Encyclopedia of Houseplants

A Guide to Caring for Dracaena Plants

updated Oct 20, 2022
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(Image credit: Photos by Maddy Porter )

It’s hard to go wrong with low-maintenance dracaena plants. Their spiky, tropical foliage comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and patterns, and they even help purify the air, so it’s no wonder that they’re a popular choice for homes and public spaces. Here’s what you need to know about how to keep your dracaena healthy and happy.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

About the Dracaena Plant

There are over 40 cultivated varieties of dracaena, which are originally from forests in Africa. Common varieties are often called “corn plants” (dracaena fragans, as seen in photo above) and “dragon trees” (dracaena marginata in photo below). A smaller species (Dracaena braunii) is rooted in water and sold as lucky bamboo, though it’s not related to real bamboo.

NASA studies have shown dracaena can remove some harmful gases from the air, but according to the ASPCA, the plants are toxic to dogs and cats.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Where to Grow Your Dracaena

Dracaena can survive in low or medium light, but the leaves will look their best in bright, indirect sun. Excessive sun can cause browning of leaves, as can too little humidity. If low humidity is a problem, occasional misting of the plant’s leaves may help, or you can place it on a shallow tray filled with pebbles and water.

Drought-tolerant varieties of this plant are commonly used for landscaping in the desert, and Mediterranean climates in USDA zones 10 to 12.

Credit: Minette Hand

Care and Planting

As with most houseplants, the biggest danger is root rot from overwatering and/or lack of drainage. To prevent this, plant in a pot with drain holes, in standard well-draining potting mix, and allow to dry slightly between waterings. Water less often in fall and winter than during the growing seasons of spring and summer. Fertilize monthly during the spring and summer with standard liquid plant food.

Dracaena is reportedly sensitive to excess salts and fluoride, especially the soil-free lucky bamboo version. If yellowing and browning of tips develop, you can try flushing the soil well, then watering with rainwater or distilled water.

Dracaenas can grow 2 to 10 feet tall, but the top can be trimmed to keep the plant shorter and bushier if desired.

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

How to Propagate

Cuttings, like trimmed tops from plants that have gotten too tall or leggy, can easily be rooted in water, but it may take several months. Once roots have developed to at least an inch long, pot as described above. Multiple cuttings of different heights can be planted in the same pot for a bushy effect. Some people have also reported successfully growing cuttings by simply laying them on the soil, keeping the soil moist, and waiting for roots to grow.