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Pruning Dracaena Plants: Tips For Dracaena Trimming

Pruning Dracaena Plants: Tips For Dracaena Trimming


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Dracaena is a genus of about 40 versatile, easy-to-grow plants with distinctive, strappy leaves. Although dracaena is suitable for growing outdoors in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, it is most often grown as a houseplant.

Depending on the cultivar, dracaena may reach heights of up to 10 feet (3 m.) or even more, which means that regular dracaena trimming will probably be necessary. The good news is that pruning dracaena plants isn’t difficult. These sturdy plants tolerate trims with little complaint, and you can cut back a dracaena to any height you like.

How to Prune a Dracaena

Pruning dracaena plants produces a full, healthy plant, as two or more new branches, each with its own cluster of leaves, will soon appear. Dracaena pruning isn’t at all difficult. Here’s some helpful tips on how to cut back a dracaena.

The best time for pruning dracaena plants is when the plant is actively growing in spring and summer. If possible, avoid dracaena trimming while the plant is dormant in fall and winter.

Be sure your cutting blade is sharp so cuts will be clean and even. Ragged cuts are unsightly and can invite disease. Dip your pruners or knife into a mixture of bleach and water to ensure it is free of disease-causing pathogens.

Cut the canes at an angle to reduce the risk of infection. Remove any damaged canes, brown leaves or weak growth.

Starting a New Plant with Dracaena Cuttings

When you cut back a dracaena, simply stick the cane in a pot filled with moist sand or perlite. Watch for new growth to appear in a few weeks, which indicates the plant has rooted.

Alternatively, stick the cane in a glass of water on your kitchen windowsill. When it has rooted, plant the cane in a container filled with potting mix.

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Dracaena Marginata Pruning Question

I have a Dracaena Marginata growing inside my house. I have had the plant for 6 years. The plant has 3 long stalks with lots of leaves growing out of the top of each stalk.

Anyway. it has grown so tall, that it's starting to touch the ceiling. It's also getting rather top heavy too. to the point that I am afraid that one day the pot is going to tip over and create a huge mess on my carpet.

So how do I trim this green monster? :-)

Can I trim all three stalks or would that be too stressful to the plant?

And when I do trim it. should I take off only a 1/3 of each stalk's height or can I trim it down much more than that. like say 1/2 of each stalk's current height?

I am just wondering because don't want to kill the plant, as I have had it for many years and it's one my favorite houseplants.

Any help any of you can provide would be greatly appreciated, thanks.

If the plant is root bound, repot it (different than simply potting up) before you prune it. I'd repot in mid-June, then let the plant grow for a while before pruning it. When you prune it, prune so the thickest is the tallest, the next thickest should be about 2/3 the ht of the tallest, and the thinnest about half the ht of the tallest. After the plant recovers from the repotting and has regained some energy, you can simply cut it back to the ht you prefer, and the plant will back-bud within a couple of weeks.

The species requires little attention or care apart from occasional watering, but older plants benefit from cutting back to encourage a flush of new, healthy growth near the base. Cutting back Dracaena marginata plants takes just a few minutes to complete, but the new growth takes several months to emerge, so a measure of patience is required.

Use bypass shears when cutting back Dracaena marginata plants since the thick, woody trunk is difficult is cut using standard houseplant snips. Wipe the blades with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol to sanitize them. Water the Dracaena marginata plant before cutting it. Pour 2 to 3 cups of cool water around the base of the plant. Avoid splashing the water onto the trunk since moisture in the cutting zone increases the probability of fungal infections.

Cut back the mature, scraggly Dracaena marginata trunks to within 1 inch of the soil surface using the sanitized bypass shears. Leave the healthy younger trunks in place so the plant is not entirely stripped of foliage.

Congrats on keeping your tree so happy. I don't know how tall it was when you got it 6 years ago, but obviously it was nowhere near as tall as the ceiling or you wouldn't have brought it home. Great job!

Trimming is not something that needs to be done drastically, all at once, but there's no reason not to if you don't mind looking at "stumpy" for a few weeks. You could cut the tallest of the 3 stems first. When new growth appears on its' stump, then cut the next one. This way your plant maintains its' tall, tree-like appearance, and has the other two branches to continue supporting the plant while the stump produces new growth. As long as you leave a few inches of stump, it should grow new tips. Occasionally D. marginata will make new trunks from the crown.

The one drawback can be too much weight on one side. Placing a rock in the pot can compensate for the missing weight, or your tree may just need a bigger pot. Has it been repotted in the 6 years you've had it? I have some pics of Dracs being repotted if you'd like to see them.

Purpleinopp, could you d-mail me the pics of repotted Dracs you mentioned? I too have a Drac (looks to be the same type as the OP after I did a quick google search of the name - definitely knew it was a Drac before reading this thread though, as others on this site have helped me to identify it a year or two ago).

