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House Plants/Dracaena Janet Craig


shriveled branch
shriveled branch  
shriveled branch
shriveled branch  
QUESTION: Background:
I thought that I was overwatering my plants because the tips of the leaves kept turning brown (it was actually a very small problem) so I kept watering them less and less to alleviate this problem.  I guess that I ended up severely under-watering them and at the same time I started using my AC more and I think that this may have exacerbated the problem because within 2 weeks my plants were completely dehydrated and wilted, drooping over.  I took them back to the nursery where I bought them and the expert there said that they were just completely dehydrated.  We soaked them down and I have been watering much more in the past to days and trying to nurse them back to health.

My questions:
1) Some of the leaves drooped so much that they have small cracks that make it so that the leaves cant cant stand up - essentially they are broken.  I am wondering if there is anything I can do to heal the leaves and if not, should I just leave them alone or cut them off.

2) More importantly, one of the branches completely shriveled up and dropped over and now I cant get it to stand up and I don't think any of the water is getting to the leaves because it is so shriveled at the top of the stalk.  I don't think I can save this branch so I am wondering the best way to cut it so the it will regrow in the same place.  Is this possible?  If so, could you give me a detailed description of how this should be done.  

3) Also, should I put the top of the shriveled branch in water instead of throwing it away?  I hear that it may develop roots and I could plant another plant.  If so, how close to the leaves should I cut the branch before I put it in water - it is shriveled up right where the leaves grow out.

I am realizing that this plant care stuff does not come easily to me, but I do want to get better.  Thanks so much for your help!

ANSWER: Hi Kelly,

Here is what happens when a plant becomes completely dehydrated. Many of the roots dry up and die. That means there are fewer roots to absorb water and pump that water up to the stems and leaves. The plant wants to survive the drought stress, so it sacrifices some of the older or weaker stems so it has fewer resources to supply. Initially, leaves start to wilt. As the drought continues, the stems shrivel. Once a stem shrivels, the capillaries that move the water through them collapse and are no longer functional. Thus, shriveled stems can only be pruned off because they will not recover.

In the photos I cannot see the other stems and their leaves so I don't know how badly they were affected. Now that you have ended the drought, the healthy portions of the plant have had an opportunty to re-hydrate. Any leaves and stems that are still withered, shriveled or cracked will not recover and should be trimmed off.

The badly wilted stem should be cut off so that a stub of about 2 inches remains. It is possible but unlikely that new growth may emerge just below the pruning cut. The top portion is not viable and will not generate new roots the way a normal cutting would.

Now you have to be careful not to overwater. You cannot make up for the previous drought with excess water now. Indeed, because many of the roots, leaves and stems have died, the plant will use less water than it did before. Allow the top quarter of the soil to dry in between waterings to avoid extreme dryness and overwatering.

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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Healthy Plant : )
Healthy Plant : )  

Not so healthy plant : (
Not so healthy plant :  

Well it has been about 1 month and guess what! My plant with the drooping limb that had to be cut off has sprouted four new shoots - two coming from near the dirt and two from a little further up the stem! That plant is doing amazing! It is the healthiest I have ever seen it - it is even healthier than it was when I bought it. I am so excited! Is there anything I can do to help these little sprouts grow faster?

Saddly, tho, my other plant is not doing as well. I moved it near the window where my healthier plant had done so well (the healthier plant has always been healthier and I always suspected that it was because it was near the window). However, it has been a few weeks and my sad plant still doesn't look too healthy. Part of it is because many of the leaves have a break in them because of the drought. But even the leaves that aren't broken are light green and feel sort of flimsy, instead of rich dark green, thick, full and stiff.

Any suggestions? I do notice that a few roots are growing out of the bottom of the pot. I am pretty sure I am watering enough now since my other plant is doing so well, but are there any other/general steps I can take to improve the health of this plant?"

Hi Kelly,

I'm happy to learn that one of your Dracaena 'Lisas' has recovered nicely. Apparently, the roots were dehydrated but not enough to kill them, except on that one cane. There is nothing you can do to promote the growth of the new shoots emerging at the base. Continue to care for the plant as you have and be patient with the new growth.

Your other 'Lisa' may have been weaker to begin with because it was not getting as much light. That made its roots more vulnerable to damage during the period of drought and may explain why it is not recovering as well. Cracked leaves are unlikely to recover. However, if the canes are firm and not shriveled, then they should still be viable and healthy new growth should eventually emerge.

There are no magic potions that can speed the recovery process. Fertilizer will not help as it is not medicine. Proper light, proper watering and patience is all that you can provide. Beyond that, nature will take its course.


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I am the only expert in this category with professional hands-on experience and knowledge of all indoor plants. I can answer questions regarding light, water, fertilizer, repotting, pruning and humidity and temperature requirements. I can identify plant pests and provide information on safe, effective treatments. My answers are based on 35 years of professional experience and scientific research and are clear and easy to understand. I do NOT use search engines to find answers to your questions. If you read my previous posts here, you will get a good idea as to how thorough and professional my answers are.


I have over 35 years of professional indoor landscaping experience caring for plants in homes, offices, building lobbies, stores, restaurants, and other adverse environments. I have written extensively on the care of indoor plants, including a 260 page book. My specialties include Ficus trees, low light plants, repotting, pest control, and re-blooming holiday plants. Be sure to check my ratings and nominations to learn why I am the top-rated indoor plant expert. I am the only House Plant expert consistently ranked in the AllExperts Top 20.

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