot him. He’s been repotted 4 times throughout his life, but he’s about 3 foot away from my ceiling and I don’t know what do beyond that! Do you think if I repot him will he get a growth spurt? Perhaps I should try changing the soil first… Any advise greatly received : )

  2. Hi Heather,

    I have recently added new fertilizer to my plant (dracaena from the looks of it) and added blooming house plants food.

    It has gone from bad to worse over the last two weeks. I believe I added too much water and have let it dry out, but it is still turning brown and the leaves are starting to fall off. Probably 20+ have fallen off over the last two weeks.

    Would you mind giving me some helpful hints to get the plant back to the original state?


    • Hi Matt! I’m sorry you’re having trouble with your plant; that can be so frustrating. Without knowing the specifics of where your plant is situated and all of its care, I can only give some general things to look for/consider.
      Is it next to a heat vent and/or drafty window or door? Having too much dry heat or cold air could cause the leaf drop.
      When you water, do you make sure the water saturated the growing medium? Or just the surface? If the water isn’t running out the bottom of the pot then it could lead to salt buildup in the medium. I like to water until I see water coming out the bottom (either in the sink or a tray) and then I won’t water again until the growing medium is dry to my second knuckle when I stick my finger in.
      Even houseplants go through a semi-dormancy period, so I try to stay away from fertilizing during the winter.
      Does it look like there are new leaves growing at the top? If so, then you’re doing just fine and the leaves that have dropped might just be part of a natural cycle.
      I hope this can help!

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