Beginner with dying dracaena marginata

katsiaFebruary 25, 2014


I'm new to the forum and to owning/caring for plants, I wonder if anyone can help me..

I got my first house plant, a dracaena marginata, at the beginning of December 2013. I noticed after a month or so that the tips of the leaves were turning brown. This week they've began dropping off quite rapidly and I've noticed that the smallest stalk (the first to lose its leaves) feels soft/mushy.

I've tried to be careful not to over water, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings however I don't think it has been drying out fully. I bought a moisture meter to test this and although the first inch or two feels dry to the touch when I've tested using the moisture meter it still seems to be damp deeper down.

I wondered if this was likely to have caused root rot, if it would be a good idea to attempt to repot the plant and if so how to go about doing this?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 10:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 10:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

does the pot have drainage holes? most houseplants grown in closed container suffer from soggy soils. dracaenas grown indoor prefer lightly dry soil. I'm also new to indoor plants but i think you should suspend watering the plant for now and observe for some days

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 4:05AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

With regards to the previous comment about drainage holes, do you allow the inner pot to sit in water at all?

There's nothing wrong with placing a "pot within a pot," usually get a more decorative look that way. However, you have to make sure the plant is completely done "dripping" water after you water before you place it back into the white container.

Also, where is this plant located? It appreciates sun and very few plants can live on the other side of a room where it's dark. Do you have it in a room with a window, if so, do you know what direction the window faces(South, East, etc). The direction the window faces will affect how much light comes into the room. North windows receive the least amount of light whereas South receive the most (East are second to North, then it's West, then South).

It appears you have it in the original potting mix it was purchased with (am I correct?). If so, that mixture looks like pure peat. It's cheap for suppliers to use, but it's not very good with drainage. Plant roots require adequate drainage or the roots will not be able to breath and they will rot and subsequently, die. Can you take a picture of the potting mix?

I purchase a plant in pure peat once, I didn't replace the soil at all. It would dry out on top, but in the dead center of the root ball it was soaking wet. It killed my plant eventually (not trying to scare you, just letting you know how bad the pure peat mix can be).

You mentioned "mushy." That probably signifies that section has died. I don't know much about Dracenas (I'm giving you general plant care), but I believe you could trim it back to healthy growth and it should sprout new "heads."

However, what is most important for you to concern yourself with right now is proper lighting and proper potting mix for your plant. Then you can worry about trimming back, etc. If you don't rectify the potting mix if it is unacceptable (not your fault, it's just what some companies put their plants in, again, it's cheap) and don't provide your plant with adequate lighting, it won't matter about trimming back, as your plant will eventually die from inadequate needs.

Consider this a learning experience, as I noticed you mentioned you're new to plants. Every thing you deal with is something you'll remember down the road and you'll have that "experience" under your belt to help someone else out down the road.

I hope this information has been helpful. Plants are enjoyable, it's just a matter of providing them with what they need. Kind of like pets IMO, have to give them quality food for them to be their healthiest. Can't pot a plant in "crap" mix and expect it to be as happy or stick it in a closet and expect it to grow (I know, you don't have yours in a closet, I'm just saying).


    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 9:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I agree with both above, the issue is at the roots, and possibly not enough light. As Planto said, roots need air (in the soil) as well as moisture to function. Whatever is going on with the foliage is an indication of the health of the roots. Do the main trunks feel firm where they emerge from the soil?

I would immediately take the inner pot out of the outer pot to check that. Did it come with the outer pot also?

Chemicals in tap water can make this kind of plant ill. Rain/melted snow, condensate from A/C or dehumidifier, or distilled are sources of water without these chemicals, if you are able to use one of these.

Yes, it needs to be repotted. The thing to decide is if doing it now, at the wrong time of the year is necessary or if it could/should wait until later in the year when it would be growing more vigorously (if not ill.) You're on the other side of the pond, but similar latitude to many in the US, so we share the same basics about time of year that is best to do, or not do, some things. Supplying a little more info, you should get some opinions.

