Gardening Houseplants Light Needs of Plants Plant propagation

What to Do With a Wimpy Dracaena?

Weak stems bending toward the light and extra-narrow leaves: these are signs the plant is not getting enough light. Source: Rachel Bernier

Question: I have a dracaena that is very green with beautiful leaves, but as you can see in the picture, its stems are very floppy, to the point where it barely stands up on its own. What can I do with it? Can I cut the top off and replant it?

Rachel Bernier

Answer: Your dracaena (Dracaena marginata), also called red-edged dracaena or Madagascar dragon tree, is clearly suffering from a lack of light and this has been going on for a long time. In short, it’s etiolated. That’s why it stretches so much and leans toward the far distant window. Plus, the stems are thinner than they should be (and less able to hold the plant upright), plus the leaves are narrower.

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You can cut off the top of a dracaena and root it. Keep watering the bottom and it too will sprout new growth. Source: jpciii, houzz.com

And yes, you could do exactly as you suggest: cut off and root the top. This is called a stem cutting. Just chop it off about 2 or 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) below the lower leaves and sink the stem into a container of moist potting soil. You could apply rooting hormone to the cut surface to speed things up. Even so, dracaenas are slow to root and you shouldn’t be concerned if it takes a few months before you see any new growth.

An alternative would be cut off the whole plant near its base and it will (again, very slowly) produce new stems. Or, if you want several dracaenas, do both: root the top to create one plant and let the old one grow back from the base.

Another possibility would be to multiply your dracaena by air layering.

Preventing Wimpiness in Dracaenas

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Regularly giving your dracaena a quarter turn will keep its stems nicely upright. Source: http://www.homedepot.com, montage: laidbackgardener.com

In the future, if you want to keep your dracaena in its current location, give it a quarter turn regularly, perhaps every time you water it, always in the same direction. At least that will keep it from bending toward the source of light.

Or use it in rotation with another plant every two weeks, giving it two weeks near a sunny window each month, then two weeks back it its usual dark corner. You’d be amazed at how well foliage plants do when they have at least two weeks of good light per month!

Another possibility would be to put a plant better suited to dim lighting in that spot: dieffenbachia, Chinese evergreen, pothos, philodendron, etc., even another dracaena. It turns out that your dracaena (Dracaena marginata) requires much more light than the other commonly grown dracaenas and so just about any other species (D. fragrans, D. deremensis, D. sanderiana, etc.) would be better suited to that dark spot than the variety that you currently use.

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Thick stems and broader leaves show this dracaena marginata is getting enough light. Source: http://www.plantopedia.com

Finally, to make your Dracaena marginata really happy, move it permanently to a spot near a large window which receives good light, including at least two or three hours of sun per day. Still give it a quarter turn two or three times a month to keep it as upright as possible, but when you treat a dracaena well, it will completely change completely in appearance, with thicker stems, wider and more abundant leaves and an overall look of good health.

No more wimpy plant!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “What to Do With a Wimpy Dracaena?

  1. I have one that is 40 years old. 🙂

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