The corn plant (D. fragrans) has lovely striped leaves. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
A greenhouse bench loaded with D. indivisa greets customers to most greenhouses in the spring. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Newer varieties of D. fragrans are being developed. This one has striking white markings on its green leaves.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
This small D. marginata will eventually grow into a tall “dragon tree”; until it does, it can be displayed as a table top plant. (Albert Parsons/For the Sun) (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
The dracaena plant family is huge and includes plants that we use both in our outdoor gardens and to grace our indoor landscapes. These tough, versatile plants are useful and low maintenance, making them popular with indoor gardeners and outdoor gardeners alike.
While most gardeners are familiar with the dracaena spikes used in outdoor landscapes, particularly in containers (Dracaena indivisa), fewer are aware of the wide variety of dracaenas that are used in indoor spaces.
Quite a number of these plants go unnoticed or taken for granted in public spaces like offices and malls where they add greenery highlights to large indoor spaces.
Probably the best recognized indoor dracaena is the corn plant (Dracaena fragrans), which has long narrow leaves that have interesting striping of various shades of green and yellow. The leaves are not erect; they tend to hang down from the stems, much like the leaves do on corn plants in our vegetable gardens — thus its common name.
Sometimes the leaves are slightly wavy, which adds even more interest to the plant. Corn plants are usually potted in threes — there will be three stalks in the pot, all different heights.
Corn plants like even moisture and high humidity, as do all dracaenas. Lacking either, the leaf tips will turn brown and brown markings might even appear on the leaf surfaces themselves.
Keep the planting medium of a corn plant evenly moist and do not allow it to dry out. In a dry-air environment, the plant will appreciate being misted but at the very least, set the pot on a pebble tray and have other plants nearby to add moisture to the surrounding air.
A corn plant might gradually get more and more brown-tipped leaves and when they begin to detract too much from the beauty of the plant, you can cut it back.
New taps or heads will emerge from the leaf axils below the cut-off points to form new stems — if you wish to start a new plants with the tops of the stems you remove, simply plant them in dampened soilless mix.
Corn plants, like all dracaenas, like heat — they are originally from tropical Africa. They become almost dormant when subjected to temperatures much below 20 C. Do not locate any dracaena near a cold window during the winter or near a doorway where it will have drafts of cold air waft past it.
Water all dracaenas with pure water, as they are sensitive to fluoride and chlorine. They also are sensitive to salt buildup in the soil, so flush the soil periodically, and fertilize with very low applications, as dracaenas burn easily from too much fertilizer.
Another kind of dracaena is the Madagascar dragon tree (D. marginata), which has reddish-purple leaves. The dragon tree is an interesting architectural plant to work into an interior landscape and both it and the corn plant are commonly used in offices and other public spaces because of their tolerance for low light levels.
‘Janet Craig’ dracaena (D. deremesis) is a large green type of dracaena that has wider leaves than many other dracaenas. It also adds a sense of form to the interior landscape; there is a miniature variety that serves well as a tabletop plant.
Most dracaenas are used as floor plants, but of course, all dracaenas start off as small plants, and any of them can be displayed on tables and shelves while they are small. Under-potting them will ensure that they grow slowly to extend the time they can be displayed this way.
All dracaenas grown indoors need to have their leaves cleaned regularly — usually by wiping them with a soft, damp cloth. This not only removes dust but also any insects that are attempting to set up shop. An occasional shower will also aid in deterring insects.
Although most dracaenas will be happy in bright light — the outdoor ones can be grown in full sun — the dragon tree and corn plant, as well as the deremesis types, will all tolerate quite low light levels, which make them ideal plants to use in our homes to fill in dark corners and other low-light locations.
Whether you choose a plain green ‘Janet Craig’, a corn plant with yellow markings, or a dragon tree sporting reddish foliage, a dracaena will add both colour and form to your interior landscape.
Keep your eye open for some small starter plants at your local garden centres and pick one up if you get the chance.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 13, 2014