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6 Ways to Save a Dying Dracaena Plant (With Pictures!)

The Dracaena family of plants, including the Corn plant and the Dragon Tree, is hardy and resilient. 

However, plants can be as unpredictable as any other living thing. Their sudden illness and death can shock their caretakers.

Dracaena varieties are particularly vulnerable to over-watering, which can result in death. Therefore, they must dry completely in between waterings.

The fungal disease, poor lighting, and under-watering are all factors.

So, let’s take a closer look at how your Dracaena might express its displeasure and what you can do about it.

Dracaenas Dying from the Top Down

Dracaenas Dying from the Top Down
Dracaena Dying from the Top Down

Dracaenas grow from their crown, producing new leaves that eventually die back to form a stem or trunk. The plant’s top will begin to die if it can’t get the resources it needs to grow new stems.

Excessive watering, insufficient nutrition, or inadequate light are all known to contribute to crown dieback. However, these symptoms may also be caused by disease or under-watering.

Dracaena Dying After Repotting

Dracaena Dying After Repotting
Dracaena Dying After Repotting

Dracaenas are slow-growing plants that like to stay in the same pot for ages. However, even these hardy specimens will need repotting every two or three years.

There are several possible causes of repotting dieback. One example is repotting shock.

The process shocks the plant’s root system, and it may take a few days to a week before the roots can resume their function.

However, if your Dracaena does not recover, your new growing medium may be to blame.

A newly potted plant may also be moved to a more prominent location, where it may be exposed to too much or too little light, which is not uncommon.

Dracaena Leaves Turning Yellow and Falling Off

Dracaena Leaves Turning Yellow and Falling Off
Dracaena Leaves Turning Yellow and Falling Off

They shed their leaves as they mature. It’s how they get the distinctive bare trunk.

No worries if the new growth is healthy and only the older leaves are shedding from below the crown. This is a normal part of the life cycle of the plant.

Reduced light and insufficient watering are two other factors that can cause lower leaves to turn yellow and fall off.

When resources are limited, Dracaena prefers to sacrifice its oldest leaves first.

Overwatered Dracaena Marginata Is Dying

A spectacular Dracaena variety, D. Marginata (dragon trees), is particularly susceptible to overwatering. 

They are native to Madagascar’s deserts, where they have evolved to thrive in sandy soil with little to no moisture.

As a result, they do not tolerate overwatering well. The limp, yellowing and soft leaves of an overwatered Dragon Tree indicate this.

They will not grow well and begin to shed their leaves from the bottom up.

Dracaena Marginata Soft Stem

Dracaena Marginata Soft Stem
Dracaena Marginata Soft Stem

If the stem of your Dracaena is becoming soft, this indicates that the plant is infected with a fungal disease.

This is especially true if the stem is damp all the way up the stem’s entire length.

Most of the time, fungal pathogens invading otherwise healthy plants are brought on by excessive watering.

Even if you’ve lost all of your plant’s leaves and it’s now just a stalk, don’t give up hope.

These are actual survivors who can bounce back from adversity at a rate that is hard to believe.

However, it may only require some watering and some time in bright light for the stem to recover if it is dry but still firm when touched.

If the stalk is soggy and damp, the picture becomes bleaker. You may have overwatered your plants or have fungal infections. 

Recovery is much less likely, but if your Dracaena is large enough, there may still be living in it.

It’s possible that new soil and lighting will help it recover.

What To Do If Your Dracaena Plant Is Dying?

To begin with, you need to figure out what’s causing your Dracaena to show signs of stress. Then, keep in mind what it requires and what it might be missing from its current care plan.

Some varieties of Dracaena require bright, indirect light to thrive. Allow the soil to completely dry out between waterings to keep them healthy. 

These plants require soil that drains well, preferably a coarse blend that is well-suited to desert plants. They don’t need a lot of fertilizer. 

If you’re going to use liquid fertilizer, it’s best to do so in the middle of summer when the soil is most fertile.

Brown leaves on a Dracaena will never turn green again, which is something to consider. Any harm done is irreversible.

It is safe to remove a severely damaged leaf that is more brown than green. Using a sharp knife, remove the brown leaf from the stem.

For the most part, I don’t bother with primarily green foliage. However, suppose the leaves of the Dracaena have pigment. 

In that case, they can be used for photosynthesis, using sunlight to convert water and air into energizing sugars. This energy can make all the difference in the world to a sick plant.

How to Save a Dracaena That Has Been Overwatered or Has Root Rot

Repotting Overwatered Dracaena
Repotting Overwatered Dracaena

To save an overwatered Dracaena, begin by re-potting it. Removing your Dracaena from its current location allows you to inspect the root system for signs of rot or other damage.

The first step is to choose a new pot and prepare new soil. More drainage holes are better, so make sure your new pot has at least two.

A cactus or succulent mix is ideal because it is free-draining and coarse. (Check out the prices on Amazon here)

Clean scissors or shears should also be on hand if sickened or rotting roots are removed.

