Dracaena Marginata – help! Is my soil too salty?

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    Hello! This is my first time on a gardening forum, and I’m hoping to get some help. 🙂 I have a dracaena marginata whose leaves are yellowing and dropping, and whose tips are browning as well. At first I thought it might be normal lower-leaf shedding, but we’re way past that now. I read the article on this site about dracaena with yellowing leaves and it led me to consider it might be a case of root rot, and possibly a salt in the soil issue as well. (Our water isn’t fluoridated here in Portland, OR, so it’s not a fluoride issue.) We just uprooted her and the roots look good! The soil was ever-so-slightly moist and there was no rotting smell. The soil, which is a mix of what it was potted in when we bought it + the organic potting soil the plant shop recommended to us, looks like it might be salty — I had half a mind to taste it, but held myself back.

    So, a few questions:

    • Do the roots also look good to you? (picture below)
    • How do you know if there are (too many) salts in the soil without tasting it?  😆
    • Does this look like a watering problem? (I went from watering once a week to spacing it out to about once every two weeks — I’ve also been misting the leaves)
    • The cane is not soft (not a question, just more helpful info coming to mind)
    • If the brown tips are salt related, what’s up with the yellowing leaves?

    Since the leaves have been dropping like crazy since we got it three months or so ago, we’ve moved the dracaena to a brighter room and have adjusted the watering schedule. Since the roots look good (I think), is the next move to try a better soil mixture and be sure we’ve got a serious drainage system going on in there (rocks at the bottom of the pot sort of situation)? It seems like maybe I’ve researched and thought this through to the answers, but I’m looking for some extra insight and validation, or someone to tell me I’m thinking in the wrong direction altogether! This plant wasn’t cheap and she’s beautiful! I want to save her. Help? Thank you!


    Dracaena Marginata.  Dracaena Roots

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    Dear @Elizabeth – Gaspard here, from Nature & Garden. I wanted to apologize because I just realized your post was pending for some obscure technical reason… It’s been nearly a month you’ve patiently been waiting for an answer that would have never come! I think I solved the issue now, so your post finally appears on the forum.

    About your dracaena, it does indeed still look relatively healthy as per your month-old pictures, but it’s true that there’s something to do to make sure it thrives.

    • better light: you’re on the right track! there can never be too much for this particular plant
    • misting leaves: excellent. the more, the merrier

    For the “salts” in the water, what’s meant by this isn’t usually the “salt” as in the salty sea or table salt. It’s more about excess calcium from “hard” water. That’s the kind of grime you need to use vinegar to remove when you’re cleaning up the sink and faucets. Vinegar dissolves calcium deposits. In naturally chalky soil, soil experts test whether there’s lots of calcium by dripping vinegar on a strata of soil: if it starts fizzing, it’s very chalky.

    Much of our tap water is often hard and contains calcium. When you water plants with tap water, the calcium is left behind in the soil and accumulates. You can try to test whether the soil has accumulated lots of calcium by dripping a few drops of vinegar in a spoonful of soil. Judging by the pictures you shared, this probably isn’t the case. Usually it takes a year or two to build up significantly. On older houseplants watered with tap water, the soil surface starts getting yellow-white crusts, that’s the build-up.

    In any case, it’s really important to try and water with rainwater (soft water without any “minerals and salts”) as much as you can. For outdoor plants, tap water is fine because rainwater washes excess minerals out, but houseplants don’t often get cleansing rains…. roofs are good!

    What I suspect may actually be causing the yellowing:

    • first of all, plants get IDEAL growing conditions in nurseries and garden stores: perfect water, perfect air moisture, even artificial lighting… so basically just leaving the store is already a downgrade, leading to the plant readjusting and losing its least efficient leaves.
    • More importantly, I do think you need to make drainage possible. What D. marginata likes is a good drenching followed by all excess water trickling away. I think the pot you used isn’t actually a plant pot: it’s a plant pot cover. Ideally, you’d plant the stem and roots in that very adequate soil you already have inside a plastic pot that has drainage holes. Choose the size so that this plastic pot fits inside your lovely white pot holder. When you water, pull the whole plant-in-plastic-pot out of the pot holder, dunk it in a bucket of rainwater (at room temperature to avoid giving the plant a temperature shock) for about 10 minutes. Then lift it out of the pail, let all the extra water drain out, and when it has stopped dripping you can put it back in the pot holder. Having a few marbles or gravel under the plastic pot makes sure any extra water doesn’t stagnate around the roots.
    • It’s still in excellent health, though, and the roots show no sign of root rot.

    I’m really sorry for the technical glitch that made your post wander around in the limbo of lost computer code! I trust you may have already found good answers elsewhere – that’s also swell, and I hope my answer complements their responses, too!

    All the best

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