If the pot is 12" high, and only the top 2" is dry, that's not a plant that needs more water. In peaty potting soil, it's necessary to let the drying progress to nearly complete throughout the rootball so oxygen can be present. If you can change this plant over to a more chunky, porous, airy soil with air in it while it is moist, the risk of being able to kill it simply by giving it a drink is pretty much eliminated, unless you're really dedicated and constantly pouring it on (and not letting excess drip completely away from the pot.)

The info here is good for getting off to a good start with plants in general, though I would concentrate for now on deciding if this one needs an immediate repotting, or if letting it dry out would be enough/better for now.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 12:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you all for responding.

The inner pot (which is 7.5" deep x 8" wide) does have drainage holes, the white container didn't come with it and was purely for decorative purposes.

When I've watered the plant I've taken the inner pot out and placed it in the bathroom sink, given it around a cup of water (using bottled mineral water) and left it to sit in the sink and drain for an hour or so before placing it back in the white container. I started off watering once every couple of weeks but when I noticed the soil wasn't drying out fully I left it almost a month before watering again, I don't think it had fully dried out then either but I was concerned about leaving it too long without watering.

The room it's in has a west facing window however it doesn't let a great deal of light in and the plant was placed on the opposite side of the room to the window, so I think this probably has been a factor.

It is still in the original potting mix, I did wonder if that might be part of the problem but I must admit it's something I know absolutely nothing about at this stage. I've got no idea what type of mix it's in at the moment but will post a pic.

The smallest trunk feels soft all the way down, the bigger two still seem to be firm but the leaves are dropping quite rapidly so I'm not sure how much longer it will survive as it is. What time of year would be best to repot it? and would I need to remove the smallest trunk if it has died?

For now I've moved it nearer to the window to try and give it more light and haven't watered recently. I try to keep the temperature in the room at around 20 - 25C and the humidity at around 50%.

It's disappointing to see it failing but hopefully it won't be too late to save it, and as you say planto, I will be able to use this as a learning experience and shouldn't make the same mistakes twice.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 4:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I'm wondering about the mineral water. What minerals are in it?

That's got to be more expensive than distilled. If this were my plant, I'd get some rain water or distilled for it. Google 'mineral water for plants' and you'll get a lot of articles telling you why this isn't good for plants.

I have a terrible time with pics of 'dirt.' As many times as I've taken plants out of pots, I still get surprised often by what's going on under the surface. This looks like it's staying wet on the inside and at the bottom for too long, but impossible to say for sure.

Are you able to pull the whole tree and roots out of the pot with the 'dirt' staying in one piece, in the shape of the pot? Do any of the roots look funky, or feel mushy? If you are able to do that, could you add another pic of the root ball?

Also, if it comes up in a solid chunk, and it's moist, leave it out of the inner pot, sitting exposed to air in the outer pot until it feels dry enough to need more water. Then put it back in the tight pot, (so it doesn't fall apart while wet,) take to the shower, and pour a whole gallon of distilled/rain water kind of slowly over the surface, not just in one spot. If the runoff isn't clear, repeat. Then tilt the pot until it stops dripping before sitting it back in the outer pot. Let it dry out again. Assuming you don't find rotting on the roots right now, then repot this summer.

For plants lightweight enough to pick up, doing that can help you know if it's dry or not. If it still feels just as heavy, it doesn't need a drink. After doing this for a while, it's become my best tool. Might work for you also.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 10:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't think it's receiving enough light if you have it on the opposite side of a west window. These enjoy some direct sun (at least I believe they do, I really ought to grow one of these one day lol).

I think addressing the soil issue would be one of your first "feats," but I don't believe putting it in front of your West window immediately will do it any harm. Generally, you don't want to just "throw" a plant into a higher light situation as it can burn, but I believe we're still experiencing "winter sun" so burning shouldn't be an issue. If you are concerned about it though, you could try doing it gradually, say 2-3 hours a day at first until you build up to just leaving it there all day.

One thing about watering is that it is connected to the amount of light a plant receives. In lower light situations, the need to water will be less because it won't dry out as fast as if it is in a higher light situation.

That being said, not drying out for almost a month kind of scares me as to what potting mix the grower placed your plant in. I may water a larger plant every week or week and a half. Again, that depends on your lighting and the size of the pot, the type of potting mix. My mix is Miracle Gro Cactus and Succulent Soil but I've added a bit of perlite for added drainage. It's not the best stuff out there but it works for me. I also have a South window, so things will dry out faster.