I'm also experimenting a little with my Drac. You see, I got this drac from my MIL about 3 to 3 1/2 years ago. It was one of the plants that was at her mother's viewing when she passed. She gave it to me shortly after (and quite honestly, everyone's surprised I kept it alive - including myself haha). This year, with so much new growth on it, my husband and I did some google searching on how to propagate it, to be able to give my MIL a piece for her apartment for her birthday (coming up soon). After much reading, we followed the instructions and potted it up. It's been nearly a week now and so far no signs of death on the potted cutting!

Anyway, I figured it was about time for it to be repotted, but I wasn't entirely sure how to do it, or what size pot I should get for it.

MrsL, just noticed your question and sent you a note. Please let me know if you don't get it.

1 - Sometimes more than one top grows.
2 - Mixed pot started from 4 different Drac tops/cuttings.
3 - Each time I repot this one, I leave a little more of the crown/root juncture exposed, just 'cuz I think it looks cool. (With Alternanthera.)
4 - The roots produced by cuttings within a year.

Thanks! I did get it, and responded! One last question. what type of soil does it need? Can I just use garden soil with some peat moss mixed in - like a 3:1 soil to peat ratio? I'll try to get a picture of it this week and post it here, or send it by d-mail, just to give you an idea of what type of Drac I have and what I'm working with lol. I'm not entirely sure that it needs repotted, I just suspect it does because I haven't done it for 3 years and the growth rate seems slow - though I gather they are relatively slow growers?

I tried pruning a portion of the cane for a Dracaena "Lemon Lime", but the cane never produced any buds. The plant died soon after. The top i cut off lived for another year before dying. Looking at the roots(it turns out it barely had any lol), it didn't grow enough. Is there a certain height the cane needs to be before producing buds alone the cane? The Cane is currently 1 3/4 feet tall.

Bloomfly, I hope someone with more experience with that type of Drac can answer your questions. The first of the pics I put is 'Lemon lime.' Maybe it wasn't getting enough light? Tap water chemicals are quite troublesome for Dracs too. Mine was damaged by mid-40's temps last fall. Did anything like that happen to yours?

MrsL, when there's room in the pot, the roots can grow quite fast. I trimmed so much of the roots from these plants because they seem to like it, and grow faster when the roots have room to grow quickly, which they definitely do.

Giant, woody roots are mostly for stability, and take up a lot of room, so I remove those aggressively, then trim the smaller roots to a size that will fit in the pot without bending or tangling. When I put them back in the pot, I try to flatten the roots, so they are pointing out from the middle, like spokes from a wheel. That leaves the most possible room under them for growth.

After 3 years, the roots have hopefully filled the pot, but trimming them to such a small size could be too much. The unpotted ones I pictured are babies, so didn't need as much root mass to support them. If the roots on your plant have never been trimmed before, you'll probably find a serious spiral of them that you probably can't untangle. You may want to use a knife or saw to remove the bottom inch or two, to see what you're dealing with after removing that "pancake" of roots that forms at the bottom of long-term pots.

I had watered it with tapwater often, but not everytime. I use pureified water to flush the minerals out of the soil. The plant is an inside plant, and sits in the middle of my living room, where it remains bright, yet does not recieve direct light.

When I water mine, I rarely use tap water, unless I've let the tap water sit out for a while to allow many of the chemicals in the water to evaporate out. You might also be able to boil the water to "purify" it even further then allow to completely cool before watering. I normally just let the water sit in a container for about 12-24 hours before using it to water on indoor plants. Often, mostly in the summer months when I buy bottled water more frequently, I will use bottled water to water my indoor plants. With two kids in the house, we go through bottled water in the summer time, and they often "forget" where they put their bottles after opening, and get a new, cold bottle lol. So, I just use the bottles they don't finish on my indoor plants. They seem to like it lol.

I also typically set my Drac outside in the warmer months to get some sun and fresh air. I did that one year, left it on my front porch - unless it's very rainy or windy - and by fall, I noticed many new shoots/new growth on it, and the leaves looked a lot perkier. Every now and again, I'll also give it a light Miracle Gro treat - usually only about once or twice a year.

Just thought I'd share this little tid-bit lol. Don't know if it will help anyone though.

It is very helpful! I give mine a dose of fertilizer very rarely. Its been over a year since the last feeding. I will feed it next time i water it, which might be very soon.

If you're using Miracle Gro, like I do, make up a diluted liquid mixture. I wouldn't be too aggressive with it - maybe use half the "recommended scoop" amount per gallon of water. My fear with it was possibly a chemical burn for the plant, so I always dilute. I also only give it a feeding about once every 6 months to a year. I usually try to remember to do it at least in early spring, then again in late fall/early winter.

