Dracaena plants are popular houseplants for their dramatic foliage and are easy to maintain, thriving with minimal care. Despite their hardiness, however, the leaves on dracaena plants can sometimes become droopy and may soon start to fall off.
Dracaena leaves falling off doesn’t always indicate that the plant is dying, as it is normal for plants to shed older leaves. However, too many leaves falling off in a short time, suggests an underlying problem and, if not addressed, will result in the death of the dracaena plant.
Continue reading this article for an in-depth explanation of the causes of drooping and how to correct it. It also discusses propagation as a last resort when a dracaena plant begins to die.
What Are Dracaenas?
Dracaena is a genus that comprises approximately 120 individual plants. Young dracaena plants are compact and bushy looking, but take on a tree-like appearance as they age, reaching up to six feet in height when the conditions are right. Popular species include:
- Florida beauty dracaena (Dracaena surculosa)
- Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)
- Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans)
- Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
- White jewel dracaena (Dracaena warneckii)
The leaves are generally long, thin and green. Some species like the Florida beauty dracaena have spotted variegated leaves. Others have streaks of lighter green, yellow or white in the center like the white jewel dracaena. Then there are those, like the dracaena marginata whose leaves are green but edged in a different color.
Dracaena Leaves Drooping
Drooping is a condition where the leaves of the dracaena plant no longer stand upright but instead hang lifelessly from the stems. Drooping results chiefly from water stress; however, other variables like extreme temperatures, insufficient light, and rare cases, pests, and disease can also cause leaves to droop.
Water stress refers to a situation where the plant does not receive the right amount of water. Accordingly, both underwatering and overwatering are forms of water stress.
The relationship between under watering and drooping leaves is a relatively straightforward one; a little amount of water applied to the soil equates to a little amount of water in the plant. As such, the leaves will droop from not having enough water.
On the other hand, the relationship between overwatering and drooping is more complicated. As before, the leaves droop due to insufficient water in the plant. However, the insufficiency results from the plant’s inability to take up the water that abounds it in the soil. This inability is caused by the excess water, which blocks oxygen and causes the roots to rot, impacting the plant’s capacity to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.
Of the two forms of water stress, overwatering is the more common, as new plant owners tend to overcompensate when watering plants. Additionally, factors other than the actual watering,
like soil drainage, and the nature of the plant container can contribute to overwatering.
A poorly drained soil that will not allow the quick passage of water will militate against even proper watering, resulting in a waterlogged condition that fosters fungal infections and root rot.
To avoid such a situation, plant dracaenas in a partly coarse soil, such as a mixture of equal parts peat moss and sand or perlite.
Given time and as the plants’ roots develop, even a well-drained soil will become compact and will not permit water to flow out as quickly. As such, the plants will need to be moved into a new soil when this happens.
Even the most well-drained soil will be rendered useless if there’s no channel for the water to flow out. As such, grow dracaenas in containers with multiple holes in the bottom to facilitate the quick evacuation of water from the soil.
Also, as the plant grows, its roots grow too. While some dracaena species do not object to moderate bound root conditions, it becomes a problem when the pot becomes overly packed with roots, to the extent that the roots block the drain holes. You will need to move the plant into a bigger pot when you observe roots beginning to grow from the holes, failure to do so will usher in root rot shortly.
Avoiding Water Stress
Dracaena plants are somewhat drought-tolerant as such do not require as much water as other house plants like the zebra plant.
It is better to underwater dracaena than to overwater it, as the effects of under-watering can easily be corrected by simply watering the plant. On the other hand, the effects of overwatering are often irreversible, as considerable damage would have been done to the plant’s physiology before the leaves start to droop.
In extreme cases, when the plant’s entire root system has been compromised, there is no hope for salvaging the dracaena.
Therefore, it’s important that you water dracaenas moderately. However, moderate watering can vary depending on the location and the prevailing conditions such as temperature, humidity, and the season. Consequently, even identical plants will have different water needs if they are grown in largely different areas.
In hotter temperatures, plants require more water as there is increased water loss by transpiration from the leaves and evaporation from the soil. In cooler temperatures, the reverse becomes the case.
