Watering Issues

artsyfartsy17June 13, 2012

Hi all! I have a young dracaena marginata that I bought nearly two years ago and it was my first plant in years. (Before that, everything I touched died; we don't talk about that time, except to send up a prayer for that poor poor cactus.) My current plant seems to be doing very well. It started as a 6 in. tall bundle of leaves and has now split into two distinct but identical canes, each about 14 in. high with a healthy top. I just upgraded to a larger pot (glazed ceramic, 8 or 9 in. tall) and "The Twins" seem to be adjusting to it very happily except for one thing:

I cannot figure out the watering schedule for this larger pot. I used to be able to water every 10 days like clockwork, check back a couple hours after watering to make sure the drainage tray wasn't holding a pool of excess water, and the plant and me were both satisfied. This new pot is trickier, though. It takes forever to dry out after a watering and the top dries faster than the bottom. 10 days now seems to be too little between watering. I've been seeing brown leaf tips, the soggy kind that comes from overwatering. I thought it might be a soil issue, but it's the same soil I've always used. A while back I also started misting the leaves every few days or so since my home isn't really conducive to the kind of humidity that dracaenas like, but I've returned to just dry-dusting the leaves after the brown tips came about.

If anyone has any advice about this problem, I'd really appreciate it.

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Is it the container that is causing the problem or the potting medium?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:35PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you have a soil that is marginal or poor because of its excessive water retention, increasing the volume of soil the plant is in magnifies the problem. Also, if you're masking sure the collection saucer doesn't hold excess water, you're ensuring that dissolved solids (salts) are accumulating in the soil. As the concentration of dissolved solids increases, the plants ability to take up water and move it to distal parts (leaf tips & margins) decreases and contributes to the likelihood of necrotic leaf tips.

You can solve your problem by using a soil that is BASED on larger particles and adopting better watering habits. I'll link you to a thread that should represent a significant step forward in your journey as a container gardener once understood. Much more about container soils here.
I'll also link you to a thread that offers suggestions on how to deal with water retentive soils.

This overview should prove helpful as well.


    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:43AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Hi & welcome to Gardenweb.

Your plant may really appreciate going outside for the summer, if that's an option for you. Humidity is not the same as wet leaves, which is what happens unless you have a genuine mister, not a spray bottle. If you're running your A/C, there's not much you can do (or would want to do) to increase the humidity inside.

When you moved your plant to the bigger pot, how did the roots look? Tightly packed? Circling around the bottom? A good soil is crucial but if the root ball is too tight for water to penetrate, switching to a better soil might not be enough.

Would you be interested in showing a pic of your plant? That usually makes it a lot easier to see what might be wrong.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 9:16AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Since no one else has asked it, does the new planter have a drainage hole? If not, that's likely the problem.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 11:05AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lol - sometimes we DO take too much for granted. ;-)


    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:22PM
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Artsy. What size is the diameter of both pots?
Measure the top, from one side directly across the other side. Diameter is actual pot size.

Also, what material are pots? Clay, plastic, etc.

When you said you repotted in the same soil, do you mean you used the old soil? Not fresh? Toni

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 1:13PM
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Thanks for the speedy replies, everyone! I'll try to address all questions.

Rhizo: I'm really not sure; I've used both the same type of soil and the same type of pot before, just not this large.

Al: Thanks for all the links! I have absolutely no knowledge of soil, so this is a great start for learning!

Purple: I don't have AC, so it's pretty tropical in here when the sun hits the house (unfortunately for the human occupants). A benefit of the outdoors would be extra sun; my plant generally gets bright indirect light (that the stalks eventually bend towards, so I rotate it every couple of weeks).

When I repotted, the plant was slightly rootbound, but nothing too tight. This is my second time repotting this plant; the first time I waited until roots were poking through the drainage holes on the bottom, and the guy who helped me took some time unwinding the root ball and told me next time to check on the roots before it got that far again.

I'll try to get a picture up in a few days if I can get a friend to lend me their camera.

Pirate and Hopeful: I should have given more description. :P I just measured diameter and turns out it's a 7.5 inch pot, glazed ceramic with one center drainage hole that's half an inch across. I put in some rocks at the bottom (taking care not to plug the hole) because that's what I was told to do by the guy who helped me repot last time. I keep it in a dish to catch any excess water from the bottom, but I was told that dracaenas dislike wet feet, so after I water (I believe extra water is better than not enough, so I tend to flush the pot and let the plant tell me how much it needs), when I know that all the excess water has worked its way out the bottom, I empty the water dish to keep the roots from developing any rot.

By same soil, I meant the same bag of potting soil, but it is fresh soil for the pot; I discarded the old soil and removed as much of it from the root ball as I was comfortable doing. (I'm a little nervous messing with roots; I don't want to do irreparable damage.)

Pictures to come!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 3:22PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Al (tapla) is good at giving specific directions about root pruning, so you should be in good hands. Just wanted to give you encouragement to do whatever trimming he recommends. I have a couple of these trees, one is decades old. I used to just trim roots a little bit and never messed with the root ball either but have gotten braver over the years, and especially the past couple years from info, pics, and testimonials on these forums. I can really tell a difference in my plants after rejuvenating the roots although I thought they were fine before.

D. marginata really does better with direct sun, at least a few hours. It's a small one, but it is a tree. Ten days between waterings sounds like it's not getting enough light to use the water in the pot very fast.

You mentioned your friend helped unravel the roots, (sounds like a good friend!) were they trimmed at all?

This tree had another, taller trunk with a lot more tops but it broke when the pot blew off the porch. I saved all of the tops and they are still alive. The shorter, lighter-colored part is new this year, and you can see the leaves are staying on the taller part well. The taller part was new last spring, it just showed up in the middle of a trunk. It gets sun from about 1 pm until 6-7 pm.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 4:58PM
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Thanks for the great advice! I started giving my plants a couple of hours of direct sunlight every day and cut back on the watering and they've perked right up! My leaf tips are starting to recover. I don't know why the nursery told me dracaenas can't handle direct sun; mine seem to LOVE it.

I wish I had a picture to show you, but anyways, thanks for all the help! Now I know where to turn for plant problems in the future. You guys rock.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 4:08PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

What a nice thing to say, and good new to hear!

Are you familiar with what sunburn looks like on leaves? As long as you don't see any, your plant should be in a better place. Not that I don't stand by my statement, but it can be a little tricky at first as the leaves adjust to more light. Too much too soon can cause burn in leaves that would otherwise handle it well. Sounds like you're paying enough attention to notice. D. marginata rarely gets any burn for me but the leaves won't grow back, so if a full appearance is something you like, just keep an eye on it to so you notice any issues right away.

What other plants do you have? When all goes well, there are no problems to ask about. Feel free to ask about healthy plants, too!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 4:23PM
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