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Dracaena marginata Advice

Posted by cliss 6 (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 18, 10 at 2:18

I've owned houseplants for 15+ years, but have only started getting serious about it in the past few months... Which means I'm very quickly learning what I've been doing wrong all this time. :)

One of my "walking wounded" is a Dracaena marginata. I've had it for a number of years; it's currently been in the same 8-inch pot for at least 3-4 years, and one of the trunks died a couple years back. The rest of the plant is, well, kinda scraggly:

At this point, I think I have it way overpotted, and have probably been alternately over- and under-watering it. I also suspect humidity problems during the winter. I was planning to remedy by snipping off the top and trying to root it, and at the same time, prune the main trunk down to a few inches from the soil line. My thought was, if the trunk sprouted new growth, I'd re-pot it (and probably pot it down); otherwise, I'd hopefully have a new plant from the top to start fresh with.

When I went to check on it today, though, I got a surprise:

It's a little blurry, but that green spike in the middle of the picture is new growth coming from the root of the trunk!

So, now I'm in a quandary. I'd like to help that sprout along, but what's the best way to do it? Should I go ahead with my original plan? Delay until the sprout gets bigger? Re-pot ASAP? And does my original diagnosis/plan make sense in the first place, even?

Anyone have suggestions on this?...

Thanks! -Corey


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jul 18, 10 at 10:27

The best way to help the sprout along is to remove the main stem. The root machinery already in place will then be forced to direct all stored energy toward increasing the mass of the new shoot.

W/o hesitating though, I would cut the plant back very hard - to within 3" of the soil line, bare-root it, prune roots and plant in an appropriate size container in a fast-draining and durable soil at the same depth it's at now. Be careful not to rub the bud off, even though others will quickly occur from/along the main stem. June and July are the best months for radical work on your houseplants, so don't vacillate if you're pretty sure you want to jump in. ;o) I promise you'll be happy with how it responds.

Al


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

Along with Al's advice, if you decide to remove the main trunk....don't toss out.
Instead, cut trunk into thirds. Root in water. It should start rooting 1-2 wks. After roots form, repot in a small container with or without the sprouting.
Dracaena Marginatas thrive in 4-5" pots 2-3 yrs old.

They'd rather be neglected than pampered. They like humidity, but hate wet feet. Small opposed to large pots.
At the minimum, medium light..preferably bright. And a cool, not cold, spot in winter.
I spray the leaves daily, and try showering once a wk. Without aiming at soil. Toni

Your soil looks soaked..unless it was watered prior to snapping the picture, it's way too wet. Toni


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

Thanks, Al and Toni! I'll go ahead as soon as I can track down a suitable 6" pot.

I was actually thinking about preserving a couple pieces of the trunk, too. If those will root in water, I'll definitely give that a try.

And it was in fact watered a few hours before the picture was taken, which is why the soil appears so dark. That, and the weird lighting -- otherwise you'd be able to see the mineral buildup on the surface. (guiltily shuffles feet)

-Corey


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 19, 10 at 10:19

Cliss - please don't be mislead by specific instructions about what pot sizes are best for what plants. The fact of the matter is, appropriate pot size is determined by the size of the plant material and the drainage/aeration characteristics of the soil you are using. Heavy (water-retentive) soils REQUIRE smaller soil volumes so the plant can use the water from the soil quickly, which hastens the return of appropriate volumes of air to the soil. If you are using a well-aerated soil that drains freely, pot size and concern about over-potting disappear with an increase in the the size of particles soils are made of. Soils that hold no, or little perched water actually have no upper limit as far as pot size is concerned.

I also wouldn't try rooting your cuttings in water. Though roots form readily and often seemingly faster on many plants propagated in water, the roots produced are quite different from those produced in a soil-like, highly aerated medium (perlite - fine gravel - Turface - seed starting mix, e.g.). Physiologically, you will find these roots to be much more brittle than normal roots due to a much higher percentage of aerenchyma (a tissue with a greater percentage of inter-cellular air spaces than normal parenchyma). If you wish to eventually plant your rooted cuttings in soil, it is probably best not to root them in water because of the frequent difficulty in transplanting them to soil. The "water-formed" roots often break during transplant & those that don't break are very poor at water absorption and often die. The effect is equivalent to beginning the cutting process over again with a cutting in which vitality has likely been reduced.

If you do a side by side comparison of cuttings rooted in water & cuttings rooted in soil, the cuttings in soil will always (for an extremely high percentage of plants) have a leg up in development on those moved from water to a soil medium for the reasons outlined above.

