What would you do if you had a Dracaena that was hitting the ceiling, like this plant?

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I asked you yesterday to let me know. The dilemma was originally posed by a reader of mine, and she and I had a back-and-forth dialogue about what she should do.

Let’s look at your responses first, then I’ll show you what I wrote to her.

Here are your responses:

Alissa wrote, “I don’t have advice to leave for this, but I sure am interested in the responses!! I love dracaenas!! I sure hope mine reaches the ceiling one day :) .”

She added, “Also, I love that you’re doing this plant problem Q & A in your blogs now!! I’m very excited about it.”

Thanks Alissa! I’m glad you are excited!

Jason from Gardeninacity wrote, “Um, cut a hole in the ceiling?”

Haha, that’s a good idea, unless she lives in an apartment!

Martha from Plowing Through Life wrote, “That is a big, beautiful plant! It’s certainly happy with the care it has received.

As for my advice, well, I’d likely go with air layering. Here is a link to a video on YouTube that shows how to do it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSSgG3stxQY

And here is a link to an article about the process: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants/propagation_airlayer.cfm

Excellent advice, Martha.

Ginny, Optician to the Stars, wrote, “I think I remember from a previous post of yours that you can just lop off the top (18-24 inches) and repot it without having to root it. I tried that with mine and it worked perfectly. As for the rest of the plant, I don’t know. Maybe cut it way back (maybe 24″ from the soil) and hope for the best? My dracenas have always put out new growth when I prune them.

I think one of the biggest problems is that the pot is too heavy for her to move. If she cuts it back to 24″ she should be able to shift it to a smaller pot. Then she could add fresh soil to the giant pot and put all the shorter cuttings in it to root.”

Also excellent, Ginny.

Kim wrote, “If she or he cut off one of the branches and planted it, the main plant would look lopsided. I think she or he should leave it alone and maybe thin out some of those leaves. My Dracaena looks almost like a palm tree now since I am always ripping off the leaves when they turn brown on the ends. But yeah, I’m going to say thin out some of those leaves with the brown tips to make it more manageable, even though its not answering the main question the person had!”

Interesting, Kim. The plant is already somewhat lopsided, as the lady had to prop it up against the wall. But thinning the leaves is not a bad idea.

So, here’s how I actually responded to her:

>>>>Wow, that’s one of the prettiest houseplants I’ve ever seen! You must be a natural.

Hey, I’m really sorry you lost your house, that’s so hard! I’ve never heard about a Dracaena being considered lucky, but I can see that yours is well loved. That can be a hint of your future – more love.

It looks to me like you have one main trunk, which breaks off into two stalks, each reaching the ceiling. What I would recommend is cutting one of them, down at its base, as close as you can get it to the main trunk. The cut stalk doesn’t need to root or anything – you can stick into the same pot, or start a new plant. You can let it sit out a day or two to scar, but it’s not necessary.

You would still have one stalk touching the ceiling. I’d leave that alone. The place where you made the cut will send out new shoots. You want those shoots to grow and mature before you’d think about cutting the other stalk.

Does that make sense? You should photograph before and after pics so you can see how much the plant changes!
Liza

She wrote back:

>>>>

Dear Liza,

Thanks SOoo much for thatJ  Now I just need the courage to do it!!

I shall get a pot for the one I will cut off.  Do I pull off some leaves at the bottom, so it goes in  the soil as a stalk?

How far into the soil so that it is stable – is 20cm okay or too much or perhaps doesn’t matter? (I so have NOoo idea!!)

Okay… I promise to send you a photo of my efforts and an update – once it is “happy” and still feeling loved again.

>>>>>

Then I wrote her back:

I know, it’s scary to cut something that big and healthy. Remember, you don’t have to do anything. You could just wait and see what happens when the plant finally hits the ceiling. It may be forced to send shoots outward, or those top leaves may bend. But hitting the ceiling certainly won’t kill the plant!

One reason to only cut one stalk is to take a little of the fear away because you’ll still have one stalk that reaches the ceiling.

Yes, I would trim some of those lower, older leaves before putting the cut stalk into dirt. I’m not good with metrics – how much is 20 cm??? It’s probably going to be pretty heavy, so you may need a pole or stick to help it stand up on its own.

If you don’t want to buy a new pot, you can plant the cut piece back into the original container, which would create a wider plant. Once it’s established, and there’s new growth from where the cut was made, you could cut the remaining stalk and put that one in a new container. It just depends on how many plants you want, how tall and/or bushy you want it.

If you do put the cut stalk back into the original container, you could lean it on the main trunk so it can stand on its own. You don’t want to plant it too deep in any container because it won’t have roots yet. For the few weeks after its planted, you should water just around the base of the stalk to encourage root growth (you can use a root stimulator, too). If the stalk is way down deep in the pot, you’re going to have a tough time promoting roots at the bottom.

One thing about pruning. Dracaenas are very forgiving. When they’re sold to nurseries, they arrive as just one big long trunk, which is then cut into varying sizes and put in pots. Three or four shoots pop out wherever a cut is made. They’re quite reliable. It seems scary to cut them, but don’t let fear stop you from at least experimenting – you’re not going to cut the whole plant down at once! Cut part of it and see what happens.

Lemme know how it goes!

Liza

>>>>

I never heard back from her about how her plant fared. But Dracaenas really are very forgiving.

Dracaenas will grow wherever you cut them. You can literally cut the stems into a hundred pieces and make new plants if you want to. I wanted to her confidence to grow, which I is why I suggested making the pruning a process rather than a destination.

Ginny, you nailed it – you remembered that I have talked about Dracaenas before, and correctly guessed my response. Martha, I wish I had thought to recommend air layering, because that would’ve worked as well. Everyone, thank you for your input.

I’d love to hear what you think. Was that fun? Was it helpful? Did you think my advice was way off base or a good recommendation? Have you had a plant hit the ceiling before, and if so, what did you do?

I’ll be back tomorrow with some puzzler action. Hope to see you back here.

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