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Here, we take a close look at the most common reasons why a dracaena plant leans and the possible ways to get your tree standing tall and straight again.
Your dracaena leaning may be due to overwatering, which exposes its roots to rot. Or, the plant’s stems and leaves might have overgrown, becoming too heavy for the roots to hold. Other potential reasons are low sunlight levels, unsupportive soil and plant vessels.
Over 40 cultivated dracaena varieties exist, the most common being dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) and corn plant (Dracaena fragrans). Even though the stems of these stunning, air purifying plants are often firm, and sometimes, they start to lean and ruin their elegant look.
Most dracaena species are prone to leaning for several reasons. Let’s take a deeper look at each one of them.
If you regularly overwater your dragon tree, its soil never gets time to drain and dry out properly.
As a result, the soil retains extra moisture which disrupts gas and oxygen exchange in the root system. In turn, it stifles healthy root structures, lowering their ability to absorb nutrients and water.
Eventually, the root system succumbs to rot, severely hindering the plant’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients. The stem then weakens due to a lack of enough nutrients, making it lean.
Moreover, when the roots rot, they no longer hold the rest of the dracaena plant in place.
Most overwatered dragon trees suffer from rot. You can identify this by looking at their stem. In most cases, it’ll be darker on its lower part while looking increasingly wrinkled and white on its upper side.
You may also see it losing its rigidity and starting to droop.
Another sign of an overwatered dragon tree is if the smell of the soil is awful, such as rotten eggs. Such smells indicate that you have a drainage problem and the roots are rotten. You can also look at the leaves, as overwatered ones will be yellowish.
Like other plants, dracaenas need adequate sunlight to continue flourishing. But most dracaena plants are always placed in corners and spots that get less light. For that reason, the plant decides to help itself find more sunlight to continue carrying out photosynthesis and other vital functions.
To do this, it endures a weak, leggy growth while attempting to stretch itself towards newer sources of light. However, since this leggy growth is flimsier and more ragged, you’ll see the stem leaning to one side.
Without proper care, the stems of mature dracaena plants tend to overgrow, increasing in height. If you don’t prune these plants, they often don’t branch freely. As a result, they end up with two or more tall stems that become pretty heavy over time.
Sometimes the plant finds it hard to hold the extra weight, and if its stem isn’t thick enough, it may start to lean.
If you’ve planted your dracaena tree in denser soils, they may retain excess water that’s unnecessary for the plant.
Typically, most households have a standard potting soil that’s porous enough. Still, as time goes by, the soil mixture may compact or become too dense, forming a substrate unsuitable for growth.
When you water such soils, they tend to soak up excess moisture, posing similar effects on roots as overwatering. This hinders absorption and gas exchange, thus weakening the entire plant.
If the soil isn’t the problem, the container potted with the dragon tree could be the culprit. Perhaps drainage is poor, or it doesn’t have drainage holes at all, which makes it challenging to determine how much to water the plant.
Although, the pot size could be causing the leaning problem in equal measure. If your pot is extra-large, more soil is needed to properly support your dracaena tree. Without enough soil in the container, the plant may overpower it with time and start to lean.
Conversely, if your pot is smaller in size, possibilities are the dracaena has overgrown it, becoming root bound. You can tell this by looking at the plant roots.
If you see them popping from the drainage holes or wrapping around your pot’s exterior edges, chances are the plant is strangling.
Tightly bound and wrapped roots significantly reduce absorption, inhibiting the number of nutrients getting to the plant. As a result, the stem starts to weaken and lose its shape. Thus, should you notice the tree has outgrown the pot, it’s clear the small container can no longer support the height and weight of the tree.
Most dragon trees grow and keep on holding onto a lot of leaves. Whereas the old and yellowing leaves need to shed off on their own, some remain attached to the plant, adding to its weight. If the stem isn’t very strong, it may fail to withstand the extra weight from leaves, thus leaning.
Pest infestation is the least common cause of a leaning dragon tree. That’s because dracaenas are usually low-maintenance plants, which reduces the chances of pests tampering with them.
Even so, pest infestation can still happen. Your soil may have fungus gnat larvae, which can extensively damage the plant’s root system.
On the other hand, aphids and mealybugs may feast on the moisture from the stem and plant leaves, wreaking havoc on the general health of your dracaena plant.
Even though these robust houseplants tolerate various indoor conditions, with the ideal one being 60°-70°F (16°-21°C), quick transitions in temperatures may stress the plant.
Extreme heat occasioned by a temperature spike or extended exposure to direct sunlight makes the plant lose excess water through transpiration. The water lost is often more than what the plant can absorb through the roots. As a result, the plant weakens with time and starts to droop.
But again, exposing the plant to severe cold drafts or sudden temperature drops damages its cells. Due to that, the tree loses its rigidity and becomes wilted or droopy in appearance. For severe cases, you may not manage to fix the plant.
All hope is not lost if your dracaena is already leaning. You can still get it back up and tall again. Here is how to go about it:
Dracaena species, especially dragon trees, don’t require excess watering. Whenever you’re watering your plant, keep these tips in mind:
- Water thoroughly, enabling excess water to flow out through the bottom of the pot. Wait for the plant to drain completely and then empty the dish or saucer beneath the plant.
- Give your plant a few weeks as you periodically press the soil with a finger to check if it’s dry. Once you realize that the topsoil is dry when touched, feel safe to water your dracaena tree again.
- Test your soil moisture before watering again. This helps to eliminate any doubts and enables you to supply your dragon tree with water only when it’s thirsty. If you’re not comfortable poking your fingers into the soil, use a moisture meter, instead. When inserted into the potting soil, it indicates if it’s dry so you can add some water. Be sure to avoid a fixed watering schedule since dracaena needs vary periodically.
