Dracaena Marginata Problem

FutilityUJuly 28, 2012

So I've searched the forums and elsewhere online to try and figure out what exactly is wrong with my plant, which I believe is a Dracaena Marginata. I'm new to having plants so this is way beyond my ability to figure out on my own. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

I bought the plant in January and it was very bright green and had a lot of leaves. A couple months ago some of the leaves on the bottom started to turn yellow, dry up, and fall off.

I've been watering only when the soil is dry (I put my finger in the soil and if I can't feel moisture, I water). About a month ago I started watering more frequently because I thought maybe the leaves were falling off because the plant needed water. I've also been putting in stick miracle grow fertilizer once a month.

The plant is in a room that gets a lot of natural light throughout the day. It's about 5 feet from a huge east facing window. I also tried moving it directly in front of a window a couple weeks ago, but out of direct sunlight. That hasn't helped as the leaves have continued to drop.

I cut off the brown (dead, I assume) leaves last weekend, and there were probably 20-30 of them. Another 5 or 6 are already down and look to be lost.

The leaves have some white stuff on them that I can wipe off with my finger. And there are some black dusty looking things on the bottom of the leaves.

Here are some photos that I hope will help show my problem. I have one photo from when I bought the plant showing how bright, green and leafy it was when I took it home.

And, now...

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raelynn09(5b MI)

I would first give the plant a nice warm shower, and second, check the roots. The soil looks pretty dense, the plant may be having problems absorbing nutrients and getting air.
though irst instinct would be to assume bugs, this actually seems like something viral. I'm no expert, so let's hope someone hops in here with some info for us!


    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 2:37PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The white stuff looks like powdery mildew, to me. Neem oil works very well on PM, preventing it from spreading further as well as curing minor infections.

I suggest that you perform a bit of surgery on your plant, removing all of the unhealthy looking portions. Then, apply the neem according to label directions.

I agree that your potting mix looks awfully fine-textured.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 4:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree with the others (powdery mildew, possible spots of sooty mold just developing - or a leaf spot disease, fine textured soil creating an over-watering situation, plant potted too deeply) that you have some things you need to act on if you want to turn the plant around. Unfortunately, it may be too late.

The powdery mildew issue does need to be acted on quickly if you decide to keep the plant, but you might want to get a look at the roots first. Depot the plant and inspect the roots carefully. It looks like a systemic fungal infection that originated in the roots has made its way into more succulent stem/leaf tissues and is causing the leaves to die. If the roots aren't plump and white or tan, or if they are thin/dark/slimy/sour-smelling, you should bare-root the plant, cut all the roots back to sound tissue, and repot into a fast draining soil. You might even want to discard the plant if you find the roots are in rough shape, because once the stem tissue is infected with any of the damping off diseases, it's very unlikely that any treatment is going to help.

I do wish you best luck.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 7:19PM
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Thank you all for the responses. I will depot the plant and take a look at the roots. If they look alright and I replant it, should I use a smaller pot and set up enough rocks at the bottom to help with draining? If the roots look alright and I repot, I will use the neem oil. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 8:48PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The rocks won't help with how the soil or how the pot drains. It's the soil itself that determines properties like drainage, aeration, and how significant an impact any excess water is likely to have on your plant.

It may be helpful to read over some basic information. I'll link you to it below. Don't be dismayed if your plant fails. You can make significant forward progress in a very short while, just by understanding how important watering habits and soil choice are to your growing experience.


Here is a link that might be useful: A good starting point .....

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 9:32PM
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Wow. I just spent the last hour and a half reading through that post along with a few of your other posts and I have a whole new outlook on having plants. You explain things so simply, yet I'm still a little overwhelmed by it all. Given the plant issue I'm dealing with now and your previous comment that it may be too late to save it, I wonder if starting over with a new plant using your information is my best bet.

