By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Dracaena is a very common and easy to grow houseplant. In some regions, you can even add it to your outdoor landscape. While few problems plague this popular plant, brown leaves on Dracaena are fairly common. The reasons for a Dracaena with brown leaves range from cultural to situational and into pest or disease issues. Continue reading for a diagnosis on why your Dracaena’s leaves are turning brown.
Foliar changes on houseplants occur occasionally. In the case of browning Dracaena leaves, the cause could stem from many things. These tropical plants thrive in temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-26 C.) and can experience leaf browning in cooler temperatures. The most common cause when Dracaena leaves are brown arises from the type of water you use.
Dracaena’s are extremely sensitive to excess fluoride. In certain municipalities, fluoride is added to drinking water and can make levels too high for Dracaena. This will accumulate in soil from irrigation water and can cause yellowing of leaf tips and margins which progresses to brown as the toxicity builds up.
Fluoride toxicity can also come from potting soils with perlite or from using a fertilizer with superphosphate. Avoid potting soils with those little white pellets (perlite) and use a balanced liquid fertilizer and non-fluoridated water. Flushing the soil to remove excess fertilizer salts will also help prevent leaf damage.
If your water isn’t fluoridated and you have a medium free of perlite, perhaps the cause of a Dracaena with brown leaves is low humidity. As a tropical plant, Dracaena needs ambient moisture and warm temperatures. If humidity is low, brown tips form on the plant.
One easy way to add ambient moisture in the home interior is by lining a saucer with pebbles and water and placing the plant on it. The water evaporates and enhances ambient moisture without drowning the roots. Other options are a humidifier or misting the leaves daily.
Fusarium leaf spot affects many types of plants including food crops, ornamentals and even bulbs. It is a fungal disease that thrives in moist, warm temperatures and survives in soil for many seasons. Young Dracaena leaves are brown to reddish brown with yellow halos. As the disease progresses, the older leaves will develop lesions. Most of the discoloration is at the base of leaves.
Prevent the disease by using a fungicide and avoid overhead watering when leaves are not able to dry out quickly.
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What would be the typical cause for this Dracaena to get brown tips? It it grows in soil consisting of normal soil in a bag, lots of bark chips and some perlite.
It dries out before every watering. I can see now the roots a coming of the bottom, but it has always been like this, with the brown tips.
It doesn't grow in burning sunlight, but it is situated under a window in the roof. Should it be placed in half shadow, instead?
Common problem maybe you let it get too dry between waterings, that can cause this. Calcium deficiency is another possibility, also low humidity, temperature fluctuations or fluoride in the water. Try to keep it more evenly moist without over-watering it, and mist it regularly. Use calcium supplements - chelated calcium or even gypsum. You can trim the brown tips off with scissors, cut the leaf to a point and it will hardly be noticeable.
Filtered sun is recommended, but sunburn wouldn't be on the tips hanging down, it would affect leaves most exposed to the sun. If the leaves closest to the skylight don't look sunburned, the location is probably ok.
Hmmmm - It's almost certainly not a Ca deficiency, so please don't treat your plant thinking there is one. If you're using a fertilizer w/o Ca AND a commercially prepared soil, the soil was undoubtedly pH adjusted with dolomite, which contains Ca and Mg, which serves to pick up the slack left by most soluble synthetic fertilizers that usually lack both Ca & Mg. Since Mg is about 125X more soluble than the Ca in dolomitic lime, a Mg deficiency would occur long before a Ca deficiency. Also, since most drinking water is pH adjusted with CaOH, there is no reason to suspect a Ca deficiency, which would normally manifest itself in this plant in the form of deformed emerging leaves, or any nutritional deficiency for that matter - at least not in view of the info provided.
Necrotic leaf tips & margins ARE a common problem with dracaena, the underlying cause is almost always the result of compromised root function. If we chase the cause just a little further, we'll see that over-watering/inappropriate soil or a high level of soluble salts in the soil from dissolved solids in tap water and fertilizer solutions are to blame, or a combination of both because both are regularly associated with a soil that retains too much water.
Fluoride is a possibility, but there isn't enough fluoride in your drinking water to cause the burned tips/margins unless it has help from a high level of soluble salts, as just discussed. Fluoride is very often forced to shoulder the blame that rightly belongs attached to a high level of solubles in the soil.
Raising the humidity in the room can help to some degree, but misting is ineffectual as a tool for combating the illustrated problem. If you mist, it marginally raises the humidity surrounding the plant for maybe 5-10 minutes. Even if you religiously mist twice daily, that leaves about 23-3/4 hours of each day where the humidity level is what it is. Simply raising the humidity w/o addressing the underlying cause would be much like trying to cure a disease by treating the symptoms.
Sunburn is also very unlikely in the diffused light it's in. About the only way it could be sunburn is if the plant was recently moved from a dim location to direct sun even then, it may not burn because of the shading coefficient of the glass in your window, which only allows something around 70% (or less) of visible light to pass. If it's in direct sun indoors, it should tolerate the light load just fine, but the heat stress on leaves associated with passive solar gain could be a problem, which could be easily fixed with a little air movement.
To grow this plant well & keep it attractive, you simply need a soil that allows you to water thoroughly at will that is, you need to be able to water to beyond the saturation point so you're regularly flushing accumulating dissolved solids (salts) from the soil as you water and you need to be able to do this w/o concern that your soil will remain wet/soggy so long that root rot becomes an issue. Also helpful would be frequent low doses of an appropriate fertilizer. I use Foliage Pro 9-3-6 liquid synthetic fertilizer for practically everything I grow. It's not easy to find in stores, but the reasons for using it are many. If you're interested, I'll go into more detail.
I think the answer to your issue is in your soil and if it's not, it's in your watering habits, which is a good thing because that's the easiest of the fixes. Should we talk about your soil?
Jerin Rightmire · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Brent, got a quick question for you if you don't mind, I just flushed my plant soil with half a gallon of distilled water. Wanted to check to see when you thought I should flush it again or should I just go ahead a use the whole gallon now? Thanks again for your help. You too as well John, I hope this works :)
Gardenality.com · Gardenality Genius · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
If you only flushed it one time go ahead and do it again. From then on, if you use tap water to water the plant, you can do the soil flushing about 1 time a year to remove the salts. Always flush the soil twice when doing it. Next spring you might want to prune the plant back some so it will flush new leaves that won't have the brown tips and which might help to cover some of the ones that do. If the plant is healthy you could cut it back to almost any height and it should rejuvenate itself. Let us know if you need more details or ever have any other questions. Best success with your Dracaena plant!
Jerin Rightmire · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Okay I will give it the rest of the distilled water, I plan on just using that kind of water from here on out to water it because that seems like the logically explanation to the cause of the brown tips, using tap water in Ohio never caused this problem. I am also going to make sure I always let it drain well after each watering I use a clear Britai pitcher to water and only fill it a 1/4 to 1/3 full if that to water and when imtook it off the clay plate today the plate was wet from Monday's watering so I am going to be better with that as well, hopefully these two adjustments will correct the issue.
I will definitely keep you updated.