Dracaenas, better known as dragon trees, have been popular houseplants for some time now.
As indoor plants, they present a wonderful display of foliage that’s sure to please without requiring constant care. That is where a good potting soil mix for Dracaena comes in.
Popular species, such as the dragon tree (Dracaena marginata), lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana), and striped Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans, AKA Dracaena massangeana or Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’), are treasured for their long, often variegated leaves. But these slender leaves will only be at their best when the plant is given the proper soil.
WARNING: Sansevieria Care IS NOT Dracaena Care
As strange as this disclaimer sounds, it simply cannot be stressed enough. A few years back, botanists found genetic similarities between the genera Dracaena and Sansevieria.
The two were immediately merged in at least one popular classification system without considering how different these genera actually were.
Unfortunately, using dracaena care rules to care for a sansevieria can harm or even kill your snake tongue!
This fact has resulted in an ongoing battle between those wishing to adopt the name change and Sansevieria enthusiasts who believe the two genera should remain separate due to their biological differences.
Always use caution and ensure your plant is NOT a sansevieria before using any care guide designed for dracaenas.
The Best Soil For Dracaena
Simply put, dracaenas prefer rich, well-drained soil.
However, it can tolerate a fair range of soil types and even soil-free mixes, which we’ll describe in more detail below.
When you purchase fertilizer, you tend to see an NPK rating, which notes the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium present.
However, a healthy dracaena plant actually needs a range of nutrients to thrive, and good soil will have many or all of these already included.
A lot of guides get this wrong when describing, and the terminology is actually quite important.
Soil contains a mixture of minerals and compost or decomposing plant and animal matter.
Soil pH is calculated on a scale with 10 categories, from extremely acidic (less than 4.5) to extremely alkaline (over 9.1).
Dracaena plants prefer a range of slight acids (6.1- 6.5) or neutral (6.6 to 7.3).
Be wary of sites that describe 5.0 or 5.5 as “slightly acidic.” These levels can harm or kill plants requiring slightly acidic soil.
All dracaena houseplants require the Big Three macronutrients, which are:
- Nitrogen – Essential for healthy green leaves and stems
- Phosphorus – Used mainly for producing blooms, but also helpful in photosynthesis
- Potassium – Necessary for a strong immune system and sturdy stems
These three nutrients will be mainly replenished through fertilizers for indoor plants, but all soil will contain some degree of these nutrients – especially homemade mixes.
Micronutrients are often ignored because they’re not highlighted on fertilizer packages.
However, just like a human multivitamin, any good soil and fertilizer will contain trace amounts of these essential nutrients.
Your dracaena will primarily want small amounts of:
Please note that tap water isn’t a good source for these nutrients, as the calcium, chlorine gas, and other chemicals or mineral salts in tap water aren’t in a form the plant can easily digest, often leading to soil toxicity.
If your dragon tree’s leaves look yellow, your soil may be too dry. Improve water retention by amending the soil with coir or peat moss.
Your average houseplant pests are problematic. That means mealybugs, spider mites, etc.
Choosing A Potting Soil For Dragon Trees
As mentioned, dracaena needs soil with excellent drainage and a fair amount of organic material.
Almost any potting soil mix will work if amended, although an African violet potting mix is often the best choice for tropical plants.
It’s usually a good idea to amend your potting mix with an aggregate, such as perlite, with one part aggregate to two parts soil mix.
Aggregates prevent the soil from compacting, improving oxygenation and water drainage. Specifically, your soil may not be draining efficiently, leading to soggy and rotting roots. Improve drainage by adding perlite, pine fines, or vermiculite.
Repotting in mild temperatures is the best way to avoid this. This gives the plant plenty of time to recover during the time of year when it has the most nutrients and sunlight available.
If working with poorer soil, you may also wish to add some organic material, such as peat moss.
Homemade Potting Mixes
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can make your own soil-free mix.
For dracaenas, the most common mix is a simple ratio of one part organic material, one part aggregate, and one part peat moss. You might also see roots coming out of the drainage holes or out of the top of the soil.
(Make sure the water level is below the bottom edge of the pot so the plant doesn’t suck up too much water.)
Prune your dracaena during the growing season (spring and summer) — use the stem cuttings for propagation.
After pruning, you can root the cut tops to have even more plants to pass along to friends. Simply dip the cut end in a dry-powder rooting hormone and stick it 1″ to 2″ inches down in a small container filled with moist potting mix.
As the water evaporates, the surrounding humidity will increase. When selecting a potting mix, keep in mind that dracaenas love soil that drains well and is rich in organic matter.
However, there are a lot of great ingredients to choose from, so let’s take a moment to cover some of the most popular:
This aggregate helps filter toxins from the soil and provides extra carbon.
Use no more than 5% to 10% percent activated charcoal content in your mix.
This isn’t the sand you’ll find in a sandbox.
Instead, this aggregate is the type of large-grain sand used for concrete and masonry.
As with other aggregates, it prevents soil compacting but is a little less efficient at holding onto water, so try not to make it more than 20% percent of the total mix and use it with moss.
However, it’s a perfect answer to clay soils, which tend to retain too much moisture.
Coco coir is the fiber you find on a coconut shell and is often sold in garden centers as a by-product of processing coconuts commercially.
It improves aeration, retains moisture, and provides plenty of organic material, making it a popular choice for 20% to 30% of homemade potting mixes.
Orchid Bark Or Pine Bark Fines
Orchid bark is perhaps the most popular organic component, and some recipes call for as much as 40% percent of orchid bark content.
Meanwhile, pine bark fines are a byproduct of making pine mulch and are a little less common.
Use sphagnum instead of peat when using the bark fines, as the fines increase acidity, and use no more than 30% percent.
Peat moss is the go-to choice for many growers, as it slightly increases soil acidity while helping to retain moisture without creating a swampy mess.
Use 10 to 20% percent in your mix, depending on what other amendments you’re using.
This popular aggregate made of crushed volcanic rock can help prevent soil compacting and helps retain small amounts of moisture.
Perlite has a neutral pH and tends to be a cheap and easy-to-find option.
Pumice is a great aggregate choice, improving moisture retention in sandy soils while increasing aeration in clay soils.
It also contains some sulfur, a micronutrient that can aid in pest control. Try not to use more than 10% to 15% percent as too much sulfur can give some plants indigestion.
Contrary to the claims of many sites, sphagnum and peat are not the same thing.
Use sphagnum in place of peat to make the soil slightly more neutral.
Another aggregate, this popular alternative to perlite, not only keeps the soil loose and retains a bit of moisture but can also help retain some nutrients.
Use it in the same ratio as you would perlite.
This is literally worm poop and is a byproduct of vermiculture composting.