One of the most popular houseplants in the US, the Madagascar Dragon Tree, also known as the Dracaena Marginata, is a unique, robust species of flora.
Several reasons your Dragon Tree has mottled leaves include malnutrition, watering issues, water quality, disease, pests, and old age.
Each of these issues is explained below, along with some suggestions on how you can reverse the effects.
What are Mottled Leaves?
Mottling is when the leaves of a plant lose chlorophyll, resulting in yellow spots. This yellowing generally starts at the edge of the leaf and moves slowly toward its base.
The leaf begins to droop, and eventually, it will fall off.
Mottled leaves are a severe problem. These affected leaves cannot photosynthesize the sunlight, severely affecting your dragon tree’s health.
If it’s not addressed, the mottling will spread throughout your plant, eventually causing it to die. Of course, since you’ve spent money on your plant, this is the last thing you want to see happen.
Causes of Mottled Leaves in Madagascar Dragon Trees
Despite their resilience, even Dragon Trees have their limits which can lead to mottling. These are as follows.
1. Lack of Nutrients
Most plant owners in the US buy commercially-made fertilizers and potting soils without checking if it is the right fit for their dragon tree.
If the fertilizer is too concentrated or if you use it too often, your plant will suffer the consequences.
Incorrect fertilizer means your plant isn’t getting the proper nutrients, leading to malnutrition, which causes mottling.
The same goes for the potting mix. If it is too fine, there will not be enough drainage which is not suitable for your dragon tree, a type of succulent that prefers drier soil.
When buying fertilizer, look for a water-soluble houseplant blend in liquid form. The nutrient ratio for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) should be 3:1:2.
There should also be manganese, sodium, zinc, iron, and copper.
To apply, half dilute it and use it a couple of times in the spring and summer, which are the growing seasons.
Avoid using fertilizer in the winter, especially if you live in the Snowbelt. The colder weather causes your plant to go dormant.
For potting mix, use sandy or grave textured one that is well aerated. This texture is essential as it provides better drainage when compared to regular garden soil, thus preventing waterlogging and soil compacting.
Your plant’s roots will spread out better and absorb nutrients more efficiently.
For a do-it-yourself soil mix you can make at home, try one part neutral houseplant potting soil (pH 6 – 7) to one part perlite or loam.
2. Watering Issues
Madagascar Dragon Trees have a thicker, trunk-like stem that is perfect for holding water. This trait helps them survive in their drier natural habitat.
However, many plant owners cannot judge how much and how often to water their plants. In either case, watering too much or too little can result in mottling.
Overwatering your Dragon Tree will lead to many problems, from mottling to root rot. Too much water damages the roots, preventing your plant from getting the nutrients it needs, essentially starving it.
These plants do not need to be on a watering schedule. Instead, check the soil manually by inserting your finger at least two inches into the potting mix.
It should be completely dry and fall apart between your fingers, like sand. If there is any clumping, the soil is still moist, and you don’t need to water it.
In most cases, it is better to water your Dragon Tree less, as it is a drought-resistant plant. Studies have shown that a Dracaena Marginata can survive up to thirty days without being watered!
This feature is one of the reasons it is so low-maintenance. However, there is a lower limit.
If a Dragon Tree is in an area with a drier climate, like Arizona, and is not watered for an extended period, it will dehydrate and then start mottling.
As mentioned before, always check the soil and don’t water more than once a week.
3. Poor Water Quality
Dragon Trees do not thrive in an environment high in minerals, and chemicals like chlorine and fluoride are poison for them.
Unfortunately, for many homes in the US, the tap water that flows out is high in all three. So if that’s what you are using to water your Dragon Tree, that may be why its leaves are mottling.
If you are willing to go the extra mile, invest in a watering filtering system to soften your tap water. But if that is too much, another more straightforward solution is to flush the soil out with distilled water.
You have to soak the soil and let it drain out.
Remember to use fertilizer after flushing the potting soil out because this process will remove all the nutrients your plant needs.
4. Wrong Temperature or Humidity
Dragon Trees like a temperature range of 65 °F – 75 °F and at 60% humidity to stay healthy. This may sound too specific for a resilient plant, but remember this is if it is indoors.
In nature, the climate is ever-changing, so they can survive that hot, dry heat because it is usually followed by cooler, humid weather.
Indoors the climate is more uniform. So if you have central air conditioning, it will always be cooler and drier.
If your plant is left in such an environment for too long, it will not be able to cope, and the leaves will start mottling.
If possible, move your plant to a more humid part of your home with adequate ventilation.
Otherwise, you can invest in a humidifier or mist the leaves to increase the water content in the air around the plant.
5. Pest Infestation
Every plant owner’s worst nightmare is a pest infestation. These tiny bugs eat your plant from the inside out and cause those unwanted yellow spots.
The most common ones, such as mealybugs, thrips, spider mites, aphids, and scale, are attracted to wet environments, so beware if you have been overwatering.
The best thing to do is eliminate the pests as quickly as possible. Isolate your plant and prune away the larger infestations.
Follow this by using a natural or chemical insecticide twice a week over your Dragon Tree until the pests are all gone.
If your Dragon Tree is an area that gets excessive direct sunlight, the yellow spots can signify sunburn or scorch. Even though this plant is tropical, it prefers indirect bright light.
Therefore, either move your Dragon Tree away from the window or use a thin, semi-transparent blind to diffuse the light to protect its leaves.
7. Fungus or Bacteria Disease
Dragon Trees can be infected by various fungi and bacteria that lead to mottling leaves. The main culprits are powdery mildew, downy mildew, Alternaria, septoria leaf spot, anthracnose, and bacteria.
All these issues damage your plant and must be dealt with immediately.
No matter the infection, there are three basic steps to restoring your Dragon Tree’s health. These are as follows:
- Isolate your plant to prevent the spread to other plants
- Prune damaged and infected leaves completely using gardening shears disinfected between cuts.
- Treat with natural or chemical fungicides twice a week or until the signs of infection are gone.
Once the signs of infections have cleared, keep your plant in a more suitable environment. Check the temperature, humidity, and air circulation.
Don’t overwater or over fertilizer, as they can encourage fungi and bacteria to grow back.
8. Old Age
Nothing can escape the effects of age, even your dragon tree. As your plant grows more mature and climbs taller, the leaves closer to the bottom are naturally yellow and drop off.
This yellowing is part of its growing process. As these leaves fall, new ones grow from the top, thus increasing your dragon tree’s height.
So if you see yellowing leaves at the bottom and know that your plant is in an optimal environment, then it’s just losing old leaves, nothing to worry about.
The best thing to do is to prune those dying leaves to help encourage new growth above, but you can let them fall on their own.
Seeing mottled leaves on your majestic Dragon Tree can be a sorrowful sight. But now you know why these yellow spots pop up, like lack of nutrients, watering issues, sunburn, pests, disease, and old age.
Many of these issues are avoidable so remember, prevention is the key. If you keep an eye on your plant and stick to a good watering and fertilizer schedule, you should be good to go.
Hopefully, trying one of the solutions suggested here can help restore your plant’s health. Remember, none of these are quick fixes.
All of them will take time to get rid of the mottling. But with some dedication and attention to detail, you should be able to fade that yellowing on your Dragon Tree and bring it back to its striking glory in no time.
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.