Zen and the Art of Dracaena Growing

Sometimes I see sad-looking plants on clearance, buy them, and try to
heal them.  This activity provides me with a gratification that is
similar to that which comes from healing sad-looking people, but
without the tribulations that occur if it does not work as well as we
had hoped.

I even have some of these plants in my office (although none of the
worse cases go there).  At stressful times, I may go and look at
the parts of the plants that are growing well: apical meristems, leaf
primodia, and axillary buds -- or green shoots, in the vernacular of
our time.   I just look at them.  I don't actually do
anything, at least anything that is outwardly visible, most of the


I am not an expert on plants.  Indeed, I've only been doing this
earnestly for about a year.  So don't take anything I say as
advice for managing your own plants.  This is for entertainment
purposes only.  Always consult a professional before you pick up
the pruning shears.

The specimen in the photograph is a generic Dracaena from Lowe's. 
It cost about three dollars.  The label does not say what variety
it is, or even what species.  Life is like that; sometimes, you do
not know exactly what you are dealing with. That is OK.  You can
still figure out how to proceed, even if you do not know what name to
use.  What good are names, anyway?


Overall, there are about forty species of Dracena.  Some of these
are fairly large trees, such as the href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracaena_draco"> Canary Islands
Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco).  Others are smaller,
commonly used as houseplants.  This one may be a href="http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/56851/">Dracaena fragrans
'Janet Craig Compacta', but I am not at all sure about that. 
I'm also not sure it matters.  A person can only care about a
finite number of things, after all.

Of the three Dracaena I bought, all had several brown leaf tips. 
That tends to indicate overwatering.  The water requirement is
determined, in part, by the growth rate of the plant, and the
evaporation rate.  More light or more warmth = higher water
requirement.  It takes time to learn to discern the signs and
symptoms that each plant presents, and to know what to do about
them.  Not all the employees at Lowe's have figured this out, with
respect to all the plants.

The specimen in the photo had been damaged particularly badly.  It
appeared to have been crushed from the top, and all the top leaves were
dead.  I gave it several weeks, to see if the leaves would revive,
but they did not.  It does not do, to be in a hurry, when growing

So a couple of weeks ago, I started pulling off the dead leaves. 
Upon pulling off the fourth one, the top third of the stalk came with
it.  The stalk was grayish-brown, kind of moldy looking. 
That went
in the trash.  If I had taken another moment to think, it would
have occurred to me to put it in the compost bin.  Oh well. 
It will compost fine wherever it ends up.  Can't worry about

I thought I had killed the poor thing, or at least, damaged it beyond
salvation.  But when I looked at the remaining stalk, it was clear
that there were two small -- very healthy -- clusters of leaves. 
Those will become branches. 


The poor thing still looks like the ugly duckling, in between its two
intact sisters. However,  I think that the one that was most
heavily damaged, will end up being the most interesting plant: it will
have a forked trunk. 

Of course, only time will tell. 

Now I am tempted to cut the tops off the other two.  But I think I
will wait.  There is no hurry.  I can take plenty of time,
look at the plants every day, and think about it.  When the
correct course of action is clear, that is when I will take action.

By the way, this works with the healing of people, too.

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Dracaena are awesome plants, they were quite fashionable here in Rio during the 60's 70's especially D. fragrans and D. marginata, so there are some fairly old trees around these parts. Nowadays in the flat age, D. racemosa is becoming quite popular.

But the most amazing species, imo, is D. cinnabari:

I have a Dracaena massangeana and have found that the worst thing for it is to water it with straight tap water. They are super sensitive to the salts and fluoride. Letting the water sit for a week before using it to water the tree has made a HUGE difference and brought my lovely little tree back from death's door.

If you have a chance to get and burn some Dragon's Blood resin as an incenses (usually on a lit coal) I recommend the stuff. Not only does it have a distinctive, hard to describe fragrance that really grows on you, but when the resin chunks are dropped on the hot coal they first liquefy and then bubble as they burn, reminding me of mythological dragon's blood bubbling away after Hercules has been by.

Good luck with Dracaena # 2.


By Noni Mausa (not verified) on 14 Feb 2010 #permalink

I think what you are doing when you let water sit is two fold. First, this lets the chlorine out-gas. Unfortunately most water supply systems in the USA now use chloramine, which does not out-gas. Secondly, the water comes into equilibrium with air as to dissolved gasses. I don't know if this helps or not, but it sounds nice. Brown leaf tips may be fertilizer burn rather than due to over watering.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 20 Feb 2010 #permalink