Not that I'm not up for "learning as I go" -- but, have you posted any guides on how to build a soil and pot a specific type of plant? I found your post on how you build your basic container soil, but a step-by-step guide of: build this soil, pot this plant, fertilize with this mixture at these points, water this much at this time this frequently, give it this much light this often, repot at these times... well, that would be amazing.

Again, I'm all for learning as I go, but I'm a hands on kind of person, and once I figure something out once, I get it. I'm sure this guide exists in the form of your various posts if I piece enough of them together, but I figured I'd ask if you had written a complete how-to guide that a newbie like me could work off of.

Anyways, THANK YOU for linking to that, it definitely has me thinking.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 11:30PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Forget the specific instructions for specific plants. Get the basics right, THEN worry about the subtleties on a plant to plant basis. It may surprise you that I treat almost all plants alike. That includes succulents but not cacti. So if you're up for being tucked under a wing for awhile, I'd be glad to help. I can promise you that when we're done, and in a very short time, you'll be able to grow far better than you imagined with less effort than you thought.

There is no need to be overwhelmed by anything, it IS very simple. If you can learn how to find or make a good soil and get a good nutritional program in place, you're 90% of the way there - and I can help with both. You don't need a lot of experience to grow well, just a little understanding. In fact, experience, in my experience, can often be limiting because it's so often accompanied by rigidity.

If you understand the direction the thread I linked you to was headed, I'll give you a second piece of homework. I think the information in this thread (below) represents the biggest step forward you'll make as a container gardener. Not because I wrote it, but because it will make a light go on and help you understand why your plant is struggling. It's widely applicable to all forms of container culture that utilizes a soil-like growth medium.

You remember that menswear commercial that has the adage, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime"? Instead of giving you instructions on a plant by plant basis that you can follow w/o knowing why, I'd rather help you learn how to figure it out for yourself. Then you'll be able to call on your own skills any time you need to.


Here is a link that might be useful: First assignment

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 12:35PM
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tess1893(NC 6/7)

Hey, I had these for years, it's the nature of the plant for the bottom leaves to yellow and turn brown after a while just trim them close to the stalk when completely brown. Sometimes others say to leave them to catch water when you "shower" the plant to simulate rain. All my houseplants get a shower every few weeks along with watering at the base. It take a little while for new babies to appear but when they do they will have small roots at the bottom sticking out like little funny shaped dots or nodes. Leave them for a while them cut them off with a very sharp knife to make more plants. Or leave them but after a while you will have to cut some babies off so it doesn't get to top heavy. DO NOT over water these, the center trunk witl rot and you will not know it til it either collapses out of the pot or breaks off in your hand when you have grasped the trunk. It also can happen from different things in store bought potting soils, these plants in this species can be a little quirky at times. Hope this helps. I agree with the powdery mildew answers. If I can help anymore just let me know.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 4:20PM
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Al, thanks for the link and my first assignment. I really appreciate the guidance! After reading the post I took some time to read through the previous posts that had been closed and feel like I have a good handle on the soil.

So, I hope I'm not getting ahead of myself, but I'd like to start acquiring the ingredients to create the gritty mix. I've done some searches on the forum and Google, but have a couple questions for clarification that I was hoping you'd be able to help with. I assume you've addressed this in the past and I think I know the answers, so I don't want to waste your time -- if I need to keep searching, just say so.

1. Is locating the pine or fir bark just a matter of calling or going to various nurseries? Are there particular brands I can look for, and/or national retailers that carry this? Should I simply be asking people "do you have uncomposted pine or fir bark around 1/8-1/4" in size?" FYI, I'm in Wichita, KS if that helps you answer this.

2. I plan on using the Foliage Pro 9-3-6 for fertilizing based on what I've read from you and others. To clarify, going this route means the gritty mix is simply 1:1:1 bark, Turface and Gran-I-Grit or #2 cherrystone, correct?

3. It appears the #2 cherrystone is your preference, is this available nationally or do I need to do some more searching of the forums to find a possible alternative in my area?