I don't think at this point it would do you any harm to pull it out of the pot as Purple stated above and see the "status" of the roots. If there are dead roots present, I believe it would be in this plant's best interest to go ahead and repot. If the roots look fine, you could wait until it warms up (I don't know if I'd wait until Summer, no offense to Purple, I might just wait until it hits Spring which is about the end of March) to repot.

If the soil is moist and the top growth is wilting, I am afraid that may be a bad sign. Generally the foliage up top is a sign of the roots below. If the roots are suffering, the foliage will begin to die. You stated that the bottom stem is soft all the way down, I believe that it's too late for it if that's the case. You could try cutting it back all the way to "hard" healthy tissue and see if it sprouts new shoots, but if that's all the way to the soil line, I'm afraid that one's probably a goner.

I hope this information is helpful. Purple had a lot of good points as well, so I'm just adding to her information.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 1:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If I was you I'd start again - in my experience you'll never get it to thrive again.

Next time keep it a lot drier and if possible in more light.

Marginatas can survive drought far better than overwatering.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 9:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"The thing to decide is if doing it now, at the wrong time of the year is necessary or if it could/should wait until later in the year when it would be growing more vigorously (if not ill.)âÂÂ

I would advise that if your plant is sick, treat it now. REMOVE the soft mushy stem and its root OUT OF THE POT, yes that probably means you'll repot the more healthy stems. You'll want fresh/better potting soil. If you want to reuse the current pot, clean it thoroughly with hot soapy water before adding new soil and your plants.

I had a dracaena marginata in my bedroom (not much light) and one of the stems rotted and stank like a rotten potato. I removed that stem and followed this advice and the two remaining stems have lasted for 10+ years. They've spent several years in much better light.

Beginner's hint: when several of the bottom leaves drop off, the plant is desperately needing water. A healthy marginata retains 20+ inches of leaves along its stalk. Don't pull off drying leaves, let them drop, or cut off with scissors close to the stalk. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 1:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hello again,

Sorry I've taken so long to reply, had a lot going on last week.

I tried pulling the tree out of the pot with the soil intact as purple advised but it wouldn't move. I had a dig around and tried to loosen the soil up a bit and discovered it was still very wet inside. I've removed the smallest tree and discarded it as it was very soft and I assume dead. The medium sized one has lost all of its leaves too now so I pulled it up to have a look at the roots but I can't really tell if they're rotting or still healthy enough to save (I've taken a pic if anyone can help me determine this) so I've put it back in the soil for now.

The mineral water I was using contains..

Calcium 15.0 mg
Magnesium 4.5 mg
Potassium 0.8 mg
Sodium 10.5 mg
Bicarbonate 39.0 mg
Sulphate 7.8 mg
Fluoride Chloride 18.0 mg
pH 6.7

I'd been using that as it's what I drink myself, so I had it to hand, and I thought it might be better than tap water. It hadn't occured to me that it could be bad for plants, I'll certainly make sure I use distilled in future. I also wasn't aware of the connection between the light situation and watering needs so I'll keep that in mind too.

I think I will try repotting the remaining tree to see if I can save it, it hasn't lost any leaves yet but the tips have been turning brown. I won't be able to get to the garden centre for supplies until the end of the week so hopefully it'll hang on that long. Is there any particular type of soil recommended for Dracaenas or is that something I could discuss with an assitant at the store? Again, I'm completely new to all of this so wouldn't know what I was looking for or what to do when it came to repotting.

If this one doesn't survive I will get a new one and be sure to follow the advice I've been given here. I actually purchased this one from an Ikea store and if I'm honest it was a spur of the moment decision, I hadn't done much research beforehand. Next time I'll go to a garden centre and find out a bit more about it first, what type of soil it's in etc, as I think that has been my main downfall with this one, along with the mistake of having it in low light.

Thanks again for all the responses/advice.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The plant as it is now

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

There's definitely stuff in that water that would make a Dracaena (and many other plants) ill.

A little concerned about the pic of the roots. A tree that size should have had enough roots to fill the pot. Hopefully it can recover now. Sending good vibes to it!

