Little dracaena marginata with browning lower leaves

blabberbocaJuly 5, 2013

Hi there! I'm a brand-new poster and a total beginner at taking care of houseplants. I received a little dracaena marginata as a housewarming gift about seven months ago, and I'm afraid that the lower leaves are dying faster than the new growth on top can keep up with.

I've read several other posts on these here, and it seems like most people with this problem figure out that it's due to not enough light, overwatering, powdery mildew, etc. I'm at a loss because my plant sits in a south-facing greenhouse window, I only water it when the soil is completely dried out and/or the leaves start to droop, and I don't see any signs of pests or illness. It's in a plastic pot with plenty of holes in the bottom, and I always water it in the sink and let it drain for quite a while. It never sits in standing water.

I'm gathering that it's fairly normal for the bottom leaves to turn yellow/brown, right? It seems pretty healthy other than that one issue. I'm just concerned because it's a small plant, and I lose a leaf or two on a weekly basis. I'm not sure the new growth can keep up with it. It was MUCH fuller when I first received it.

Sorry about the sideways photo ... I'm not sure how to fix it. I've included a link to more photos of the plant.

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Here is a link that might be useful: Photos of my dracaena marginata

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I think you may have answered your own question. IMO, most houseplants, don't like drying out completely or unto the point as you stated, "the leaves start to droop." Allowing it to dry a little between waterings is best, and by completely drying out and/or "the leaves start to droop," your plant is losing leaves due to lack of watering. Yellowing leaves can be a sign of under or overwatering, but I believe in your case, it's not getting enough water. Long term, waiting until a plant droops a little causes more harm than good. I'm not sure if the intensity of a greenhouse south facing window is the same as one indoors, but your dracaena would enjoy bright indirect light from a west or east facing window (south tends to be too strong).


This post was edited by plantomaniac08 on Fri, Jul 5, 13 at 11:44

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 11:43AM
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Oh, darn -- I thought dracaenas LIKED to dry out in between waterings! I just can't keep track of these things. :) I'll try to catch it just before the drooping starts and will see if that helps!
I was wondering if it was getting too much light, but wasn't sure if brown bottom leaves were typically a sign of that kind of thing ... My ficus lyrata told me in a much clearer way (sunburn! eek!).
Thanks so much, Planto!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 11:48AM
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Perhaps that is a safer thing to do in the winter, but during their active growing season, I'd imagine you'd want moisture in the pot at all times (not wet, but moist). I'd just dig my finger in an inch or two (this really depends on how water retentive your soil is) and if dry, water again. Not sure I've ever had a plant that wanted to dry out all the way before watering again (other than a Snake Plant, but those are more "fleshy" leaved). Not sure if the brown bottom leaves is a sign of too much light, but I am not sure South is the best window to place it in. You haven't killed it yet :P so I'm sure you'll be able to figure out what it's likes and dislikes are (sometimes owning plants is just a matter of trial and error).


    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 11:53AM
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Howdy and Welcome,

What size is the pot?

It's normal for older D. marginata lower leaf drop, but I'm not so sure about young Dracaenas. If a few leaves dried over a 7-month period there'd be no need to worry, but since 1-2 leaves are dying per week, there is a problem..However, it may not be anything serious.

How warm is your green house? Marginata's dislike high temps. They prefer cool, semi-humid, airy rooms.

It's true D. marginata needs light, but leaves can burn/dry in south, direct 'summer' sun.
Although, what's confusing is your say lower leaves are dropping..hmm?

Is soil well-draining? Marginata's do not like wet feet. On the other hand, if soil dries to the point it cracks, lower leaves are bound to dry out, yellow/brown and fall off.

Your D. marginta is nice-looking. I should have browsed your link, but your plant in the pic here looks healthy.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 12:00PM
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All excellent points!
Just out of curiosity, not sure if you have any suggestions, but ... What plants CAN handle a south-facing greenhouse window? Am I just limited to succulents and cacti?
Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 12:01PM
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Hi Toni!

The pot is quite small -- maybe 3 or 4 inches wide at the top? I'm not very good at identifying soil -- it's just what came with the plant, from Ikea. It doesn't crack when it dries out. It's very, very fine and crumbly. I'm sure it's not great quality. I've been nervous about repotting, though. I'm afraid to do more damage!

I should have been more specific about the greenhouse window, sorry! It's actually in my house. I'm not sure if I used the right term. It's one of those windows that extends outside the house and has glass on all sides and on top. I usually keep my house around 72 or 73 degrees, but I'm sure it gets a little warmer in that window. It's VERY bright.

The lower leaves actually don't seem to be dropping off on their own. They start to turn yellow first, and I usually pull them off when they turn brown and translucent. I haven't seen any fall off on their own, but probably because I don't usually let them get to that point. Should I leave them alone?

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 12:09PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hmmmm - you didn't mention fertilizer. How many times have you fertilized it in the last 7 months? If you haven't, your plant is reclaiming nutrients from the older foliage to support new growth, then consistently shedding the older growth it can't support. Unless your soil comes with a starter charge of fertilizer, it can't support normal growth - you need to fertilize regularly for plants to grow normally ..... or as close to 'normally' as they can in a container.

See some growing basics below .....


Here is a link that might be useful: A basic overview .......

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 12:47PM
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I just noticed Planto left comments.
Planto, sorry if I repeated anything you said.

Blabberboca. Your Dracaena looks a lot taller on your link.

Are roots growing out of drainage holes? If so, your marginata definately needs a larger container.

Before, I forget. You said you watered straight from the tap.
Is it possible to fill a container w/water and let it sit overnight before watering??

Is soil crumbly after you water?? How often do you water, and do you water thoroughly so rootball is saturated? Sips don't do the job.

Ah, you have a garden window..Lucky you! :)

Yes, I'm certain a south, 'semi-enclosed area' gets hot in summer.
Is it possible to move your marginata in the background, or another room?

During winter, your garden window would be a great place to for your marginata and other plants.

Don't fear repotting. :) Select a larger container, (5-6")add a little soil on the bottom of new pot.
Remove plant carefully from old pot, center in new pot, then add fresh soil around the rootball and top..
Once you repot, you'll soon be an

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 12:48PM
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Hi Al! I pour in some Miracle-Gro when I think of it. No more frequently than monthly, but I definitely don't remember every month. Thank you so much for the link! I've actually skimmed it in the past, but will take a more thorough look now. :)

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:22AM
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Toni, I just looked, and the roots are growing out of the drainage holes a bit. Guess it's time for repotting! I just did a mass repotting of all my succulents, so I've had some practice recently. So far, they're all still alive, so I guess I didn't totally botch it...? :)

I water my dracaena once a week and soak it pretty thoroughly ... I usually let the tap water warm up a bit first. Does that do the trick, or is it better to let it sit overnight?

Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:27AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

A significantly larger pot would be appropriate. I'd recommend repotting instead of potting up. Remove the old soil, trim any circling (strangling) and giant roots, and trim the remaining roots a bit so they can have some space in the new pot, instead of remaining in a tangled, strangling, suffocating ball.

Note the roots these cuttings grew within a year.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 12:12PM
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in my experience, under and over watering them will brown quite a few leaves. Water it all and two or three will brown. cold damage can also do it i'm nursing one back to health that was too close to a window in February.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 8:40PM
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