I would also skip the misting. It's far more likely to cause problems than provide anything in the way of benefit. The most effective way to keep your foliage attractive is to employ a asoil that allows you to water copiously eveery time you water w/o risking root rot. This keeps soluble salt levels from building up in the soil solution and makes it easiest for plants to take up water.

Al


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

Al, to be honest, I'd like to move it down to a 6" pot just to free up a little space. :) Your point is well taken, though; I'll have an 8" on hand in case the root ball is big enough to warrant it (even after pruning!). (I'm betting the existing pot will need a long soak to get rid of the mineral deposits.)

I'm playing around with lots of things right now, including hydroculture, so water roots for the top (to go into hydroton) is exactly what I'm looking for. For the wood cuttings, though... I really haven't had any luck with any kind of cuttings rooted in soil; I can't seem to get the moisture level right... The cuttings always either rot from too much water or wither from not enough. Any tips on this?

Re misting... Are you saying that for Dracaena, humidity is not as important as soil solution, or are you just saying that misting is a bad way to provide humidity?

Thanks for the tips, you give really good information!

-Corey


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jul 21, 10 at 9:55

Use perlite, screened Turface, or screened DE (Floor-Dry from NAPA Auto Parts stores) for a rooting medium & keep it moist, not wet.

Al's boiler plate:

Though roots form readily and often seemingly more quickly on many plants propagated in water, the roots produced are quite different from those produced in a soil-like, highly aerated medium (perlite - fine gravel - seed starting mix, e.g.). Physiologically, you will find these roots to be much more brittle than normal roots due to a much higher percentage of aerenchyma (a tissue with a greater percentage of intercellular air spaces than normal parenchyma). If you wish to eventually plant your rooted cuttings in soil, it is probably best not to root them in water because of the frequent difficulty in transplanting them to soil. The "water-formed" roots often break during transplant & those that don't break are very poor at water absorption and often die. The effect is equivalent to beginning the cutting process over again with a cutting in which vitality has likely been reduced.

If you do a side by side comparison of cuttings rooted in water & cuttings rooted in soil, the cuttings in soil will always (for an extremely high percentage of plants) have a leg up in development on those moved from water to a soil medium for the reasons outlined above.

**************************

The root cause of blemished foliage most often lies with something related to root conditions and not humidity levels, although low humidity can certainly work to exacerbate the problem. Over-watering, under-watering, a high level of soluble salts in the soil (the big one) and frequent misting - especially during periods of high humidity and low air movement that ensures foliage remains wet for extended periods (incubation period for the fungaluglies) can all cause foliage blemishes. Low humidity increases the transpirational demands of the plant, so when any of the first three issues are part of the equation, necrotic leaf tips & margins are more likely to appear. The best way to guard against that happening is to keep roots healthy/happy/free from excess salts. Raising humidity is helpful, but it's not a cure because the underlying cause is not addressed by simply raising humidity.

Al


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

These are tough plants, I've found.

One of my friends left his outside over the winter, and the temps dropped to 20F for two nights.
Needless to say, all of the top foliage was blasted, but the stump re-sprouted at the soil-line. I
saw the plant yesterday, still in its one-gallon plastic nursery pot, with a new head of leaves.

Little plants, little pots; big plants, big pots.

Josh


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

"...keep it moist, not wet..." OK, confession: I have a hard time with that. I can tell "slightly damp" from "totally soaked", but the line between "moist" and "wet" is hard for me to find, and I always end up too far in one direction or the other. Any suggestions or techniques for hitting the right level of "moist"?...

Interesting about humidity effects... I'm assuming this is a general principle, rather than a universal one? I'm thinking of plants like orchids and tacca, which are notorious for needing the right potting medium *and* high humidity... (I've been afraid to try either, since I can't keep the humidity in my place all that high in winter.)


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 22, 10 at 11:18

FWIW - I have seen, hundreds of times if not thousands (meant to be taken literally), people who regularly struggled along with containerized plantings in mediocre to poor health, who then changed soils to something that was well-aerated and durable, which made an immediate transformation of their growing experience. I just rec'd an email a day or two ago from a person who had been struggling mightily. After making some changes, his email read in part "..... like you said Al, with the right plants, mix & fertilizer regimen, a monkey could do it."

Soils that drain freely and quickly have lots of air in them to keep roots healthy. Roots are the heart of the plant. It's easy to keep these soils 'moist/damp' because you need to work so hard to keep them 'wet'. The cost to the grower for fewer problems & better plant vitality is what effort it takes to build these soils and the need to water a little more frequently.

Al


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RE: Dracaena marginata Advice

So, if I'm interpreting you correctly... Put the cuttings into a gritty mix, try to keep the mix a bit on the wet side, and it'll end up in the right range of moistness? OK, I can do that... :)


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