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Commonly known as the Madagascar Dragon Tree, the Dracaena Marginata is a popular, hardy indoor plant. It’s perfect for beginner plant parents.
However, the foliage shows the first signs of stress when something goes wrong.
The Dracaena Marginata can have brown tips due to underwatering, overwatering, poor quality water, a buildup of toxic chemicals, overfertilization, low humidity, pests and infections, temperature changes, or windburn. The browning may also be caused due to regular growth of the foliage.
In this article, I’ll explore all the reasons why your Dracaena Marginata may have brown tips. I’ll also explain what you can do to resolve the issue before it hurts your plant.
While the Dracaena Marginata is a fairly hardy plant, it does prefer to be underwater rather than overwatered. In excess, too much and too little water can stress the plant and affect its ability to take in nutrients.
The water quality is also important because the wrong kind of water can lead to a buildup of minerals and toxicity in the soil, which also hurts your Dracaena.
Dracaena marginata thrive in low to bright indirect light and don’t need a lot of water. However, a Dracaena that thrives when watered every two weeks in cooler weather might need more frequent watering in the summer.
The warmer weather will result in the soil drying out faster, resulting in your plant being underwatered. This is especially true in areas with low humidity.
Dracaena Marginata is fairly drought tolerant, so it would take a long time without water before your plant shows signs of stress.
Underwatering will manifest in the plant through dried-out leaves that fall off the plant. The soil will be dry and crumbly.
The easiest way to fix this is to check the soil before watering. A watering schedule where you water the plant after the top two inches (5.08 cm) have dried out will suit your Dracaena best.
Overwatering is a common problem for plants in the Dracaena family. When overwatered, the plant responds similarly to being underwatered with brown tips. The leaves of an overwatered Dracaena may be softer than those of an underwatered Dracena.
Overwatering drowns the roots of the plant, which ironically makes it difficult for the roots to absorb water. The result is the same – the plant starts drying out and develops browning on the leaves.
An overwatered Dracaena Marginata will need patience as it recovers. Stop watering the plant and check the soil. If it’s too soggy, you might need to repot it entirely.
The repotting will also allow you the opportunity to check the roots to ensure they haven’t started rotting.
Healthy roots of the Dracaena Marginata will be between a bright white to a yellowish color, with thin root hair. Repot your overwatered in fresh, well-draining soil, and wait a week before watering.
Unfortunately, the affected leaves will dry and fall off, but the plant will grow new leaves.
Dracaena Marginata is sensitive to minerals in their environment, particularly fluoride. Fluoride can induce leaf chlorosis in Dracaena, where the leaves produce insufficient chlorophyll. This is seen through a yellowing and eventual browning of the foliage.
Fluoride is usually found in irrigation water. When used to water your Dracaena Marginata, the fluoride can build up in the soil and poison your Dracaena, leading to brown tips in the leaves.
Watering your plant with water that has a high quantity of soluble salt can also cause the browning of the leaves on your Dracaena Marginata.
Check the quality of the water before using it for your plants to be sure that it doesn’t have fluoride or soluble salts. Even when present in small quantities, these minerals can build up in the soil over time.
If the water you’re using does contain fluorides and salts, use distilled water to water your Dracaena Marginata to ensure its health.
As we just discussed, the Dracaena Marginata is sensitive to fluoride, which causes phytotoxicity in the leaves. While water is a primary source, toxins can enter your Dracaena through fertilizers and the air.
Fluoride particles suspended in the air can affect your Dracaena Marginata as well.
Another chemical that causes toxicity in the Dracaena Marginata is boron, which can also be found in the water, air, or fertilizers.
If you suspect that your plant is suffering from phytotoxicity through fluorides or boron and the chemicals are absent in the water and the soil, then you likely have a case of air pollution.
Move your Dracaena Marginata to a different location if possible. If you can’t, consider using an air filter to improve the air quality around your plants.
Fertilizer burn refers to the condition where the tips and margins of the plant appear scorched. This ‘burn’ is caused by the buildup of soluble salts in the soil, disrupting the plant’s ability to absorb water.
It’s tempting to help a plant with its growth by supplementing the soil with fertilizers. However, excess fertilizers simply cannot be absorbed by the plant. Instead, they build up and choke the roots.
Plants need a lot of water to process fertilizers and convert them to useful acids. When drought-stressed plants are over-fertilized, they run out of water and start drying out.
Most water-soluble fertilizers also contain fluoride and boron, both of which are harmful to your Dracaena Marginata.
It’s important to avoid fertilizing your Dracaena Marginata in hot weather. Use the necessary amount for the soil, and don’t get impatient with your Dracaena’s growth.
Fertilizer burn can hurt your plants, but the damage is not necessarily irrevocable. You can try flushing out the salts and fertilizer in the soil by soaking it regularly in the spring. One inch (2.54 cm) applications of water should be sufficient.
Be sure to water your Dracaena Marginata in the morning so the water has time to dry out in the warm sunlight. This will prevent your soils from getting too soggy.
Another way to help a browning plant due to excess salts is to use gypsum to balance out the salt in the soil.
