Putting your dracaena in bright, indirect light is the most ideal light level for many, if not all, species within this genus. Some species can tolerate lower light conditions, but similar to the snake plant, just because they can tolerate the low light doesn't necessarily mean they do not appreciate brighter conditions. Putting your dracaena in direct sunlight, especially outdoors, will put the plant at risk of sun scorch on its leaves. If the leaves are burned by the bright light, the burn will remain for the life of the leaf. Typically, indoors the windows filter plenty of sunlight so the chance of this happening to a plant on the windowsill is slim to none. If put in an area with too little light, the plant will etiolate. This means the space between the leaves will lengthen and the plant will bend toward the light. This is easily remedied by the addition of a grow light. The grow light does carry similar risks to placing the plant outdoors. Be sure there is sufficient distance between the light and the plant to ensure the leaves will not burn. Every light is different and has different recommendations, however these guidelines are often printed on the box the light comes in. Typically the recommended distance between the plant and the light ranges between 12-17".
Dracaena are very forgiving with watering. They thrive when allowed to dry between the watering, but are tolerant of slight overwatering. Though this is not to say the plant will tolerate constantly wet or moist soils. Before each watering, check the soil to be sure it is dry. Do not simply look or touch the top of the soil, but check the inside the soil, as well. Push your finger in at least to the second knuckle, and if your dracaena is in a larger pot, push your entire finger in. If the soil feels dry, it is time to water. When you water, fully saturate the soil. Some may be afraid that this will cause the plant to be overwatered, however this is simply not the case. Overwatering is the frequency of the water, not the quantity. No matter if you are watering from the top or the bottom, the soil should be entirely saturated before you stop. When watering from the top, this is easily achieved by continuing to add water until excess drains from the holes in the bottom of the pot. If the soil is exceptionally dry, continue adding water for a few seconds to ensure the middle of the soil also becomes saturated. If watering from the bottom, soak the plant in enough water to saturate the pot. This may mean you need to add water to the dish or tray you are soaking in halfway through the watering process. Allow the pot to soak until the soil is moist on the top. This could be minutes or hours, depending on the size of the pot. If the plant is forgotten in the water for a day or two- do not worry! It will be just fine, so long as it is not watered again until the soil has dried properly.
Dracaena can tolerate typical potting soils, even thriving in them! Well draining soil is key, and most potting soils have that aspect down. If you find yourself to be over watering your plants, getting a chunkier mix may be beneficial for you. This will allow the soil to drain and dry faster, due to the air pockets left by the chunky aspects of the soil. Some cactus mixes are also suitable for those who overwater their plants.
Dracaena are very hardy and relatively pest and disease resistant genus. They not only tolerate a variety of conditions, but can also survive fairly heavy attacks from pests. This is not to say that you shouldn't treat the pests as they arise, but more of an assurance that the plant will likely survive if you do not catch the pest before they become numerous.
Browning of Leaf Tips
Brown tips on dracaena are very common. You may even notice them with plants in stores, greenhouses, or plant boutiques. This doesn't mean your plant is dying! Most often, the cause of browning leaf tips is low humidity. While these are not plants that need excess humidity to survive, depending how dry your house is, they may suffer mildly. Increasing the humidity may solve this issue. If not, they were likely caused by underwatering. If you allow your plants to dry too much or too frequently, they do have the possibility of getting brown tips in addition to wilting or flagging. Brown portions of leaves are necrotic and will not heal. If you find them too unsightly, they can be cut off, but be sure to leave a sliver of brown. If you do not, the fresh cut on the leaf will brown off at the end anyway. It is the plant's version of a scab.
Spider mites are a dreaded pest among houseplant enthusiasts. They are notoriously hard to get rid of. All of the 1,200 species of spider mites are easily identified with yellow specks along the leaves, webs, and the tiny spider mites themselves. Webbing doesn't automatically mean spider mites- regular spiders often hide in plants if they find their way into our homes! Spider mites will almost always be in their webs. Looking closely, you will be able to see the tiny spider mites in their webbing. If there are webs, no visible mites, and no yellow pinpricks along the leaves, you may just have a regular spider on your hands. If you confirm spider mites, they are notoriously difficult to treat. Separate this plant from other plants in the area to avoid the transfer of the pests. Use a pesticide labeled for use against spider mites, either systemic or a spray. I suggest systemic due to the nature of the use of this type of pesticide. It essentially makes your plant toxic to the pests to ingest. That way, if you miss spraying some, they will likely perish the next time they go to have a meal of your beloved houseplant. Alternatively, you could use some beneficial insects. They work all the time and do not pose a threat to pets or people. Neoseiulus fallacis, Amblyseiu andersoni, and Neoseilus californicus are all species of predatory mites that prey on multiple species of spider mites. Be sure to keep up with monitoring and treatment if you find spider mites on your plants.
Mealybugs are a white, sap-sucking insect that produces honeydew that sooty mold thrives on. This is to say, if you have one pest, you may have another fungus on your hands, as well, so be sure to nip this one in the bud before they become out of control. They often hide on the underside of leaves and in tight crevices of new growth. They are easily treated with pesticides, an alcohol mixture, or beneficial insects. For more information on how to identify and treat mealybugs, check out the blog post titled Mealybugs and How to Deal with Them.
Sooty mold is easy to treat, however it doesn't usually occur without the presence of a pest. Sooty mold commonly grows on honeydew, the sugary excrement secreted by many plant pests including aphids, scale, and mealybugs. Simply wipe the mold from the leaves and stems and treat with a mild fungicide spray. However, this will likely only be a temporary solution until the pests producing honeydew are treated.
Overall, Dracaena are a very easy beginner plant that will bring a tropical feel to any bright area of the house! They are a bit of a slow grower, so if you are looking to get something to fill a lot of space, it is a good idea to get yourself a larger plant to begin with. Smaller plants will thrive on desks and countertops next to windows or with a grow light for years to come before they outgrow that location.
As always, if you have any worries about your plants or have any questions, please feel free to reach out!