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House Plants/Dracaena Marginate


Hi - I found your information online in a answer you gave to another person.𠉠have a Dracaena Marginate and I repotted it about 2-3 wks ago.𠉠did repot it into a rather large pot, I did check prior to repotting it and it was extremely root bound.𠉮 the last 5-7 days I am noticing that leaves at the crown of the plant are turning yellow and are falling off, only a few so far, but I know that this isn't a good sign.𠉠checked with my local nursery and they told me that it sounded like root rot.𠉠purchased a clay pot only 1 size larger than the previous pot and started to repot the plant.𠉠found what looks like a plastic bucket with drainage and a large amount of rocks (not lava rock) up inside the root ball.𠔨e roots were entwined within the plastic basket which had like spiked arms reaching up and entwined with the roots.𠈥re is where I'm hoping that I did the right thing.𠉠removed the rocks and the plastic basket thing.𠔨e roots look white and I don't see any rot.𠔨e soil that is entwined with the roots and that was within the plastic was damp but not wet.𠉠did read that you should try and remove as much of the old soil as possible, which I have.𠏴her than rinsing the roots off with a hose to get more of the old soil/potting mix off I think it's pretty good.𠉠was considering using a potting soil formulated for palms/cactus as I know it drains well.𠉠hope I've done the right things so far.𠉧m debating leaving the plant out of a pot for the night and covering the roots with a damp towel.

I would very much like to hear from you.𠉠have had this plant for 1 1/2 - 2 yrs.𠉴 started out as 2 smaller plants that I repotted into one pot.𠉴 has done quite well until I recently repotted it.

Thank you for your time - Susan McClafferty

Hi Susan,

There are a lot of misunderstandings here that need to get straightened out. Lots of online plant advice is well-intentioned, but unprofessional, out-of-date and ill-advised.

Re-potting plants unnecessarily and incorrectly are the most causes of plant failure. Plants do best when they are kept quite root-bound. As long as there is sufficient soil to hold moisture for 3 days or more, then a plant does not need to be repotted, regardless of how the roots may appear to you. The danger of unnecessarily up-potting is exactly what you have experienced with your Marginata. The excess soil retains moisture for too long and the roots begin to rot. Your local nursery correctly identified the loss of upper leaves as a sign of root rot.

Normally, the remedy for root rot is to reduce the watering frequency and volume so that the roots get a chance to dry out and absorb oxygen every 7-10 days. Moving the plant to an even larger pot, even if it was terra cotta, has aggravated the problem.

Professional growers often take small stem cuttings and root them in tiny plastic baskets in a very porous medium such as you described. This ensures that sufficient air circulates around the immature roots as they develop. As the roots outgrow the basket, the basket and rootball are then moved into a slightly larger pot. The basket and the porous rocks should never be removed. Indeed, the soil itself should not be removed or rinsed away.

Cleansing roots seems to have a cathartic effect on plant owners. Unfortunately, the tiny roots hairs that do most of the work and are barely noticeable are either damaged or washed away in the process of soil removal. The remaining healthy roots will have to recover by developing new roothairs and that takes a long time, during which the plant will continue to lose leaves.

At this point your Marginata has been pretty severely traumatized and its root system compromised. Soil labeled for Cactus and Palm use is nothing more than marketing as those two types of plants use very different soil. Instead, I suggest you mix 4 parts peat moss and one part perlite together. Miracle-Gro products are notorious for fungus gnat infestations. Use the smallest terra cotta pot that is just large enough to fit the roots into plus just enough of the potting mix to barely cover the roots. The terra cotta, the small size and the minimum volume of soil will all help ensure that the soil around the roots dries sufficiently in a week or less. That is critical for your plant's recovery, although I cannot guarantee that it will.

You didn't indicate how large your Marginata is, but if it is not too large, put it and its new small pot inside a clear plastic bag that will, create a mini greenhouse, increase the humidity and help reduce leaf loss. Just be sure to keep it out of direct sunlight. In any case, keep it warm and provide lots of bright but indirect sunlight. Monitor the soil moisture very carefully to protect the fragile root hairs.

I'm sorry this is so complicated, but you are essentially having to re-root your plant and that is a delicate process that will take a long time.

For future reference, all of this could have been avoided if the initial decision to up-pot had been otherwise.

I have written detailed articles on repotting and on Dracaena marginata care that I will email for free to you (or anyone else) who emails a request to me at I have also written an indoor plant care book in a PDF format that I can sell you if you contact me at my email address.

Please let me know if any of this is unclear or if you have any additional questions.

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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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