This year I'm trying something a little different. I mixed up some soil from the garden with some mushroom compost and a small amount of peat (was mixing it up for other uses really, but had some left over) and did a light top dress of this mixture - at least until I can repot it. I'm not sure how well this will work out though, since it is my first attempt. I did notice that some of the leaves on mine have yellowed, but I also noticed that before I did the top dress. I'm thinking at some point, I overwatered it and that's what's causing the yellowing. One day, I realized I hadn't watered it for about a month, so I gave it a little drink. then my son took it upon himself to water it also lol. So, I think it's just a little overloved too quickly lol. I'm giving it some time right now without watering. I've overwatered it before (many times lol) and it's always bounced back :) Just takes some time hehe.

Chemicals don't evaporate from your irrigation water if you leave it to rest unless a volatile form of chlorine is used for chlorination, which is very seldom used any more. Other dissolved solids in tap water remain behind when water evaporates, so they actually become more concentrated as water continues to rest and evaporate.

Any soil you might use in containers is going to be very poor at providing nutrients, In fact, the best approach to container culture is to consider the soil as adding nothing to your plants nutrition, and instead of depending on the soil, shouldering the entire burden for nutritional supplementation. It's very important to fertilize regularly with a fertilizer that doesn't leave out one or several of the elements essential to normal growth. How often you can/should fertilize depends on your soil choice and watering habits. Ideally, you'll choose a soil that allows you to water copiously enough to flush the soil thoroughly, at will. You can usually fertilize at full recommended dosages of synthetic soluble fertilizers (like MG and Foliage-Pro) every 1-2 weeks. If you're using a soil that can't be flushed without your having to be concerned about root issues like compromised root function and/or root rot, you're at a distinct disadvantage and flying in the dark as far as what appropriate nutrition supplementation might be, unless you regularly take advantage of a strategy that DOES allow you to flush the soil.

Interior landscapers, who take care of many, many more plants in a year than any home grower, have a completely different take on fertilizing. Since plants are watered to a run-off of 1/4 - 1/2", which is left in the drainage saucer to be reabsorbed, fertilizing every week or every month seriously overfertilizes the plant. Instead, plants are fertilized from never (in very low light) to 4 times a year (high light).
Also, no one taking care of plants on a professional schedule has time to let water sit (probably useless anyway) or the money to use special water - it has to come out of the tap. And tap water works just fine, if you don't have the inclination to fuss. If you do, fuss on.
Also, potting soil. Using garden soil is never recommended for indoor potted plants. It doesn't have the correct drainage properties, and it often contains weeds, bugs, and all manner of undesirable microscopic things. Instead, do some research on soilless mixes, which are what growers and interior landscapers use, or on mixing your own potting media. Just remember, it's all about drainage.

Thats a good point ficus! I had always used garden soil if I had no houseplant soil to use. So far I have been lucky with having my African violet collect pests(some kind of small white powdery silverfish like bugs)Ill have to make a trip out for houseplant soil and do some re-potting when the plants grow out.

I'm mainly only using garden soil because at the moment, I don't have any potting soil or any other kind of soil on hand. Truth be told, I don't have the money right now to buy any - we're living on a very thin shoestring budget at the moment. I haven't repotted my Drac yet, but when I do use garden soil for indoor plants, I make sure I mix in some of the gravel from my driveway to help with drainage. I also don't use straight garden soil - I mix it with other left over stuff that I didn't use earlier in the season.

I'm actually kind of holding off on repotting this Drac, until I can get some better soil for it. To me, its one thing for me to experiment with some of the seeds and plants that I have bought, but this Drac has sentimental purposes - I don't really want to experiment with it and risk it dying. So, I'll hold off till I can get some better soil.

Well, long before there were bags of stuff to buy for potting plants, that's what one did, and many still do. If you look at 'name this plant' forums often, you'll see tons of beautiful plants of all kinds from all over the world in all kinds of "wrong looking dirt." So it is possible, and not some kind of sin, or all that unusual. Not any plant will survive any kind of dirt its' thrust into, but the range of that-which-won't-be-deadly is huge and so widely varied.

Knowing that something's not optimal leads you to wonder/learn how to deal with it by various means if you can't change it right now, by. not letting it get/stay soggy, dry well before watering again, make sure the hole is sufficient for excess water to escape, then allowing it to drip out and not sit in a saucer, wicking, and other cool stuff people do to make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak. Your plants may not be the prettiest around, but they should be alive and doing what they can.

Sometimes one can take a cutting and put it in water until they "find some good dirt" if things have gone badly wrong with the roots. Where there's a will, there's usually a way. Doesn't mean it's the best or that there's not room for improvement. Knowing how to improve it when possible is the next thing to get into. Just because you can't do it right away doesn't mean you're a bad plant person.


The Perfect Houseplant

Dracaena may just be the perfect houseplant. Asking very little of us gardeners, one can sit happily unattended for long periods, adding a whimsical flair to your living room.

And with so many different species to choose from, you will never get bored!

What dracaena species do you like to grow? Share your favorites in the comments section below, and feel free to share a picture!

And for more inspiration, why not learn about some other houseplants next? These guides have got you covered:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via American Plant Exchange, Home Depot, and Walmart. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Heather Buckner

Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!


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