Droopy Old Dracaena

marthavila(Z6NY)February 6, 2010

One of my Dracaena Marginatas is 30+ years old, about 6.5" tall and has at least 1/2 a dozen off shoots and branchings. It's been through all kinds of house moves, exposure changes and repottings over the years and has soldiered through every one of them. Although I've previously experienced some leaf loss and stem withering on some of the offshoots, I'm noticing a major leaf drooping problem on just about all the off shoots. (The main stems look fine.) The stems where the leaves are drooping are hardy and not mushy. I even thoroughly inspected the root system (not easy given the size of the plant and the container!) and I don't see any evidence of root rot. The plant is not root bound. I also don't see any evidence of insects. Any idea of what the problem could be? Or is it just suffering from old age?


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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Martha!
Is there any chance that you might be able to post of picture of the plant, the proximity to the light source, the container, and the type of soil? I know it's a lot to ask, but it's hard to make recommendations without seeing the plant.

If the plant has adequate light, and well-draining soil, then I'd suggest pruning the plant back...

I'd typically suggest re-potting with new mix (later in the season).

You could also try flushing the current potting medium to remove fertilizer salts that might have


    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 2:01PM
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Hi Josh,

I should have known I didn't provide enough info when I first posted! :-) Ok, here's the deal:

The plant is standing at a west facing, triple glazed window, with a screen, in NYC. On the left side of it (about 2' away) is a hot water riser. To the right of it (also at a distance of about 2') is an encased hot water radiator. The plant has been in this same location for at least 15 years. It's standing close enough to the window that sometimes it has spent the entire winter with its uppermost leaves pressed against the window pane. About 5 years ago, I stopped moving it outdoors in the summer time (as I typically do with the smaller, younger members of my house plants collection) and it now stays fixed in this spot all year round.

When I repotted it about 4 years ago, with standard potting mix and perlite, I put it in a 14", enamelized clay pot that has no drainage hole. I layered the bottom of the pot with approximately 2" of broken clay pot shards. (Even without drainage holes, pools of water will form on the pot's saucer lip when it is heavily watered.) I don't fertilize this plant. I also don't regularly mist it. I just water it about every 10 days -2 weeks or so. And, yes, although I realize I have just confessed to committing several plant care misdemeanors, in all its 3-decades plus of living with me, this venerable old Dracaena has never complained about such cruel and unusual treatment.:-) Until now. :-(

Here are a few close-ups of my forlorn looking plant. Never have I seen it so dejected! Any advice you (and others) can give me on how I may rescue my beloved old friend -- or at least save her currently healthy main stem from death's call -- would be much appreciated!:

Close-up of drooping leaves on a lower offshoot stem:

Another offshoot with drooping leaves:

Yet another on a totally different stem!:

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 5:08PM
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Uh. . . I'm still waiting on your comments and advice folks --even if you think this situation is hopeless! Josh, I did do a tiny bit of cutting back before I even posted. So when you suggest cutting back, my next question would be: how hard? Are you suggesting I go after the healthy main stem? Cut back the offshoots with drooping leaves? On all of them? And how low? Down to the soil line? Six inches above?
One reason why I'm still holding out hope for my plant is that, even though the leaves are drooping like crazy, they are not yellowing, stiffening or dropping off. I even think I'm seeing a slight lift in the leaves on a couple of the stems. But I dunno. Maybe that's just wishful thinking. As you might be able tell by now, I really am just a novice here who apparently has had lots of good fortune in being able to keep her alive for 3 decades. But now it's looking like I need more than good luck. Indeed, right about now,I could use some science and art! As such, I'm still hoping that some of you wiser and more horticulturalists and plant lovers will weigh in on this one and help me out.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 12:38PM
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I'm no expert here but in your last picture it looks like the droopy portions of the plan are frost burned. (I'm sure you would know if that were the case though so it's probably not it) These plants respond so well to tip pruning that if it were my plant I would just whack off the droopy parts and then wait for new non-droopy growth like some of your younger looking offshoots have. Your stems are so long anyway so you can afford to lose some height.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 4:27PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hi, Martha. Thaks for the pics.
First of all, please re-pot in a container with drainage, regardless of any other treatment. Drainage is key. A layer of shards will not create or promote adequate drainage...even in a container with holes.

Secondly, those leaves do look frost burned...
One of my friends left his plant outdoors in 20°F weather for several days. His leaves drooped the same. Now there are new buds forming at the soil-line, however...so I guess these plants are fairly tough. But I digress...

Re-pot! ;)


    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 6:10PM
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Ok. I'll definitely try repotting. And maybe a bit more pruning of the stems that have droopy leaves. (Since I already cut back on a few of them, I was reluctant to keep pruning. After all, the ones that are drooping are the youngest ones on the plant and the stems themselves seem to be in great shape.)

I'm pretty sure the problem is not related to frost burn though. The leaves that are drooping are not touching the window. The leaves that had been touching the window are the topmost ones -- which are also the healthiest! Plus, as stated earlier, this plant has been in this position for 15 years with no probs. Not only is the window triple glazed and caulked (i.e., well insulated), but also the plant is situated between ambient heat sources with the hot water riser on one side and the radiator on the other. In any case, thanks for responding, guys. It's a comfort at least to hear some advice and theories beyond "game over." :-) And any further views are definitely welcome!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 7:13PM
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Maybe excessive heat is cooking the plant. Try moving it a little away from the heat source.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 7:49PM
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I hear you bb, but there's no issue of excessive heat. I only mentioned the location of the heat sources so that you all wouldn't think the plant was in a freeze zone at the window. Both the heat riser and radiator are enclosed. You're only aware of their heat-giving properties when you touch them --which the plant doesn't.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 9:21PM
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Drainage, absolutely re-pot to something about the same size with holes in the bottom. Trim the plant and let some new growth form.

Have you recently fertilized? Your soil might be spent, when you re-pot the plant change as much soil as you can. Check for rotting roots. They may be flooded from standing water.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 11:40AM
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