Humidity refers to the amount of moisture present in the air. Plants in humid areas do not require much water as the humidity in the air largely prevents water losses and keeps the leaves from drying out. Conversely, drier air promotes water losses from the leaves of the plant and the soil.
Plants go through phases of growth and dormancy. Dormancy generally occurs in the winter months; the plant experiences little to no growth and uses much less water.
An effective watering technique that accounts for temperature, humidity, and plant needs is to water the plant only when 2-3 inches of the soil is dry, and even then only water until the soil becomes moist but not soggy.
The parasitic action of some insects can also cause leaves to droop. Insects like mealybugs and aphids feed on juices in the leaves, which causes the leaves to turn yellow and wilt. Furthermore, honeydew, a sticky, sugary substance that the insects secrete on the leaves and stems after ingesting the sap, soon becomes covered in fungi.
While the fungi do not harm the plants, they cover the leaf surface and prevent photosynthesis, resulting in a weaker plant contributing to the plant’s drooping and possible eventual death. Aphids and mealybugs can be eliminated with insecticidal soaps and neem oil.
The larva of insects like the fungus gnats feeds on the roots of the plant. Severe infestations can cause much damage to the roots, making water absorption difficult. Prevent fungus gnat infestations by reducing how often you water the soil, as the females like to lay their eggs in wet soil.
The ideal temperature for dracaena is between 60°F to 70°F (12 to 21°C). A few degrees above or below the recommended range may not be harmful, but too much of a deviation can cause adverse effects, as both hot and cold temperatures will cause the leaves of the dracaena plant to droop.
The rate of transpiration increases with temperature. In elevated temperatures, the plants may lose water from the leaves faster than they can absorb from the soil, causing the leaves and flowers to start to wilt.
Drooping leaves that result from hot weather can easily be reversed if the plant is repositioned and given some water. The leaves will pick up after a couple of hours. To prevent future occurrences, position plants away from direct sunlight and other heat sources like fireplaces and room heaters.
On the other hand, cold drafts and sudden drops in temperature cause leaves to droop by a different process. The reduced temperatures cause damage to the cells in the leaves, resulting in a loss of rigidity and consequent drooping. In severe cases, cold temperatures can lead to the death of young and tender plants, while mature plants will experience blackened leaves.
Temperatures below 50°F (10°C) can be detrimental to most houseplants, including dracaena. Accordingly, position the dracaena plants away from air conditioners and open windows that may permit cold drafts, especially in the colder months of winter.
When cold is responsible for drooping leaves, it is not as easily reversed as when the heat is the culprit. In mature plants, remove any dark or brown leaves as they may serve as entryways for diseases.
Energy can only be converted; it can not be created. Accordingly, plants only convert light energy into chemical energy, and in the absence of light, they can not get the energy they need. Thus the plant becomes weak and can not handle various plant processes. A weak plant is identified by its drooping and, in some cases, discolored leaves.
Dracaena Leaves Falling
The sight of leaves falling off a dracaena plant is not always an indication of impending death. It is normal for the older leaves on a plant to fall off as the plant develops; this is to give room for new growth. In this case, the lowest leaves will usually turn yellow first before dropping from the plant.
However, multiple leaves falling from the plant, notwithstanding the leaves’ age or their position on the plants, indicate a problem. Excessive leaf drop occurs after the leaves droop and turns yellow, and the leaves will fall off if the cause of drooping is not addressed. Accordingly, prolonged water stress, pest infestations, sudden temperature changes, and poor soil drainage will cause many leaves to drop.
Excessive Leaves Dropping Off Could Be A Sign That It’s Dying
Excessive leaf shedding is an indication of a dying plant, with remote chances of being salvaged. Consequently, it is best to take cuttings from whatever part of the plant is still healthy for propagation.
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Or find another healthy Dracaena plant to propagate from. It is better to separate the new plant in case anything that’s causing the excessive leaves dropping is contagious.
Propagating Dracaena Cuttings
Dracaenas can be propagated using seeds, or asexually using healthy cuttings from an existing plant.
