Dracaenas Require Little Effort and Remove Harmful Toxins
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by Judy Feldstein
Dracaenas are some of the most popular plants used in homes and offices today. They require little effort, thriving on low to medium light, very little humidity, and not much water. Dracaenas are stalk plants so be sure the stalks are firm and strong and that there are several in the pot before purchasing one. These exceptionally easy care attractive plants also clean the air of harmful toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. Here are a few varieties of Dracaena that make great houseplants.
Dracaena deremensis/Janet Craig
These dracaenas have sword shaped, leathery, dark green shiny leaves that are about 3” wide and 2ft. in length. Janet Craigs can be lush tropical bushy plants or beautiful stately trees. The plant is named after the daughter of nurseryman Robert Craig. The cultivar Dracaena Janet Craig Lisa, a relatively new variety, is a little pricey but virtually indestructible and able to grow just about anywhere.
The Warnekii, sometimes called the Stripped Dracaena, has long pointed green and white striped leaves. The Dracaena Warnekii Jumbo has wider leaves and is a more compact variety. The Lemon Lime cultivar has yellow and green stripes. This is one of the few colorful plants that can survive in lower light conditions. NASA has named the Warnekii as one of the top ten plants that can clean the air of formaldehyde.
Although a Dracaena Marginata can be used as a table plant or bush, its real claim to fame is as a tall striking tree with multiple canes and hundreds of long narrow green leaves trimmed in dark red. A Marginata, or Dragon Tree as it is sometimes called, is a favorite choice of interior designers because of its architectural lines. The Tri Color Marginata with pink, yellow, and white in the leaves is an attractive variation of this dracaena.
The most popular variety of Dracaena fragrans is the D. Massangeana. This dracaena, nicknamed the Corn Plant, is especially popular because of its long graceful wide green leaves which have a yellow and light green stripe running down the center. These leaves grow out of a central woody stalk much like a corn stalk.
Dracaena Reflexa or Pleomele reflexa
The regular Dracaena Reflexa, or Pleomele as it is sometimes called, has dark green leaves. The Dracaena Reflexa, Song of India, has yellow striping on the leaves while the Dracaena Reflexa, Song of Jamaica, has off white striping on the leaves. In all Pleomele varieties, the short, narrow, pointed leaves are spirally arranged on the stem and tufted at the ends of branches.
Dracaenas, especially the Janet Craig Lisa, can survive in low light if you are very careful with water, but they grow faster in medium light. If the light is extremely sparse, new leaves may be smaller and narrower than older ones and further apart. Placing Dracaenas in the direct sun even for a few minutes burns the leaves; too much bright indirect light may bleach the leaves.
With Dracaenas, less is always better. Water a Dracaena well until the water comes out the bottom drip holes. Do not water again until the top 50% of the soil has dried out. The darker the area, the less often a Dracaena needs water. Fluoride and other chemicals in the water cause brown tips and yellow spots on the leaves. If there are chemicals, allow the water to sit out over night so the chemicals can dissipate or use distilled water. Never use water that has passed through a softener. When in doubt, do not water.
Dracaenas do not require much plant food. Feed a Dracaena once or twice a month in the spring and summer with a basic well- balanced houseplant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Never feed in the fall and winter. Too much fertilizer is worse than too little because excess food causes leaf tip burn.
These plants adapt very well to household or office humidity whether it’s high or low.
Dracaenas do not like temperatures below 55 degrees and do best in a consistently warm room. Cold winter drafts and blowing heaters damage the leaves.
Dracaenas rarely produce flowers indoors. If a Janet Craig does develop a bloom, remove it quickly or the shape of the tree and leaf development may be adversely affected.
Mealy Bugs, Thrips, and Scale can be a problem. Spray the Green Solution, a mixture of half alcohol, half water, a tablespoon of mineral oil, and a few tablespoons of liquid biodegradable soap, and then carefully wipe the leaves. This will get rid of dust buildup as well as the pests.
Leaf Spot, caused by a fungus living in the soil, is the main disease problem. Over- watering causes root rot. The best way to handle both of these problems is to allow the soil to dry out.
All varieties of Dracaena do best when kept root bound in smaller pots.
These plants need a loose soil that drains quickly. Many times Dracaenas are purchased planted in lava rock. Although this helps to prevent over watering, 2/3’s of the lava rock should be replaced with potting soil when it is time to repot the plant.
Stem tip cuttings from one of the main healthy trunks are the best method for propagating a Dracaena.
Dracaenas are listed as non-toxic plants. However, cats and dogs may experience intestinal problems if they nibble on the leaves.
Frequently Asked Questions
My Dracaena is touching the ceiling. What should I do?
You will need to cut the stems or canes back. Think about the shape of the tree before you do any pruning because the plant will branch out by developing two or three new “heads” below each cut. Dip the cut ends of the cane pieces into rooting hormone and plant three or four of these into a pot to start a new plant.
The leaves of my Marginata are looking pale and blotchy and it’s not in the sun. What’s wrong?
It sounds as though your plant has spider mites. These pests are difficult to see but do leave very fine reddish webbing on the plant and a gritty feel to the surface of the leaves. Mites suck the juices from the plant resulting in the leaf discoloration. Spray with the Green Solution every 10 days for a month.
Just the tips of the leaves on my Dracaena are turning brown, not the whole leaf. Is it too much or too little water?
It’s probably not a watering problem. Brown tips usually indicate too much salt in the soil because you are over-fertilizing or too much fluoride in the water.
Why does my Dracaena have whitish brown spots on the leaves?
These spots are usually caused by direct sun hitting the leaves of the plant.
The canes of my Dracaena are getting soft and mushy. What should I do?
Mushy stems and canes are caused by over watering and is a very serious condition. Stop watering until the soil is almost completely dry. You will have to cut back the rotting stems to a place where the stem is still firm and healthy.