After removing the sick Dracaena from its pot, thoroughly rinse the old medium with clean water and examine the roots for signs of rot.

You want pale, fibrous roots on your Dracaena. They’re rotting if they’re soft and mushy or turning brown or black. You’ll need to use clean scissors or shears to remove them.

Then it’s just a matter of transferring the Dracaena to a new pot and returning it to its original location.

Hopefully, your Dracaena will be back to normal in a week or two.

Regardless of the variety of Dracaena you own, they must be allowed to completely dry out between waterings. 

You may find that watering once every two weeks- or even longer! – is sufficient in the winter months when growth slows. 

If you’re in the South, even Dracaenas only need a few good soakings a month to stay healthy.

A moisture meter is a must-have tool for those who can’t bring themselves to abandon their plants for weeks at a time. 

You can keep an eye on the root mass’s moisture levels with this handy device, which can provide a sense of security. (Check the prices on Amazon here)

Reviving A Dracaena That Hasn’t Had Enough Water

Underwatered Dracaena
Underwatered Dracaena

This is much easier to fix – simply soak your Dracaena thoroughly!

A dry plant responds best to water from below. It delivers moisture directly into the root mass, where it is most needed.

A basin or tub to place the thirsty Dracaena is required for this technique. You will also need clean water, preferably distilled, filtered, or rainwater.

To water from below:

  • Take the Draceana out of its drip tray or saucer.
  • Fill the basin with water and place the plant in it.
  • Fill the basin with water until it reaches halfway up the pot’s side.
  • Allow the Dracaena to soak in the water for at least 30 minutes.
  • As needed, replenish the water level.
  • Allow your Dracaena to drain for at least 15 minutes before returning it to its container.

Dracaena, regardless of variety, must be completely dry before being watered again.

Water it above if your Dracaena is too big to fit in a basin.

Dry growing media frequently become hydrophobic with time. As a result, they cannot hold water and instead reject it.

When watering a dried-out mix from above, take your time. I only add a quarter-cup or so at a time, evenly distributed across the soil’s surface, allowing it to peculate slowly through the mix.

A dozen such small doses may be required for large pots before the soil is ready for soaking – wait until you see small drips leaving the drainage holes.

Then, add enough water to thoroughly soak the mixture. Allow the Dracaena to drain and return to its original location. Allow it to dry completely before watering it again.

Find the ideal watering balance for dracaena in my other article, as both overwatering and underwatering can be harmful.

Saving a Dying Dracaena from the Top Down

If your plant’s crown is severely damaged or dead, it’s best to remove it entirely. Regardless of the cause, a dead crown prevents the Dracaena from producing new leaves and eventually kills the plant.

Fortunately, Dracaena are resilient, capable of producing new growth points once the old, dead one has died.

Find a point a few inches below the dead crown and simply cut it off entirely with clean shears, discarding the old, dead crown.

Now all you have to do is wait. Suppose the light levels are adequate and the medium is adequately watered. 

In that case, you should notice new buds developing at the top of the plant. I’ve had up to three new shoots from the same trimmed Dracaena all spring.

Check out my article to discover the 11 common reasons houseplants die and learn how to tackle these issues effectively.

How to Save a Soft-Stem Corn Plant

Similar drastic measures are required to save a Dracaena or corn plant with a softening stalk. The roots beneath are most likely dead or dying.

You can still save your plant’s growing crown by propagating the healthy part. But then, it’s time to sever the head and start over.

Clean shears that are strong enough to cut through the stalk are required. For larger specimens, you may need to use a saw instead. 

You will also need a clean water vessel large enough to hold the plant’s crown and stem. A jar or bottle is often sufficient for small specimens, but a bucket may be required for larger ones.

To save your corn plant, follow these steps:

  • Cut an inch or two above the highest point of softness in the stalk.
  • After that, you’ll need to submerge the whole thing in water.
  • Place the vessel in a well-lit area that is not in direct sunlight.
  • After a few weeks, you should notice roots growing. You can put it into the soil when multiple roots are at least three or four inches long.

Some people pot their cut-off Dracaena right away before the roots have a chance to form.

I prefer to use water on a sick plant. It lets you see how the roots are doing, and water propagation is actively hostile to soil-borne disease. 

In addition, using water propagation, you have a much lower chance of spreading the infection to the new plant.

In water, Dracaena grows slowly but happily. In fact, this genus includes Lucky Bamboo grown entirely in water, and many are never potted in soil. 

So if you like your water-propagated plant the way it is, there’s no need to move it to the soil.

Dracaena that have lost nearly all of their lower leaves due to under-watering can also benefit from this propagation method. This shedding can result in an overly tall and ‘leggy’ appearance.

Cutting off the crown and water propagating it can result in two new plants; a crownless base will simply produce new shoots and resume growth.

Dracaena are often referred to as “unkillable plants” for a good reason. Even if a plant is critically ill or injured, it will recover and thrive better than ever with prompt intervention.

Now, transform your Dracaena Marginata into a one-of-a-kind masterpiece with my guide on caring, bending, and shaping techniques.

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