Again, I'm guessing you've answer these questions and I'm just not finding it yet. If so, just let me know to keep digging.

Finally -- what is my next assignment (if I'm not already ahead of myself)? Thank you so much for the insight and resources, not just in this thread but elsewhere as I'm finding it.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 5:55PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You're welcome. You can probably tell I enjoy helping where I can - especially the enthusiastic ones. ;-)
The Turface MVP should be easy at
Ewing Irrigation
3830 N. Toben St.
(316) 630-9530

I'm guessing you'll probably find #2 Cherrystone (mined in MN) at a rural feed store that caters to people with livestock and fowl. Alternate products that might be available are Gran-I-Grit in grower size or Manna Pro. The pine/fir bark is a 'you find it where you find it' sort of thing. I've found it at big box stores and at any odd place that sells mulch. You might try calling nursery ops and asking, or large ops that sell bedding plants AND nursery stock. That's where I usually find it. If you get a 'no dice' ask them who you might call for pine bark in a size suitable for making container soils. If you want to make a small batch, I've heard that ReptiBark, found at pet stores as reptile bedding is supposed to be suitable, though much more expensive than bark originally intended as mulch. If you strike out on all counts, I'll send you enough to get started.

You got the 1:1:1 ratio right, but don't forget the screening.

I think if you really are well familiarized with what you read in the two threads, that you're ready to shift course and get started with a few new plants - after you get the soil thing situated. I'll keep an eye on your thread so I see your other questions as they arise. ;-)


    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 8:35PM
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Thanks once again for your knowledge. I'm going to spend this week trying to get everything rounded up, and I definitely appreciate you being willing to answer future questions (which I'm sure I'll have).

I'm glad you mentioned the screening, because I do have a question for you on that. I've pieced information on this together from your posts and others, and have a good idea of the materials I'll need. However, have you made a post that goes more in-depth on screening and the process? Just wondering if there's a go-to post you'd recommend for getting a little more direction on that part. I may just need to do a little more searching, but wondered if you had possibly bookmarked a post on this.

Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 9:02PM
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It's a Yucca, not a D. Marginata. Keep it in a sunny location in any temp and keep it fairly dry.

The white stuff is a fungal/mildew infestation.

Physically wiping it off will help as much as anything.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 4:20AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

For the screening, you'll need a piece of aluminum insect screen or for smaller batches a 'standard' size mesh kitchen strainer, a piece of 1/4" hardware cloth and a piece of 1/8" hardware cloth. If you'll be doing any outdoor container gardening, you might just get a piece of 1/2" hardware cloth at the same time. You can get the hardware cloth at, you guessed it, hardwares. Avoid the big box stores where they'll want you to buy the role. I made my own sieves to do my screening

but as you'll see in Josh's video (link below), it's not necessary.

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease, roughly the equivalent of athletes foot in humans, and as such can't be wiped off as a fix. It has to be treated with something that has antifungal properties. The PM is actually probably a symptom of a larger issue. The plant is weakened, probably because of a compromised root system due to over-watering/poor soil. In the normal course of events, with the plant growing in the wild, the fungal infection is just the onset of Mother Nature reclaiming the building materials she loaned to the plant. It's the first stages of breaking down the plant material so it can be recycled, first by microbial life and eventually by other plants.


Here is a link that might be useful: Josh's video

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 7:48AM
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Perfect, thank you!

StewartsJon, thanks for clearing that up. Dracaena Marginata was on the plant marker but I always wondered why I could never find photos that looked quite like mine... that explains it. :)

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 7:32PM
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Here's the first batch of gritty mix. :)

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 10:07AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Looks like you're in business - good job! You screened out the fines? How about your fertilizer program - do you have that covered?


    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 11:27AM
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Al, thanks for the follow up -- I didn't realize you had replied. I just posted a new thread regarding my first use of the gritty mix, would love to get your feedback if you have time.

I mentioned in that thread that I have purchased Foliage Pro 9-3-6. The plan is to wait a couple of weeks before fertilizing for the first time (hoping I haven't misunderstood things I've read here regarding that timeframe).