Finally, you can also consider just repotting your Dracaena Marginata entirely in fresh potting mix, with no fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer to give it time to recover.
Dracaena Marginata is a tropical plant from Madagascar, so while the plant is fairly drought resistant, it doesn’t do well in conditions where the humidity is very low.
Low humidity dries out the Dracaena, resulting in brown tips on the leaves. Apart from drying the plant, low humidity levels can also speed up the process of fluoride toxicity in the Dracaena Marginata.
Mist your Dracaena Marginata daily in hot weather to stop the leaves from drying out.
Dracaena Marginata doesn’t have a lot of pests but can be affected by leafhoppers, katydids, spider mites, mealybugs, and snails. These pests can affect the Dracaena Marginata in different ways. Common signs of infestations include wilting, browning, and stunted growth.
The majority of pests start in the soil, so you should check your potting soil over to ensure it’s free from pests. If the soil has eggs, they will hatch and develop in moist conditions, so be sure not to overwater your Dracaena.
The Dracaena Marginata is fairly drought resistant, so you only need to mist the leaves if it’s very hot and the leaves are drying out. Daily misting in cool weather can encourage the growth of fungus and support pests, which will harm your plant.
Dracaena plants can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but sudden changes in the temperature can affect their growth.
Sudden temperature changes don’t give the roots enough time to adjust, resulting in the plant having too much or too little water for the weather. ‘
Damage to Dracaena Marginata through sudden weather changes is observed more when the weather cools down abruptly. Being tropical plants, Dracaena grows best in warm weather.
Chilled plants may respond with leaf browning and dropping. Dracaena Marginata gets chilled when the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), especially if exposed to the cold for longer than a few days.
Move your Dracaena Marginata indoors in the winter if you live in a cold area. Make sure the plant is away from windows and areas with drafts.
Dracaena Marginata can develop windburn in cold weather, especially if the temperature drops below 35°F (1.66°C), though Dracaena starts suffering when the temperatures go below 55°F (12.77°C).
This windburn starts off a grayish or pale line along the leaf margins, which can later turn brown or black.
The newer leaves are most affected by wind burn since they are the most fragile part of the Dracaena Marginata.
Protect your Dracaena Marginata from windburn by keeping it sheltered indoors in your home or a greenhouse when temperatures fall below 55°F (12.77°C). You can also help your Dracaena by using windbreaks or providing heating.
Be careful to keep the heating some distance away from the Dracaena. Plants that are too close to a radiator will warm up unevenly, shocking the plant.
Like all other plants, Dracaena Marginata also has a regular growth cycle, where old leaves fall off and are replaced by new ones.
You can tell if your leaves are browning as part of the regular growth cycle by checking which leaves are affected. If it’s the older leaves at the bottom, then the browning is caused by the plant’s natural growth, and your Dracaena Marginata is still healthy.
Browning tips on your leaves are a cause for concern when most of the foliage on your Dracaena is affected, including the younger, newer leaves.
Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Dracaena Marginata.
You should water Dracaena Marginata as often as needed for the weather, as the plant needs less water in cooler temperatures. As a rule of thumb, water the Dracaena Marginata thoroughly about once a week or after the first two inches (5.08 cm) of soil dry out, whichever comes later.
The Dracena Marginata adjusts well to dry conditions and suffers from overwatering more often than underwatering.
To prevent overwatering, ensure you only water your plant after the soil has dried out, which can be anything between two weeks to four weeks in cooler temperatures.
Dracaena Marginata needs to be planted in well-draining soil or potting mix to ensure it grows well, and the soil should have a good quantity of peat and loam. A good potting mix comprises one part soil, one part peat, and vermiculite or sand for drainage.
If you can’t customize the soil, a standard potting mix should work fine for your Dracaena Marginata, as long as it’s well-draining.
Dracaena does badly with soaked roots, so a well-draining soil mix will prevent waterlogging that can choke the roots and cause root rot.
The size of the pot for your plant depends on its current size.
The size pot you choose for Dracaena Marginata should be large enough so that the roots fit comfortably, with no more than an inch (2.54 cm) between the roots and the edge of the pot. For most young plants, this means a pot about six in diameter.
The plant can get quite large in the same pot and not need to be repotted for about two years. When you’re potting your Dracaena Marginata, ensure the pot is large or heavy enough to support the weight of the foliage crown.
Old leaves falling off the Dracaena due to age or damage cannot be saved.
Dracaena Marginata leaves usually will grow back, as the plant can recover from most damage and grow new leaves in the growing season. However, recovery takes time, especially if the plant has sustained damage in the winter when it doesn’t grow new leaves.
Browning leaf tips are a reaction by the Dracaena Marginata to a problem with its environment. Apart from regular growth cycles, which only affect the oldest leaves along the bottom of the foliage, browning can be caused by several issues.
Common issues that cause brown tips in Dracaena Marginata include overwatering, underwatering, toxicity due to fluoride or boron buildup, fertilizer burn, sudden temperature changes, windburn, low humidity, and pests.