Q • My dracaena plant has grown almost to the roof and has now started to bend over and is growing down. It has all green leaves mostly just near the top, and the stem is woody and bare. Can I cut it back? Please let me know because I didn’t know that a cactus could get this tall. There are several species of dracaena and many cultivars, but the most popular of the tall, or cane type, dracaenas are the corn plant (Dracaena fragrans), the dragon tree (Dracaena draco) and the marginata (Dracaena marginata). They are frequently grown as houseplants and in shopping malls, and all share in common the habit of eventually growing through the ceiling, if allowed to do so.
If you choose, your dracaena can be cut back and will eventually sprout out again from a point just at, or slightly below, the cut. The horizontal ridges on the stem mark the scars where leaves used to grow, and at each ridge there is a dormant bud that normally only starts to grow again if everything above it is pruned off. So the net effect is that you could cut your plant back to just a few inches above the soil line if you wish, and the plant will resprout in a few weeks, as the roots are still alive. This may seem drastic, but it eventually produces a plant with balanced proportions.
The alternative is to prune it at a higher point on the stem — it’s your call. More than one shoot may eventually develop from the cut, and branching may sometimes result. Such dramatic pruning is best done to coincide with the start of the growing season in early spring. Doing so now — as the days are getting shorter as we move toward winter — means a slower recovery time, and a dracaena without much foliage during winter is vulnerable to loss from overwatering.
If your goal is to reproduce cuttings from this plant, they can be made from the tips of the stems you remove, from air layering and from cuttings made from pieces of the bare stem or “cane” cuttings. Find additional information on propagating dracaena at tinyurl.com/mponekm.
Write to Chip Tynan of the Missouri Botanical Garden at email@example.com or Horticultural Answer Service, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, 63110.