The dragon tree (Dracaena) belongs to the asparagus family. Of about 50 subspecies, Dracaena fragrans and Dracaena marginata are most commonly found in the USA living rooms. The numerous species differ mainly in shape, coloration, and drawing of the leaves. Dragon trees can be pruned without problems and can theoretically sprout again from almost any old leaf base or eye below the cut. Usually, they develop a maximum of 2 or 3 new side shoots, older specimens often only one.
Pruning Dragon Tree for better branching
Dracaena usually grows relatively quickly, so it can reach a considerable size over the years. Specimens that receive too little light sometimes shoot up, forming rather puny, long, and bare shoots. In these cases, pruning alone is not enough; the site conditions must be optimized at the same time. Often there is also a desire for a more branched growth.
The specimens offered in the trade are usually single-stemmed. Whether shortening in height or achieving better branching, this plant is very tolerant of pruning and can be shortened to almost any height. Normally, this plant can be pruned at any time, but preferably in the spring, because at this time the pruning wounds should heal faster.
This can be done by cutting off the crown or shortening the trunk to any height. Pruning is always done over a dormant eye or shoot bud. Dormant eyes can be identified by small flat protrusions on the trunk. After pruning, the cut area should be sealed with tree wax to prevent the trunk from drying out at the cut area. After about 2-3 weeks, the plant will resprout below the cut, ideally several times, so that more branching is achieved. The cut parts of the plant can be used well for growing new plants.
Tip: Basically, the higher the cut is made on the trunk, the better and safer the plant will resprout. If the cut is too radical, the remaining stem piece can sprout again only with great difficulty or not at all, or most forms a new shoot. This is especially the case with older specimens.
Cutting for propagation
Pruning head cuttings correctly
To propagate the dragon tree, cut the crown, that is, head cuttings.
These should be about 20-30 cm long.
The cut should be made straight and with sharp tools.
Keep the cut as small as possible.
The smaller the cut area, the lower the risk of bacteria and germs entering.
These could permanently weaken the plant.
Accordingly, seal the cut on the mother plant with tree wax or charcoal powder.
This also prevents the cut surfaces from drying out.
The lower leaves on the cutting are removed.
If necessary, shorten the others a little to keep evaporation as low as possible.
This additionally stimulates the head cuttings to take root.
Now let it dry out for a day.
Head cuttings in the substrate
After the head cuttings have been cut and allowed to dry out, they are placed about halfway into a moist and nutrient-poor substrate, such as a mixture of soil and sand or sphagnum and sand. For an optimal climate, put a translucent plastic bag over the cutting and place it in a warm, semi-shaded spot. The substrate should remain evenly moist and the plastic bag should be removed from time to time for ventilation. Too much wetness should be avoided. Rooting occurs after about 4-6 weeks.
Head cuttings in a water glass
If the crown is relatively large, rooting in a water glass is a good option. The water should be changed daily, otherwise rotting can occur quickly. If possible, leaves should not be in the water and should be shortened if necessary.
Otherwise, the leaves should remain on the cutting, as the cutting draws nutrients for root formation from the leaves. For roots to form soon, the cutting needs a bright and warm place. At temperatures between 21 and 24 °C rooting takes place within 3-4 weeks. After that it can be planted, being extremely careful not to injure or tear off the fine roots.
Tip: In the first few weeks after planting, leaves can always turn brown and wilt. This is because the young plant needs a lot of energy for root formation and draws it from the leaves. Side shoots can also be used to propagate the dragon tree. The procedure is the same as for head cuttings, but they should have at least 5 leaves.
Propagation via so-called stem cuttings is also very effective. The younger these cuttings are the higher the chances of success. For this purpose, the trunk is cut into 10-20 cm long trunk pieces, depending on the dragon tree species. Here it is essential to pay attention to ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ because if they are put into the water or soil with the wrong end, no new plant will develop. Each of these stem pieces should have at least one, preferably several, drift buds to reliably sprout.
The upper ends are sealed with wax to protect them from drying out.
Rooting can also be done here in a water jar or directly in the substrate.
About one-third of the stem pieces are placed in soil, e.g. a humus-sand mixture, and moistened.
