Want to save dracaena marginata!

Discussion in 'Indoor and Greenhouse Plants' started by Blackbyrde, May 22, 2008.

  1. Blackbyrde

    Blackbyrde Member

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    I've been searching this forum looking for answers to how I might be able to save the dracaena marginata in my apartment and I can't find one that seems to fit the bill exactly.

    The tree is about six and a half feet tall, and has four stalks (two main stalks, each with two offshoots). It had been drooping, with brown leaf tips, and dropping brown leaves for a while, and then the growth in the center started to get a bit pale and some of the leaves had yellow centers (overwatering during the winter?). About a week ago, I realized that green (well, mostly green, sort of yellow leaves) were starting to fall off. The leaves that were falling off were white at the base. Most recently, I tipped the pot over to investigate whether there are any drainage holes underneath - the answer is none that I could find. When I tipped the pot, however, all of the leaves just fell off of the smallest stalk! Now it's totally bare except for one tiny white leaf at the center that is just sort of hanging there.

    The top of the bare stalk is kind of shriveled, not squishy, but looks withered. Two of the stalks are still hanging in there, though they don't look great, one is really marginal, and then there's the bare one.

    I would like to save this tree, and I'm willing to go to any lengths to do so. The stalks are still firm and you can see green in them, and three of the four still have leaves, although they are clearly not happy. What should I do? Please help - I have never had plants in my life, but I want to learn, and I'll do what I can!

    I think that my problem is that I'm totally in the dark about watering...I don't know if I'm giving it too much or too little water, or if a lack of humidity could cause the symptoms. I didn't spritz it for a long time because I didn't know how important it was. I thought it was a palm up until a few days ago. The tree is so big that it's hard for me to tell if it's heavy because it's too wet, because I can barely lift it anyway. I don't think I can get it out of the pot to check the roots, and I'm also afraid of hurting it worse by taking it out of the pot if there's some other way I can help it. Thanks for reading, I know it's a long post, but I really want to try and do the right thing...
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2008
  2. joclyn

    joclyn Rising Contributor

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    if it's in a container with no drainage, then that's going to be part of the problem. even if underwatering it, the moisture would still be retained and it would eventually start rotting the root system. of course, properly watering it when it's in a pot with no drainage would definitely cause rot.

    the other thing that would happen is the plant would be stressed - by either of the above - and that would leave it open for some kind of bug attack.

    from your description of the condition of the leaves, i'm thinking you've got a mealy bug infestation going. they are small; look like bits of cotton fluff and tend to congregate at the base of the leaves where they attach to the trunk. they can also live in the soil.

    take a good look at the leaves at their bases and, if you see white fluff, get some q-tips and some rubbing alcohol and treat them. you'll need to do this a couple of times to make sure you've gotten all the bugs and the eggs. so, treat every 10 days or so until you don't see any more fluffy bits.

    as for the container with no drainage. you WILL have to repot it into something that is appropriate. i would wait until you are sure there is not a bug infestation going on though - if it does have bugs, it's already stressed enough and no need to add to that!

    so, first, let's make sure there isn't a bug issue. once that's settled, we'll move on to repotting.
     
  3. Blackbyrde

    Blackbyrde Member

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    Thanks Joclyn! I looked, and I don't see any white fluffy stuff on the stems at the trunk (either on top or underneath). If anything, there's a tiny little bit of blackish stuff on the inside (top) of the leaves where they meet the trunk, but I can't tell if it's something terrible or dirt that's run down when I've misted. Egypt is horrendously dusty, so there's always dirt on things, even indoors. I did see some kind of miniscule crawly thing in the soil today, and there are lots of tiny gnat-like things in my apartment...is it possible that I'm just missing the mealybugs, and they're really there? Could it be that another type of pest is present?

    The leaves that fell off that were white at the base were white like the base of lettuce leaves, or the white parts of kimchi.

    Do you think it would help or hurt if I tried to get someone to help me tip the pot and use a hammer and nail to put some drainage holes in?

    I'm afraid I'm a little obsessed with trying to help this plant...but I think it deserves it!
     
  4. joclyn

    joclyn Rising Contributor

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    if you had them, you'd definitely see them. the white fluff is pretty distinctive.

    i didn't even look to see where you're located...i usually do that...

    since you're in such hot & dry conditions, you will need to provide more watering than i would in my location. so, the container with no drain holes is not so bad. actually, now knowing your location, it may be underwatered. how often have you been watering it? how much sun does it get - both how bright/direct and for how long.

    how long have you had it? was it in that container when you got it? any idea how long that is?

    generally, most plants should be repotted every 2-3 years. if not completely repotted (new & larger container) they should, at least, be unpotted and have fresh soil put in.

    even if it's been less than that timeframe before the last re-pot, i'd really recommend re-doing it now and making sure the new container has drainage. if it's extremely large, you are going to need assistance to do it.

    would it be possible to post some pics of it? i'd really like to see it - if there is some kind of bug that's an issue, the only way to really tell is to see it...
     
