Plants 101

How to Care for a Dracaena

With spiky leaves stretching up like a corn stalk, the dracaena is one of the most popular houseplants for beginning plant parents.

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The scientific name for this species is the Dracaena fragrans, or corn plant because it looks so much like a miniature stalk of corn. Dracaena is also known as “mass cane.”

There are more than 100 varieties of dracaena with different appearances. The Dracaena relfexa can grow to an astonishing 18 feet tall and eight feet wide when cultivated in the wild.

The Dracaena deremensis holds the curious characteristic of being tolerant of neglect. One species is called “lucky bamboo” for its ability to grow in water, but it is actually Dracaena sanderiana that displays that ability.

A dracaena is a great way to add spectacular visual interest to any room with minimum effort.

About the Plant

Dracaena’s many species come in two main varieties: dracaena trees and succulent shrubs. The shrub varieties provide the best houseplant options, while dracaena trees are hardy outdoors throughout much of the United States. Whether trees or shrubs, the dracaena is a member of the asparagus family.

This plant is known for its distinctive foliage, which is always spiky but can feature different colors. Variegated leaves in shades of green, reddish-brown, and even pale pink.

According to a NASA study from the 1980s, indoor houseplants can help scrub the air of pollutants. Benzene, carbon dioxide, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde can all get filtered through plants like dracaena. Plants like dracaena promote a healthier indoor atmosphere for family members and pets.


Choose a dracaena to brighten up even the most dreary corner. This plant likes bright, indirect sunlight. However, this plant can adapt to situations with consistently low light, like offices and interior rooms.

Direct sunlight is the enemy to a dracaena, whether you plant them indoors or outdoors. Choose a location with partial shade, especially in the afternoon when the sun’s rays are strongest. Overdosing your dracaena in direct sunlight can scorch the leaves. That results in black or brown spots on leaves or foliage that appear unusually orange or red in color.


Approach watering a dracaena the same way you would attend to your other tropical houseplants. When your plant feels dry to the touch, it is likely about 50 to 75 percent drained and ready to be watered.

Water your dracaena until water flows freely through the drainage hole at the bottom of its pot. If water continues to gather at the bottom of the plant, remove the saucer or other catchment device to avoid accumulating moisture near the roots.

Oversaturating a dracaena is highly discouraged. Refrain from checking its moisture level until about seven to 10 days after its last watering. An overwatered plant appears yellowed and may be droopy.


As a tropical plant, your dracaena appreciates plenty of moisture. While overwatering isn’t the answer, providing light misting works great. A simple spray bottle achieves the desired effect, especially during cold and dry spells indoors. Misting also helps reduce pest infestations and dust collection on leaves.

If you prefer a lower maintenance solution to your dracaena's humidity needs, consider purchasing a small humidifier for your indoor houseplants. A lower-tech solution is a shallow pan covered in a layer of small pebbles, something like a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. This pan is refilled with water after it evaporates.


Average room temperature is the preferred environment for your dracaena. Between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit provides the best temperature for this tropical houseplant.

Depending on the species of dracaena, some varieties are hardy outdoors, even to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone of seven. This zone contains the climate experienced in places like Washington D.C., Oklahoma, and northern New Mexico. Dracaena living outdoors should be covered if there is a threat of frost.


This plant appreciates well-drained soil and tolerates the acidity and mixture of the standard potting mixes that are widely available. Dracaena are slow-growing plants and do not require much plant food or fertilizer. Dilute any fertilizer to half-strength before administering it to a dracaena plant.

Common Problems and How to Save a Dying Dracaena

Dracaena can suffer from a condition called “tipping.” Tipping happens when the very tip of a plant’s leaves turns brown and dries out. It is mainly an aesthetic issue and does not reflect much on the plant’s overall health.

Your tap water may be to blame, as ordinary household water can contain excess chlorine, salts, and other minerals that slightly damage your plant. Choose distilled water or fresh rainwater from an outdoor rain barrel to avoid evidence of tipping.

Pests rarely haunt a dracaena, but it can happen. Ordinary houseplant infestations of mealybugs, aphids, and thrips can erode the leaves and roots of your healthy dracaena. Check under the leaves and around the plants’ roots for signs of insect issues.

Level of Difficulty

A dracaena remains one of the simplest plants to nurture. If you are a beginner to keeping your own indoor plants, a dracaena is a terrific option. These dramatic plants pack a visual punch that is rewarding to have in your home without an enormous investment of time or intricate care of the plant.

Beginning plant parents should familiarize themselves with the basics of indoor plant care, like effective watering schedules and proper sunlight levels. These simple principles of houseplants will apply effortlessly to caring for a dracaena, as it requires very straightforward plant care.

Choose a dracaena for yourself or another person new to raising plants as a low-stakes way to learn. Dracaena can tolerate neglect and bounce back quickly from damage. Build your confidence with a stunning dracaena.


Dracaena provides a fantastic way to delight plant lovers, those new to growing houseplants and green thumbs alike. These eye-catching plants are simple and rewarding to grow, requiring only minor plant maintenance.

Explore the dozens of dracaena varieties for a unique and stunning addition to your interior or exterior landscape.

Words By The Sill

Empowering all people to be plant people—a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of plant experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.

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