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A Madagascar dragon tree, otherwise known as Dracaena marginata, is an elegant and easy-to-care-for houseplant. But even the least-demanding plants still need the right basic care and conditions to thrive. If your dragon tree is looking a little under the weather—drooping, losing leaves, or turning brown or yellow—you may wonder whether it's dying and whether you can save it. You're in luck—we've done the research and have all the answers you need to rescue your dying dragon tree.
Overwatering or too much sunlight are the most likely problems that affect a dragon tree. You shouldn't need to water a dragon tree more than once a week. Dragon trees thrive in bright, indirect light. Other potential problems that could hurt your dragon tree include too little light or water, too much fertilizer, or pests.
Keep reading for more information on identifying the specific problem affecting your dragon tree and how to fix it. We'll also give you some general tips for keeping your dragon tree alive and tell you how long dragon trees live.
Is My Dragon Tree Dying?
A healthy Madagascar dragon tree has thin bright green leaves edged in red sprouting from a sturdy stem. If your dragon tree no longer looks as bright and perky as it did when you first brought it home, it might be dying. If the leaves turn yellow or brown or have lost their red edge, or the plant is losing excessive amounts of leaves, it might be in distress.
Why Are My Dragon Tree's Leaves Turning Yellow?
Overwatering is the most likely cause of yellowing leaves. Dragon trees do better when they are allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. In most cases, you shouldn't need to water your dragon tree more than once a week, and possibly less.
Overwatering can lead to root rot, which will kill the plant if left unchecked. Before watering, stick your finger an inch or two into the soil to check the moisture level. If it comes out moist or wet, don't water your dragon tree yet.
If the pot is especially deep, you might want to use a wooden dowel or chopstick to check the moisture level at the bottom of the pot. If the top of the soil feels dry but the bottom is saturated, your dragon tree will continue to be the victim of overwatering.
You also need to ensure your dragon tree has adequate drainage. The pot needs enough drainage holes, and you should make sure to use a permeable potting mix. We'd suggest a mix of one part perlite, one part soil, and one part peat moss.
Don't let your dragon tree sit in a saucer full of water. Make sure you dump the dish out each time you water your dragon tree.
Why Are My Dragon Tree's Leaves Turning Brown?
Too much sunlight could be to blame for browning leaves. Dragon trees prefer bright, indirect light rather than harsh, direct sunlight.
The browning might start with just the tips and then eventually affect the whole leaves. If your dragon tree is indoors near a window, try moving it to a different location out of direct sunlight. If it's in a pot outside, try to find a shaded spot to place it instead, or consider bringing it inside.
Low humidity might also cause brown leaves. Raise the humidity around your dragon tree without risking overwatering by misting the leaves with filtered water two or three times a week.
You could also create a humidity tray by filling a shallow dish with stones and water to place under the pot. Just make sure the pot sits on top of the stones and not down in the water.
Brown leaf tips on your dragon tree could also be the result of too much fertilizer. Dragon trees do not need much fertilizer.
You only need to fertilize your dragon tree a few times a year during the spring and summer, and you should skip the fertilizer altogether during the winter. If you think you may have overfertilized your dragon tree, flush the soil thoroughly with water to wash out the excess salts.
Why Are the Edge of My Dragon Tree's Leaves Not Red Anymore?
If your dragon tree has the lost red edge along its leaves, and they are simply green all over instead, the plant is likely not dying, but it still isn't thriving. In this case, the plant might be suffering from too little light. You should try to find a slightly sunnier spot for your tree.
However, don't overcompensate by placing it directly in a bright window, as the plant won't like that either. If the dragon tree looks especially sparse and spindly, that's also a sign that it isn't getting enough light. Dragon trees can survive in lower light, but you'll need to find the right balance to ensure it stays healthy.
Why Is My Dragon Tree Losing Its Leaves?
Losing a few leaves is normal for any plant. As a plant matures, older leaves turn brown or yellow and fall off, and new leaves grow to take their place. If your dragon tree is occasionally losing a few leaves, particularly the lower leaves, this is completely normal and most likely doesn't mean anything is wrong with the plant.
However, if your dragon tree is suddenly dropping several leaves all at once, and not just the older bottom leaves, it probably means something is wrong. Your plant needs some attention to save it.
The most likely problem is how much you are watering it. If the leaves are turning soggy and limp before falling off, that's a sign that overwatering is to blame.
If the leaves are turning brown and brittle before falling off, you might be underwatering it. Though overwatering generally causes more problems, it could die if you neglect your dragon tree and don't water it enough.
How Do You Save a Dying Dracaena Plant?
To save a dying Dracaena marginata, first, you need to identify what's causing its distress.
If you suspect too much or too little sunlight has caused the problem, changing its location may be all that's needed for it to revive. Monitor it closely after moving it, as changing the amount of light it receives might also affect the temperature and how much water it now needs.
If you suspect overwatering may have led to root rot, you might need to repot your dragon tree. Carefully tip the dragon tree out of the pot and examine the roots. Healthy roots will be white.
If the roots are black and soggy, they are already rotting. Cut away the damaged roots and repot your dragon tree with fresh well-draining soil.
Also, consider the size of the pot. A pot that is too large for your dragon tree may be contributing to the overwatering issue. The extra potting mix in a too-large pot may absorb too much water and cause your dragon tree to become waterlogged.
Repotting in a smaller pot may help your dragon tree recover. Likewise, if the pot is too small, your dragon tree may have become rootbound and need to be repotted in a slightly larger pot. However, dragon trees do not always mind being rootbound, so only repot if the plant seems to be in distress.
If you discover any pests, such as spider mites, scale insects, or mealybugs, on your dragon tree, you'll need to eliminate the infestation. You can try simply rinsing them off, but larger infestations should be treated with Neem oil.
Pests are more likely to attack unhealthy plants, so you'll still need to identify what else is causing the plant's distress to prevent the pests from returning.
Will Leaves Grow Back on Dracaena?
All plants and trees naturally lose and regrow leaves from time to time. If your Dracaena marginata is generally healthy or can be revived, it should eventually regrow any leaves it loses due to a temporary trauma.
If any leaves are brown or damaged, you can carefully prune them to improve the look of the plant, and new leaves will grow in their place as the plant recovers. As long as the tree's trunk and roots are healthy, and proper growing conditions are maintained or adjusted, the dragon tree should regrow its lost leaves.
How Do I Keep My Dragon Tree Alive?
For a healthy, thriving dragon tree:
- Water once a week or less, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Do not neglect to water it, but remember that a dragon tree can recover from underwatering better than it can from overwatering.
- Place your dragon tree in a spot that receives bright, indirect light. Dragon trees do not like to be directly in the hot sun.
- Choose a pot of the appropriate size for the plant and ensure that it has enough drainage holes. Also, use a well-draining potting mix.
- Fertilize only a few times a year, being careful not to overfertilize when feeding.
- Do not expose your dragon tree to freezing temperatures, as this will kill it. Ideally, keep your dragon tree somewhere that stays between 65° and 80° F.
How Long Do Dragon Trees Live?
In the wild, dragon trees can live for hundreds of years. Indoors, a dragon tree can grow up to six feet tall in about 10 years. With the right care and conditions, your dragon tree should live for many, many years beyond that.
Dragon trees are sturdy, low-maintenance houseplants. Like all plants, they just need the right water, light, and potting conditions to thrive. Hopefully, this information will help you care for your dragon tree and identify any problems before it's too late to fix.