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 1:34PM
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Oops, bad link. Here it is.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 1:35PM
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Futility...Your plant is a Yucca, not Dracaena Marginata.

Yucca's should be grown as succulents. 5'/five-feet from an east window is not sufficient. Yucca's are sun lovers, prefer south or west exporsure.

I didn't read all replies, so maybe this was mentioned.
Instead of sticking your finger in the soil, use a long stake, or lift pot for weight to test soil for moisture.
The top might feel dry, but deeper down, nearest the roots, water can linger.

Yucca's are slow-growing therefore require little fertilizer. Two-Three times a year will suffice.

Yuccas also prefer cooler temps. Some varieties more than others. So, please keep your Yucca in a room that's not over 70F degrees.

Pic 1...your Yucca is very healthy and green.

PS: Don't trust labels. Sometimes, the wrong label is placed in a plant, but more often than not, customers remove a tag to read care instructions, than place in a different plant. I used to work at HD; customers placed tags in different pots often. Toni

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 1:56PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Yucca, yes; they can be testy little buggers, and are not good plants for beginners; for that matter, neither are marginatas. I see that you are really getting into soil mixing, and that is wonderful. You could be getting into a lifelong interest. But from my experience - I am an interior horticulturist for 30 years - you also need to learn to water properly. Certain very porous soil mixes will allow you to grow many plants beautifully, but to really understand plants you need to understand watering. Your yucca has problems because it stayed too wet, and started to rot. Whatever kind of soil you use, investigate the moisture all the way through the pot, and adjust it according to the needs of the specie you are dealing with. Bona Fortuna for you and your plants.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 4:38PM
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After a few posts, I was saying to myself "yucca, not dracaena marginata" until someone finally posted that.

Pictures are deceiving but it looks overpotted to me.

Anyway, best of luck with your plant.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 1:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Futility - you're welcome. Checked in on your other thread, and it sounnds like you have things under control.

Many plants get a reputation as 'difficult' because they don't tolerate wet feet, or the mistake of watering too frequently that inexperienced container gardeners are likely to make. I think dracaena and yucca are definitely in that group of plants, but even the growers just getting started or getting back into growing are unlikely to encounter difficulties when using very fast draining and well-aerated soils for plants with reduced tolerance for excess water in the root zone.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 3:50PM
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To avoid anyone else doing rash things when they see white stains or coating on a Yucca (or other plant) like throwing it out or (like me) spend an hour wiping the leaves clean, I'd like to present 2 other quite probable explanations:

1. Could just be dirt from the nursery, if they don't have perfectly clean water, or there's dust or something. I got a bit suspiscious when I hade these stains on both sides of the leaves and the stem and on the outside of the inner pot (see image).

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:25AM
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2. Although noone has described this clearly with pictures that I could find, evidently Yucca (and some other plants that can handle much heat) can have quite a lot of waxy coating (called cuticle) and for Yuccas at least, this is milky white, and on my Yucca bought 1 month ago some leaves were quite white due to a thick layer of this, possibly because I gave it more sun than it was used to. This coating is probably always rather uniformly across the leaf (although some may have much more than others, and on either side), but it can get wept away by misting and handling it so that it looks more spotty (see image - only 1 image per post here, and it seems to scale it down considerably so I tried to zoom in a bit).

I had a plant with fungal disease a couple of weeks back in the same room but only for half a day before I saw it and threw it out and sanitized the place a bit, so I had my eyes (a bit too much) open for signs on the other plants.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:30AM
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Does anyone know what the best fertilizer is for a Dracaena plant? I remember finding a article with the name of a fertilizer called something like 10.10.10 yet I'm not sure if that is the right one. I can not find that article. Every article I look at now only says to fertilize it every 2 months, yet does not tell you what would be the best. Sorry to ask this question here on her question yet I have no where else to turn.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2014 at 9:30PM
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