The Dracena Is Dead. Long Live the Dracena

The slender stalks of a dracena marginata growing too talk for their living room setting. Photo by Barbara Newhall

One of the stalks of our dracena marginata got way too tall and was curling painfully around itself on our living room ceiling. Photos by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I did it. I cut the dracena marginata growing wild in our living room down to size.

One of its stalks was eight feet tall. It had hit the ceiling of our living room months ago and, stymied, had proceeded to grow around and around itself in painful contortions. It hurt to look at that plant. But the thought of cutting off the stalk and throwing it into the compost bin was to me even more painful.

My Minnesota gardener friend came to the rescue with this advice: “Be brave, cut it off at an angle about 4-6 inches up from the soil. Pretend you are giving it a much needed haircut. New shoots will grow from that. The plant will thank you.”

As for the cut-off stalk, she said, “You can take the part of the stalk with leaves still on it, cut it off from the main stalk at an angle and let it root in water. When roots form, plant it back in pot.”

Armed with that advice and a steak knife from the kitchen, I proceeded to give the dracena a haircut. Here’s what happened next:

Homeowner attempts to cut the stalk of an overgrown dracena marginata with a steak knife. Photo by Barbara Newhall

On the advice of my Minnesota gardener friend, I proceeded to cut the stalk back. A steak knife from the kitchen didn’t cut it. This plant was way tougher than I thought.

Homeowner attempts to cut the stalk of an overgrown dracena marginata with a bread knife. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Bread knife didn’t work either.

Homeowner attempts to cut the stalk of an overgrown dracena marginata with a butcher knife. Photo by Barbara Newhall

And neither did this butcher knife. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Homeowner suceeds in cutting the stalk of an overgrown dracena marginata with aHomeowner attempts to cut the stalk of an overgrown dracena marginata with a pruning saw. Photo by Barbara Newhall.

I went up to the garage and found an old pruning saw.

Homeowner succeeds in removing eight-foot stalk from an overgrown dracena marginata plant. Photo by Barbara Newhall

That worked.

Stalk of overgrown dracena marginata cut back -- on an angle -- so that the stalk can grow new leaves. Photo by Barbara Newhall

As my Minnesota gardener friend advised, I cut the stalk off on an angle.

The too-tall stalk of a dracena marginata was cut off and now stands beside the potted plant.  Photo by Barbara Newhall

The too-tall stalk.

A cutting from a pruned dracena marginata placed in water to grow roots. Photo by Barbara Newhall

And its cut-off top, now in water.

Barbara Falconer Newhall uses sawed off stalk of dracena marginata houseplant as a sculpture in her living room. Photo by Barbara Newhall

But what to do with the over-sized stalk? Too beautiful to be thrown into the compost, it found a place in our dining room on a wall next to another work of art — a plate by ceramic artist Nancy Selvin. Photos by Barbara Newhall



  1. wait, is it actually dead? the title is throwing me off. if that long piece is still alive you might try rooting it in water as well in as many pieces as you feel like rooting. the angle on rooting pieces is to open the veins of the plant so it can drink water, otherwise the veins may seal themselves shut before roots can form, as for the left over part that remains in the pot i’m not totally sure but i’m guessing it helps it dry out faster to prevent mold. i have cut some dracenas straight before and they contain so much water that they can easily start to mold from the inside if they aren’t sealed with paint or tar etc.

    to see if the long piece is alive, scratch the skin a little, if it’s green underneath, that means it’s alive and may grow. (it might even start growing without being in water in your dining room if it contains enough water to keep it alive long enough). if you want to chop it up and root several pieces, cut the bottom of each one at a 45 degree angle and stick it into water while it’s fresh. if you cut the bottom and find the center is all dried out or rotten, cut again until it looks like it’s solid healthy flesh, then stick that in the water. leave no material which might decay. be sure to flush out the container in which you are attempting to root in water once in a while. it’s good to get a nice fresh batch of water sometimes.

    ideally, to encourage a plant to sprout new branches after being cut (as opposed to dying) it’s good to leave a few leaves on the stem in order that it may draw water from the roots. with no leaves the plant loses it’s ability to draw water from the roots (or the bottom end) and goes into a prolonged stasis in which it very slowly might possibly start some fresh growth if it doesn’t die first. if the plant is in soil, the soil can rot due to being wet too long, but if you stick a cutting in water, there’s no soil to rot and the exposed innards of the plant are not exposed to air so they don’t get moldy so it works out pretty good. no soil generally = no root rot. add a little vitamin b1 to the water to encourage root growth.

    back to the stump. in this case, since you have 2 other plants in the pot with the stump, those two should continue to drink the water and will keep lil’choppy from being water logged and rotten as long as you stick more or less to your normal watering routine.

    • Keith, this is great advice. I gave up on the cutting after putting it in water and watching it rot. Sad. But I still l have the long — about four feet — cane piece that I saved. It’s probably dead, but it leans against the wall in my living room quite decoratively.

  2. James Bouse says:

    I hope that all goes well with your plant. I know how we can become attached.

  3. Oh, this is just GREAT! Gave me courage to do something similar. Maybe I’ll start with the pruning saw!

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