  5. Blackbyrde

    Blackbyrde Member

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    I'm sorry these pictures have gone in sideways, they are right side up in my computer! One of them shows the bare, shriveled stalk. It isn't like that all the way down, it looks more normal toward the base. The tops with leaves belong to a separate main stalk in the same pot.

    The plant gets sort of indirect sunlight for most of the day. Around the time the leaves all fell off the one stalk, I had left the window open to try and give it more light (the window glass is tinted a bit, so I was worried that it wasn't getting enough light...), and I wonder if that was just one more stress.

    I've been living here since November, and I don't know how long the plant was there before me. It had never occurred to me to ask my landlord. Even if it's been much less than two years, then, the best thing for it would be a re-pot in something with good drainage? If that would help, then I will just find someone to assist! I don't know the first thing about repotting, is there a kind of definitive guide as to how to do it that I could order from the bookstore? I'm terrified about what I'll find when I see the roots, I don't know what I've done to them by watering improperly...is there any way to fix damaged root systems? I'm so glad for your advice!
     
  6. joclyn

    joclyn Rising Contributor

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    thanks for posting the pics.

    it doesn't look there's any kind of bug issue. that's good! seems to be just a basic lack of proper water thing and maybe a bit of root rot because of the no-drainage issue with the container.

    the open window probably isn't that much of an issue - unless it was cold over night and you'd left the window open before going to sleep...

    it generally looks pretty good! except for that one trunk that lost all the leaves, i'd say it'll recover quite nicely!

    and, you definitely need to repot it! it's not that difficult to do, generally. the size of the plant is the only real issue that could be considered 'difficult'.

    first, you need to get a new container and some soil. i'd suggest getting a plastic container that has drainage holes in it AND getting a nice glazed container to set the plastic one inside of (to hide the not-so-pretty plastic as well as to catch excess water so it doesn't ruin the floor).

    you didn't show the current container...no big deal. even being able to see what it's in now, i'd still suggest going with something a little bigger. just an inch or two wider (3 to5 cm). if the current container is not all that deep, you may want to get something that's deeper - again, just an inch or two.

    once you've got the plastic pot, then you can get a nice planter that it will fit in - the nice planter will need to be a bit bigger than the plastic so you can easily lift the plastic one up if you need to. also, tall enough to hide the inner pot.

    okay. now for soil. dracaena like a well-draining soil that stays a bit moist. here, we have 'cactus mix' soil which is a mix of potting soil, bark bits, perlite, peat and sand.

    you WILL need help to unpot it and get it in the new container. taking it outside will be much easier for cleanup of spilled dirt...you can still do it inside - just spread out lots of newspaper and work on top of it and then just roll it up and throw it out. you can also use a painters drop-cloth or even a shower curtain liner - then you'd just have to fold it up; take outside and dump the dirt.

    okay. to remove from the current container, take a long knife and insert it into the pot between the soil and the edge of the pot and run it all the way around to loosen the soil/roots from the container. then you'll need to tip the container over (have your assistant help by either supporting the trunks or helping you with the tipping of the pot - whichever seems more necessary).

    once you've got it on its side on the floor, you'll need to gently pull apart the container and the plant. one of you should hold the trunks near the point where they meet the soil and the other should pull the container off. you can gently thump the container to help loosen the soil/rootball. if you can't get it out, you'll have to take a hammer to the container to break it (hope you don't have to do that!!)

    once it's out, you'll need to remove the soil from the root ball. gently! try not to damage/break the roots. some damage is inevitable - just try to limit it as much as possible.

    take a good look at the roots...are they very compacted and basically have the shape of the container you just took it out of? if so, then it's rootbound - so good thing to repot. they should be whitish in color, also. anything that is brown/black and mushy should be cut away - use a sharp knife that's been sterilized either with heat (let it cool before using it) or with rubbing alcohol. trim the bad parts off at a point that's above the bad part and into the good white part - you want to make sure you don't leave any of the rotted stuff there.

    hopefully there won't be too much rotted stuff...hopefully there won't be any!

    after you've examined the roots and removed any bad parts, you'll need to loosen them up a bit...just gently work them apart so that, when you put the plant in the new container, you can spread them out nicely. if it's really, really compacted, just do the best you can with the parts that are at the outermost points and don't worry about the inner part.

