This article has been checked for horticultural accuracy by Oliver Parsons.
Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) is the perfect house plant for beginners as it doesn’t need a huge amount of maintenance to remain healthy. It thrives in low light levels and stores water in its trunk, meaning it can tolerate a bit of neglect on the watering front. It makes an attractive feature plant, with tall elegant stems and thin, evergreen arching leaves with red edges. Dragon tree is good for you, too – it was tested as part of Nasa's clean air study, and found to help remove cancer-causing pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air.
Native to Madagascar, in its native habitat it produces small white flowers in spring, but it's unlikely to do so indoors.
Dragon tree is toxic to pets, so avoid growing it if you have cats or dogs – cats are particularly prone to chewing on the leaves.
How to grow a dragon tree
Grow your dragon tree in a draught-free spot that gets bright, indirect light. Water when the top half of the compost is dry.
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Where to grow a dragon tree
Dragon trees do best in bright, indirect light, with average temperatures between 18-24ºC, but no lower than 15ºC. Keep out of direct sun as this will scorch the leaves.
How to plant a dragon tree
You can keep your dragon tree in the pot you buy it in and simply place this into a decorative pot. When it comes to repotting your plant, use a free draining peat-free potting compost rather than multi-purpose compost. Dragon trees are slow growing, reaching their mature height after 8-10 years, so they will need repotting only every three to four years.
How to care for a dragon tree
Avoid overwatering dragon trees. Wait until the compost is dry before watering – it should be about half dry. Look out for brown leaf tips – this indicates that you are underwatering, but if you see yellow leaves this could mean that you are overwatering.
Wipe the leaves every so often to remove dust and keep the leaves healthy. Pull out any leaves that have gone brown or died. It’s normal for dragon trees to shed a few leaves now and then, to make way for new growth.
Dragon trees will need repotting only every three to four years, as it’s better to keep them slightly root bound. This will help prevent the compost getting too moist.
Feed around every fourth time you water during the growing season, with a general house plant fertiliser.
Dragon trees thrive in rooms with average humidity so there's no need to mist the leaves.
How to prune
There's no need to prune a dragon tree. Simply take out any dead or damaged leaves.
How to propagate a dragon tree
To make a new dragon tree from the parent plant, cut the tip off one of the stems, around 8cm long and pencil thick, and just above a node (where a leaf or stem is attached). The best time to do this is in spring. Cut off a third of the lower leaves and put it your cutting in a jar of water. After a few weeks you will see when roots appear. Replace the water in the jar weekly to prevent disease, then, once you can see a good set of roots, pot your cutting into potting compost.
Pests and diseases
Dragon trees can be susceptible to red spider mite. These sap-sucking mites cause mottled leaves and leaf drop. Look out for a fine webbing on the leaves. Use a magnifying glass to see if you can spot tiny mites and eggs on the underside of leaves. As red spider mite thrives in dry environments, mist regularly to increase humidity.
Scale insects are most likely to be found around the stems or on the underside of leaves. Some leave behind a sticky honeydew, which can encourage the growth of sooty mould. Try removing scale insects with your thumb nail or using a soap spray.
Thrips, or thunderflies, cause mottling and you may see tiny black dots on the leaves. Another species that thrives in dry conditions, deter them from spreading by misting the leaves with water to increase humidity.
Advice on buying dragon tree
- Dragon trees are fairly slow growing so if you are looking for a feature plant, buy a good sized tree
- Other names that this plant may be sold under are Dracaena marginata. There are other types of dragon tree, such as Dracaena draco, which is more commonly grown outdoors in mild areas
- Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before buying