Again, a translucent film over the stem seedling is recommended.
Then place it in a light-flooded and warm place and keep the substrate evenly moist.
When the first tender shoots appear, the cutting has formed roots and has grown. Now the film can be removed and fertilized minimally if necessary. As soon as ahead of leaves has developed, it can be repotted in standard plant soil.
Tip: Cuttings of dragon trees with variegated leaves are usually still monochrome green at the beginning. The species-typical colorations and drawings develop later.
Cut leaves to obtain leaf cuttings
It is rather rare to read about propagation via leaf cuttings. This method is rarely used because the dragon tree is not exactly predestined for such a form of propagation. It is more typical for plants with thick-fleshed leaves. Nevertheless, it is worth a try, especially for species with broader leaves. In spring, cut off one or more leaves from the stem.
You then stick these into a substrate, ideally a mixture of sand and propagation soil, with the cut at a 45-degree angle. The substrate is then moistened and the leaf-cutting is covered with foil. In a warm spot and with luck, roots should form at the cut after some time and new sprouting should appear. The original leaf eventually dies.
Conclusion of the editors
There are several reasons for pruning the dragon tree, whether it’s because it’s gotten too big or you want it to branch better. When shortening the trunk, care should be taken to use straight cuts and sharp tools. In addition, always cut over dormant eyes and trunk pieces should always have at least one shoot bud. In some cases, it may also be helpful to shorten leaves.
Dragon trees come in a wide range of varieties with wide or narrow leaves in different colors and some with trunks and some without. Some varieties are only suitable for a light location, but some do well in somewhat darker spaces. All of them, however, are quite easy to care for and therefore suitable for beginners or placement in office spaces.
The dragon tree genus also includes the so-called lucky bamboo or Lucky Bamboo, which is sold as a single stick in a tube with water or as a stepped pyramid. Other popular and easy-to-cultivate varieties include:
Dracaena marginata with thin stems and narrow leaves. It is particularly easy to care for, growing up to two feet tall with good care and thrives quite well in a relatively dark location.
Dracaena deremensis has somewhat broader leaves that stand in clusters on the trunk. It actually has dark green leaves, but most cultivars have white center stripes or margins.
Dracaena fragrans have very long leaves that are completely green or multicolored, depending on the variety. Very decorative are the varieties with white or yellow stripes in the middle or on the edges of the leaves.
A dragon tree needs a bright location but should be protected from the blazing sun. Especially the varieties with multicolored leaves need a lot of light to keep their beautiful leaf markings. In summer, a dragon tree needs quite a lot of water, but in winter it should be watered a little more sparingly. Here, however, the pot ball should never dry out completely.
As for the temperature, normal room temperature is just right for dragon trees. In addition, the humidity should be relatively high, because otherwise, the leaves will dry out at the tips. To prevent this, in rather dry rooms the leaves can be sprayed regularly with lime-free water.
A dragon tree can grow very large over the years, so it may eventually become too tall. In that case, it can be pruned at any time, but the best time to do so is early spring. The cut shoots usually sprout again soon.
To help them do this, some fertilizer for green plants can be given. To protect against desiccation, the cut should be sealed with wax or a sealant from the garden specialty store for varieties with trunks. The stem cuttings produced in this process can be used to propagate the dragon tree. To do this, put them in a pot with potting soil and keep them slightly moist at all times.
The easiest way to root a trunk section is to keep it as warm as possible. In somewhat cooler locations, this can be achieved by covering the pot with a plastic bag or cling film.
Julia N. Huston has been working as a freelance garden journalist for magazines and online media since 2011. She also produces press and advertising photos, video films and supports commercials with garden content as a set art director for various specialist companies, garden centers, and DIY stores. A further focus is the creation of press releases and brochures.
Julia N. Huston began her professional career with an apprenticeship as a gardener, specializing in ornamental horticulture. She then studied horticulture, graduating with a degree in horticultural engineering. After her training as an editor at the magazine "GARDEN INTERNATIONAL", she was a member of the editorial team of "FLORA & GARDEN" for 14 years. There, she initially dealt mainly with topics from the areas of balconies & terraces, houseplants, and ornamental gardens. Later, she took over responsibility for the practical magazine.