Dragon Tree slowly dying?

MaedragonApril 29, 2014

Hey there. I have had a Dracaena Marginata for about 10 months. The first 7- 8 months it was doing great. Lots of new growth for the slow-growing dragon tree. Then I realized I needed to water more often and the roots were visible through the drainage holes. I also began to lose lower leaves - they yellowed and then fell off. So I opted to repot. When I pulled the plant out of its previous pot the roots were thick and coiled at the bottom and the soil was bone dry. Repotting looked to be the right call.

I used a similar mix of Black Gold soil and sand and transitioned to a pot that is about 1.5 inches bigger than the previous pot. I gently uncoiled the roots and cut one of the longer roots back a tad. I also removed some of the top soil. Based on online research I have begun to use distilled water to avoid any issues with fluoride. Our water contains fluoride in this area; although for the first 8 months I used the tap water and all appeared well.

Since repotting, I am losing leaves at an alarming rate - and not just the lower leaves. They seems to develop one or two dark spots, and then yellow and die. The plant just looks sad. I can't seem to figure out what's going on. All the research I've done indicates I'm doing the right things. The plant has been in front of a southwest facing window since I purchased it, and that seemed to be working well. I only water when the leaves droop and the top two inches of soil is completely dry (roughly once per week). Perhaps the transplantation was traumatic? Or could it be a pest? I don't see anything to indicate its been infested.

This seems like a great place for help so I thought I'd reach out and see if anyone has any suggestions or information. I hope I'm posting in the correct area. Thanks very much.

Sorry about the image - I can't figure out how to rotate it. I should also add, the reason I think it looks "sad" and may be dying is because even the new growth on top looks limp, thin, and lighter in color than it did previously. Not sure if you can see that in the image, but I can post another if necessary.

This post was edited by Maedragon on Tue, Apr 29, 14 at 22:06

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

That's a very nice looking tree, at least the part showing. When I open the pic in a new window, it's upright. Not your fault, this happens with some pics on here, nobody knows why.

Would you be able to add a pic of the whole thing? It's hard to get a sense of its' health from this one shot, though I don't see anything wrong.

If the new growth is lighter and not perky-looking, probably needs more light.

Even the healthiest Drac tree must lose the oldest leaves at some point. It's part of the process of growing taller and creating a woody trunk, very similar to how a palm tree grows. There's no such thing as a really tall D. marginata with leaves all the way to the soil level, so finding a leaf going yellow periodically is not cause for alarm.

From what you said, this is concerning, "a similar mix of Black Gold soil and sand." The pic shows what I would expect this to look like, kind of muddy and all tiny particles. The tiny particles fit so closely together that there's no air spaces between them. Roots need oxygen and moisture at the same time to function. A soil mix that's much more chunky, porous, airy, would be much better for your tree, or any plant in a pot.

I think I see a drip saucer under the pot? Pot looks really heavy. I would probably not want to move it to water each time. If you don't either, a turkey baster can help remove excess water from the drip tray. Leaving it there can cause the roots to rot. At this point, I would let it dry thoroughly before adding more water. Are you able to put your finger in the drain hole if you tilt the pot? If so, as long as it feels moist in there, I'd not add more water.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 12:50PM
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Thanks so much for the reply. I definitely should have mentioned that I put a thin layer of just sand on the top soil to help keep gnats out. We had a minor issue with gnats in our house plants last summer.

I thought that adding a little sand (just a small amount) to the soil mix would help it drain a little faster. But that may have been a mistake. I do have succulent soil handy if you think I should change the soil to something that drains faster.

I never let the plant sit in water in the drip tray either. I usually take it to the bathroom, add water until it drains out, and then replace the plant. You can't see it in the pic, but the tray has recessed areas for water to fall that keeps it away from the pot too. :)

I'm going to add a picture for you to see the whole plant a bit better. I guess my main concern is that I'm losing so many leaves, and not just from the bottom. Also (and I don't know the proper terminology), the point where the leaves meet the trunk of the plant looks really dry. If I could figure out how to add multiple pics, I'd add another one to show you.

Thanks again for the reply. Much appreciated.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 6:07PM
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MsGreenFinger GW(8 Ireland)

That plant looks completely healthy to me :)

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 6:09AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Agreed. Except for the sand, what you described and what's visible in the pic sound/look great. As long as the leaves on top are straight up like that, it's getting enough sun.

There's a ton of stuff to read out there (and especially on this forum) about how sand added to potting soil doesn't help drainage, if you want the details. Also discussed thoroughly and often on on container forum here on GW.

When you hear the phrase "well drained soil," replace it in your mind with "porous/airy soil." Having tons of water stay in the soil is fine, as long as there is also plenty of oxygen. Small particles make that impossible.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:30AM
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Awesome. Thanks so much for the advice. I'm fairly new at this stuff (obviously) and I guess it takes time to weed out the misinformation online. ;) At any rate, I will not add sand for the purpose of drainage anymore. The way you described it totally makes sense why it won't help (no air).

One last question. I only put a small amount of sand in with the "All purpose Black Gold" potting soil during the re-potting. Would it be wise to re-pot again with a more porous soil? I'm guess that may be too much trauma for a 1 month period, but I thought I'd check with you guys. I really want this plant to thrive.

Thanks again for your help.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:15PM
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