The product of asexual propagation is essentially identical to the parent plant, as the genetic material is the same. This asexual propagation is especially useful in preserving unique plant cultivars if the leaves start falling off as the plant dies. Also, propagating new plants with cuttings takes significantly less time than seedlings to germinate, with a higher chance of success.
Accordingly, you can propagate dracaenas asexually, using top cuttings, stem cuttings, and air layering. Stem cuttings and air layering methods are used for the larger species, while smaller specimens are mostly propagated using top cuttings.
Rooting Dracaena With Top Cuttings
As the name suggests, this method of propagation involves taking cuttings from the top of the plant. The plant may look awkward at first, but new leaves will soon sprout from the nodes near the cut, and restore the plant to its previous glory. Propagating dracaena using top cuttings is a reasonably straightforward process, and the steps are outlined below:
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- Use a sterile knife or scissor to cut below the leaf line, making sure that there two or more leaf nodes present, as it is from these that the roots will emerge.
- Place the cutting in a pot of moist soil or a jar of water.
- Position the plant in a warm area and wait for new growth.
New growth appears faster in the warmer months of summer than in winter. Also, cuttings that are grown in water take longer to develop roots. However, water propagation allows you to observe the roots as they develop.
If you choose to propagate in water, you may move the cuttings from water to soil, as early as the roots emerge. Still, it’s advised to wait until two or three new leaves appear, suggesting that the roots are well developed and functional.
Rooting With Stem Cuttings
Propagating with stem cuttings is one of the most common methods of asexual propagation, and is suitable when you wish to produce several new plants at a time.
This method is much like propagating with top cuttings, the only difference being that a much larger portion of the stem is cut off. The stem is then further cut into smaller sizes of about 8 inches (20 cm), each piece ideally having a pair of leaf nodes.
Propagate each piece as you would with top cuttings. Note, however, the ends of each of the smaller cuttings to not place them upside down.
Under normal conditions, when the dracaena is still healthy, avoid cutting more than half of the stem so new growth can emerge from the remaining half. However, in the case of a dying dracaena, you can cut as much of a healthy stem as you’d like, as there’s almost no chance of new growth emerging from the remaining parent stem.
The air layering method of propagation is a variation of one that happens naturally in nature when low lying branches or stems touch the earth and start to grow roots. The process can be replicated with indoor plants by creating conditions that closely mirror nature using the following items:
- A length of plastic wrap
- Sphagnum moss
- Rooting powder
- Sterilized blade
The steps for propagating dracaenas by the air layering method is as follows:
- Decide on the length you want the new plant to be, and make a mark on the stem to denote that length. 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) is an acceptable length.
- With a sterile knife, gently take off a portion of bark from the stem, using the mark as a guide.
- The removed back should be about an inch (2.6 cm) wide around the entire stem, essentially creating a wound.
- Put some rooting powder around the wounded part of the stem.
- Moisten the sphagnum moss and wrap the wounded part of the stem in it.
- Cover the moss with plastic wrap, making sure to secure it in place using plant twine. Doing so prevents moisture from escaping or entering.
- Roots will emerge in two to eight weeks, depending on the plant’s growing conditions and the season, as growth is slower in the cold months of winter.
- When the roots emerge, cut off the stem at a point below the roots, and pot the new plant in suitable soil and pot.
An advantage of this method is that the stem gets cut only when the new roots have formed. Thus there’s every certainty that the cutting will develop into a plant of its own. However, this method of propagation works best for healthy and thriving dracaenas, and should not be used as a method of propagation for dying plants, as the plant would likely have died before the new roots emerge.
Dracaena leaves droop as a result of diminished water in the leaves. Although drooping can result from underwatering, overwatering remains the major culprit. Sap sucking insects like aphids and mealybugs can also cause leaf drooping.
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While leaves occasionally fall as part of the plant’s natural life cycle, excessive leaf shedding often accompanies drooping leaves when the cause of the drooping is not addressed quickly. Many leaves falling off at a time are signs of a dying plant, and it is best to take cuttings for propagation so as not to lose the plant entirely.