Allow your dragon tree to get what it wants most: lots of bright and indirect sunlight. If this isn’t possible, the plant can still do well in partial shade.
Most dracaena plant species tolerate various light levels. However, to eliminate dreaded leaning, you must supply the plant with adequate lighting. This reduces the possibilities of the plant leaning in pursuit of light.
At the same time, it’s also important to avoid exposing your dragon tree to direct sunlight as it might scorch its leaves. If need be, let it sit under the morning sun – but just for an hour. Don’t expose the tree to direct afternoon sunlight.
Your aim should be to ensure your dracaena tree gains access to indirect sunlight for 4 to 6 hours a day. If it still seems to lean towards the window, regularly rotate your pot each week. This helps expose every side of the tree to a quality light source, which minimizes hard leaning.
If your dracaena plant has several overgrown stems that don’t seem to hold up their weight, you can prune them to a manageable size. The best way to take off the weight burden while enabling the tree to grow straighter is to make a 45° cut along its stem.
With time, the cut will sprout forth new stems. And luckily, you can still root the pruned stem tip in water. After that, transfer it into another pot to develop other new dracaena plants.
If pruning your dracaena isn’t an option for you, consider using stakes can help support the heavy dracaena stems.
The best stake option is either a green-toned garden stake or a bamboo pole, often coated metal or plastic. Both options are readily available in home improvement stores and nurseries. Whichever stake you choose, ensure it is thick enough to hold your stem straight.
For added support, use a wire to bind the stem securely. Be sure to avoid tying it so tightly that it digs into plant tissue.
Stakes will enable your dracaena to grow straight for some time. Once the plant becomes firm, you can take the stakes out and allow the plant to continue growing tall and straight.
Keep in mind, however, if you use stakes on certain dragon trees, they might depend on them forever.
Weighty leaves on a dragon plant are enough to weigh it down and make it lean to one side. However, you can use gardening scissors to trim off those yellowing and old leaves. You can further shape your plant to make it compact and suit your preference by pruning and removing excess leaves.
Apply this technique only if the entire tree is leaning and not the top part only:
- Gently dig out the soil to bring out the plant with its whole root structure from the pot.
- Return the plant to the pot, placing its root ball at a slight angle and enabling the tree to stand straight up.
- Take some fresh, well-drained soil and fill it in the pot with the dragon tree.
If you think the soil you’re using for your dragon tree is too dense or compacted, do justice to your plant by replanting it into different potting soil.
Most dracaena species thrive well in the various pre-mixed potting soils available. Even so, you might want to verify that the potting soil has perfect drainage, airy substrate, light, and some perlite or pumice. Including one part of perlite/pumice to 3-4 potting soil parts is enough to lighten the mixture.
Also, take time to examine the pot carrying your dragon tree. It’s important to select one with enough space for the root ball to expand.
Typically, a space of one to two inches (2.5 to 5 cm) between the pot sides and the root ball would be enough. Anything bigger than this would retain excess soil moisture, and a smaller one will require repotting again too soon.
In addition, the pot must contain at least one drainage hole at its bottom. A plant pot with a perfect drainage hole enables you to water the dracaena plant thoroughly without worrying about waterlogging the roots and soil.
Your dragon tree can still recover from pest infestation through various treatment options. They range from natural remedies to synthetic pesticides. However, the one you use will depend on the kind of pests that have infested your tree.
I always treat fungus gnats by watering the plant with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. All you need to do is measure four water parts and mix in one part hydrogen peroxide. Afterward, apply the mixture to the plant when its topsoil is two inches dry.
The hydrogen peroxide is very effective in killing larvae and gnats but cannot harm your plant’s root structure.
Another natural hack to pest control is the watering technique. If you only water your tree when necessary and the proper way, you’ll minimize creating a conducive environment for the pests to proliferate.
If exposed to extreme heat, dragon trees become dehydrated. If this happens, get it away from the heat source and thoroughly water it. Keep an eye on the plant to ensure it recovers after a few hours.
If your indoor temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C), causing your plant to droop, find another spot for it that’s safe from extreme cold. It’s critical to not expose your dragon tree to prolonged temperature drops, as this can cause lasting damage.
If you respond quickly, your dracaena can recover in a few hours or take a couple of days. The best spot to store the plant would be where it receives consistent indirect sunlight. That means not keeping the plant near a window or heating and air conditioning vents.
The stems for healthy dragon trees are rigid and hold upright in their containers. At the stem’s tip, you get the sword-shaped foliage, shooting towards the sky but gently leaning at its ends.
Although some dragon trees might have dried leaf tips, it is usually common in a few older leaves.
Dracaenas are hearty plants but slow growers. They can take several years before achieving an indoor height of about six feet (1.8 m) tall. Even though it depends on the plant variety, expect an inch or a few more per growing season.
All in all, you have to be keen on your plant to note when it stops growing. If you realize it’s becoming less vibrant, including the stem weakening and leaning, this means your dracaena is struggling to adapt. You’ll need to take action immediately to save it.
Here are the answers to some of the questions you’ve been asking about dracaena plants.
You can cut the top of a dracaena using garden scissors. Pruning the tree up to 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30.5 cm) is ideal. With time, new sprouts will develop on the cut area.
You can grow the Anita Dracaena outside if your area is frost-free and temperatures average between 60°-70°F (16°-21°C). If temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C), dracaenas may fail to flourish and even die. Extremely high temperatures should also be avoided for this tree.
Dracaena trees add a touch of elegance to your space. These plants are visually appealing to look at, especially when they’re upright and straight. Yet with time, these houseplants may start leaning on one side.
If that happens, don’t panic. Follow this guide to return your dragon tree to its tall and straight posture again. In most cases, shifting to indirect lighting and altering its watering habits should do the trick.