Dracaena is a large group of popular houseplants that tolerates a wide variety of growing conditions. It is grown primarily for the upright, straplike foliage that is either green or variegated. Occasionally the plants set clusters of small, fragrant, white blossoms (but rarely indoors). The small, bushy form of young plants suits mantels, tabletops, and desks. In the right conditions, the plants eventually reach 5 to 6 feet tall, making it perfect for adding life to a corner of the living room, dining room, or den.
Dracaena's narrow foliage may be completely green or may include stripes or edges of green, cream, red, and/or yellow. Leaves start as rings around the center stem and take on the appearance of bamboo as they age. (In fact, one of the most commonly grown dracaenas is marketed as lucky bamboo.) Use this plant outside as a colorful accent in mixed containers or seasonal displays.
Related: Indoor Bamboo Plants for Peace
Dracaena Care Must-Knows
Dracaena is extremely easy to grow indoors as long as you pay attention to a couple of details. It requires well-drained soil. Let the soil dry to the touch between waterings. Let it get completely dry out too often, though, and leaves begin to turn brown, especially at the tips. Soggy soil, on the other hand, may be fatal. Fertilize once or twice a year to keep this plant healthy, more often to promote growth. Any general-purpose houseplant fertilizer applied according to the package directions will do.
Dracaena is quite flexible about its lighting requirements, happy to live in anything from a dimly lit office building to the ledge of a brightly lit, south-facing window. Varieties sporting bright colors do best in bright light. If planted outdoors, this plant prefers part sun; full sun may burn the foliage.
When left to grow in the same pot for a long time indoors, the plant experiences problems that don't occur in a flower bed. The edges and tips of leaves may brown and die back as a reaction to a buildup of fertilizers and salts from softened water. One solution is to repot dracaena on a regular basis, replacing as much old soil as possible each time. Or make a regular habit of leaching the soil, which means flushing it with water until it runs clear from the bottom of the pot.
Keep your eyes open for spider mites, which love the hot, dry environment commonly found in household settings. You'll know your plant has unwelcome visitors if you see webbing and stippled foliage. Spider mites (which are arachnids, not insects) reproduce quickly and should be eradicated as soon as they are noticed. Periodically wetting the plant (especially the undersides of leaves) and the soil beneath it with neem oil spray helps control this pest. Prevent spider mites outdoors by rinsing dracaena regularly with water.
Related: Repotting a Root-Bound Plant
More Varieties of Dracaena
Dracaena deremensis 'Compact Janet Craig' has solid green leaves with short internodes, making it a shrubby plant that adapts well to low light conditions.
Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' is named for its uncanny resemblance to the crop with the same common name. However, this dracaena has a woodier stem and a broad band of gold down the center of its leaves.
Dracaena surculosa 'Florida Beauty' is smaller and shrubbier than most other dracaenas, rarely reaching more than 2 feet tall. It has broad leaves brilliantly spotted with creamy yellow.
Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon Lime' has leaves with a central green band and wide margin of chartreuse green.
Dracaena sanderiana is not a bamboo at all, but rather a dracaena with a pliable stem that is often woven into elaborate shapes. It grows quite well directly in water or gravel filled with water.
Dracaena marginata may be grown either as a multiple-stem shrub or tree. Stems of tree-form plants often are trained to grow with crooks or bends. Deep green straplike leaves are edged with a narrow band of maroon.
Dracaena sanderiana 'Variegata' is the same species as lucky bamboo, but its leaf margins are creamy white. It is sometimes grown in terrariums because it remains shorter than most other dracaenas.
Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India' is a shrubby plant, usually grown with multiple stems in a pot. Leaves are edged with a band of gold and are 6-8 inches long. It is sometimes sold as Pleomele reflexa.