    now, the new pot. put some soil in the bottom - fill a couple inches or so and then put the plant in and make sure the roots are spread out a bit. add in more soil so that the container is about half full. gently tap the container against the floor so the soil settles down around the roots (you want to remove any pockets of air). continue filling with soil and do the tapping thing a couple more times as you're adding more soil. once the pot is full you can place it inside the planter.

    i would not water for at least a week - repotting does cause a bit of shock and if you need to trim roots, that's additional shock. so, your baby needs some time to recuperate before taking a drink again :)

    the first watering you want to do slowly - remember this is completely dry soil, so, if you just dump in a ton of water, it's basically going to run straight through and that won't do any good. so, add a cup or two of water and let it soak down...wait about 10 minutes and then give some more water and let it soak down. when you are pouring the water in, do it in a different spot each time so that you get all of the soil moistened...you want those roots to spread out and reach for the moisture rather than just putting the water right on the roots (they'll get lazy).

    as you're going along, keep an eye out for water coming out of the bottom - it should take a bit because the soil is going to sop up the water like a sponge this first time. once you see water collecting in the bigger container, stop adding more. let the plant sit for about a half hour and then you're going to want to remove any excess.

    try to keep track of how much water you put in...that will be your guide for future waterings. it'll need to be watered about every two weeks...maybe a little longer and maybe a little sooner. probably will be a bit more frequently for the first couple of months as it's getting back on it's feet. once it's fully recovered, it should not need very frequent waterings and every 3-4 weeks will probably be enough. you won't need to go so slowly with adding the water after the first time - still, you don't want to just dump the whole thing in...pour in some and let it soak down for a few minutes and then add more and let it soak in and continue until you see water coming out of the drain holes.

    the normal growth pattern is for the bottom leaves to die off as new leaves appear at the top...so that's nothing to be concerned about. it's just how that trunk is formed.

    losing all the leaves as that one trunk did IS something to worry about. as for that trunk...you said it's still green, right? except for the very top section, right? i'd cut the top, shriveled, part off...that should spur new growth to start. if it doesn't show new growth within 4-6 weeks, i'd pull it out.

    as the plant grows and gets taller, you can always lop off the top part - either leave a bit of trunk or just cut right below the leaves - and then plant it (in the same container or another) and you'll have a new plant.

    if you don't want to deal with having to containers, you can get just one - as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom!! make sure to get a dish to set it on, too. they usually sell matching dishes, so that shouldn't be too much of an issue. i would not get a pot that has the dish attached though! they don't really have the best drainage because the holes tend to be too small when the two pieces are attached.

    these types of plants generally don't need full sun for more than an hour or so in the morning (if even that much), so the glazing on the window glass is actually a good thing.

    good luck with the re-pot and please, post some pics of it when it's in the new container!
     
  7. Blackbyrde

    Blackbyrde Member

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    I will definitely repot! Before I do, though, I want to ask something...thinking that if I was underwatering and it won't have a drink for a week after I repot, I should give it some water...so I did...at first, it looked better, but today I noticed that a bunch of leaves had dropped off of the plant with one bare stalk. When I looked closer, I saw this:
    Plant2.jpg

    Is this an indication of parasites that I should deal with before I repot?
    Also, how long do you think I can wait to repot? (this is how it looks overall now...I feel awful seeing it this way but I don't want to make it worse by being in a hurry)...
    Plant.jpg

    Thank you!!!
     
  8. joclyn

    joclyn Rising Contributor

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    it looks like it could be a scale bug...doesn't quite look like what i'm familiar with - which doesn't matter much as there are many, many types of scale. also could just be something that is normally native to your area that happens to like this type of plant.

    the way the leaves look and the way they are falling off certainly does indicate some kind of parasite sucking the juices from the plant (thus the leaves falling off) especially since the other branches are okay (for the moment). iow, it's probably not an issue of root rot because both trunks would be affected by that.

    i'm not sure what it is, so recommending a course of treatment is difficult. for scale bugs, neem oil would work. so would q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol. if you can just pick the bugs off, do so - drop them in a container of water/dish soap to kill them. then rub the leaves down with rubbing alcohol to kill any eggs. take a really good look at the other tree for bugs and remove any. even if you don't see any, i'd treat with the rubbing alcohol to get any eggs that might be there...make sure to get at the very bottom of the leaves right where they attach to the trunk and get both upper and underneath sides.

    wait a week and do a thorough check again and if you don't see any more bugs, do the repot.

    that size container it's in is not too bad...you'll probably find that it is a bit root-bound though. if you like that design, then go with the same thing only the next size larger (which would be about 2 inches wider in diameter) and that will provide enough room for the roots to spread out a bit. an unglazed clay pot really would be best because that gives the soil a better opportunity to dry out in between waterings. those type of plastic pots usually have decent drainage on the bottom though, so would be perfectly acceptable.
     

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