Plants at stores are almost always in 'soil' that most people want to replace. They are often quite potbound too. If you expect to want/need to repot newly purchased plants, your choices should only be limited to those that look healthy, appeal to you, won't mind the conditions you have to offer.

The info here should be helpful going forward. The bags of stuff labeled potting soil are not what most growers prefer, though there are many who do love it. A lot depends on what kind of plant-person you are, how often you are watering your plant, the temperature and light it has.

You can add a lot of perlite and/or bark chunks to that, be lucky enough to live near a place that sells one of the few kinds people like, use a more chunky mix that might be labeled for orchids or cacti, or mix up something of your own using 'recipes' out there, or wingin' it with the goals of chunky, porous, airy in your mind. When there are tiny air pockets so roots have oxygen and moisture at the same time, plants can be the most healthy, and risk of rotting roots is slim to none. I'm not a fan of starting with potting soil and trying to improve it because no amount of improvements can eliminate the tiny particles in potting soil that clog/fill all of the tiny spaces where air should be, but many growers find this easy-to-do method helpful, it's not terribly expensive, and the results are almost always reported as much better than trying the potting soil as-is.

Whatever you choose to fill your pot(s,) I would urge you (anyone) to not pack it down. If the choices are staying in the same soil, or replacing with new bagged potting soil as-in from the bag, I would replace as soon as possible. I don't know why the roots aren't growing more/better in the current stuff, probably a combination of factors. I suspect there's toxic levels of various chemicals in it by now which could be instantly fixed by changing the soil.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 9:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Dracenas in general are not tolerant of fluoride, so use rain water or water that has NO fluoride. I don't think fluoride is the main cause of your problems, but every step toward better conditions for your plant can help.

I actually got up early today and went outside and shoveled snow into buckets so it will melt and get room temperature inside so that I will have a good source of water for my plants as I am almost out of rainwater here in Oklahoma.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 1:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks purpleinopp for providing your link "here" to Garden Web Houseplants section on soils et al.... Lots of things I could use to think about what I'm doing and improve upon it.

I always thought the soil that came with the plants was the "right" soil and reluctantly repotting when the plant became root bound i.e. seeing roots come out of holes or blocking holes at bottom or lack of new green growth have all been signs I've use to determine when to repot the plant (with bare to roots new soil and cutting off encirling roots at bottom).

If these are not the methods I see you recommending let me know. I have other dracaena species (not always identified correctly--- newest one came with label in soil so its a Warneckii Dracaena)... so I read these posting with interest and responded here, hope it was right place.

I also used something called "Black Magic" that was sold in 80s I guess, I have a bag left for knowing what it is in case I ever find something like it..... lots of my plants have it still in them unless I needed to repot them for various reasons and lost the soil then... I just always thought the light and airy soil was best so now I see the downsides to that as your link showed me about perched water and too wet at the bottom what it does to plants....

The only one I can think is suffering is my tall braided weeping Ficus tree, but unfortunately its reached the size where I need someone else to help me repot it (other sites say and agree you don't need to go to a larger size pot they are happy root bound, but soil is old), so there it stands (I tried scooping out some soil out of the pot and replacing it with more soil does that help when the pot is too big and plant too tall (over 6 feet) to repot easily?)

Lots of little quesitons here, if not clear let me know and I'll repost it, just wanted to respond while the topic was being viewed and current.



    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 2:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Forest, there's more info here about repotting and caring for woody entities. If you still have questions after reading these well-written tutorials, asking them in a new discussion will get the most pairs of eyes on it. You may want to include a pic, to see what others think your plant is, though care for most potted trees is pretty much the same, once you find the amount of light they like.

You're right about the big one. Some plants need 2 people to handle. Even some that aren't huge, I like to turn upside-down with 2 hands and have someone else lift the pot off. Good vibes to your plants!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 3:53PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Pachira browning
Hi, all! My Pachira needs help. The trunk is not soft...
Pine Bark Fines Ontario Canada
Okay...5-1-1 mix! I am having trouble. First off the...
Fiddle Leaf Ficus brown edges, lighter color veins
I have the Fiddle Leaf Ficus for 2 years now. It was...
Please help? Need to Id these plants
i received these plants in a funeral arrangement and...
House Plants
Dracaenta Marginata
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™