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I bought my Massangeana (Dracaena fragens) 15 months ago, and he's be doing really well. Started off with a few burnt ends, but I switched to filtered water and he was good again.

In the last couple of weeks I've noticed some leaves have suddenly turned yellow. I'm not sure if this is root rot or something less serious.

I've tested the trunk of the plant with a finger nail and it's still firm (not mushy, the bark doesn't scrap off either). Also, I've tried pulling gently on the yellow leaves and they're not falling away. They're very limp compared to the green leaves, but they're not falling off.

This plant is particularly personal to me and I'm desperate to save it. If it is root rot, I'm under the impression the plant is pretty much done for, but I wonder if there's a chance I can grow a new plant from cuttings? Or equally, does this plant really look and sound like it's got root rot (pictures below)?

Really hoping someone can help me.

Thank you so much in advance.

Click to enlarge
Yellow leaves Yellow stem

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Hi Remy, I have a suggestion: Would you be willing to split the last part of your question (whether it can be propagated from cuttings) into a new one? I ask this because we've run out of tags for this one (only 5 allowed), and the main focus is about the diagnosis. If it were its own question, it'll be easier to search under the appropriate tags. Also, someone who doesn't necessarily know the reason for the yellowing can answer that question. –  Lorem Ipsum Dec 2 '11 at 16:09
    
@yoda - sure, so separate out the question about propagating then? –  Remy Sharp Dec 4 '11 at 20:29
    
Yes, that would be very nice. Thank you :) –  Lorem Ipsum Dec 5 '11 at 4:01
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1 Answer

Could be two things:

Spider mites like Dracena Massangea that are located in dry conditions like the inside of your home or an office. (Dry is relative humidity < 40% for tropicals). They can be easily detected by examining the underside of the leaf in good light. You could see small white specks. A magnifying glass will allow a definitive diagnosis. Severe cases have webs usually located in the axils of the newest growth.

A solution of dish soap and water applied by running a cloth over the underside of all the leaves at about 6 day intervals for 3 or 4 repetitions should control or eliminate them.

The most common cause is overwatering and consequent root rot. This does not look like the case here.

EDIT Root rot starts from the soil and works upward. New stalks can continue to look green for a while until the last of the available water is used. The final symptom is often papery dry leaves at the point of newest growth. A good test for root rot is to grip the trunk and see if it the bark is firm or has softer hollow areas that run vertically. As root rot progress vertical sections of the trunk stop moving water up.

However the last cause is competition amongst the trunks. These trees are usually grown in Costa Rica then cut down with chain saws and shipped like logs to Florida for finishing. The smaller trunks can be out competed by the larger ones. Here, the only solution is to move the plant to a sunnier location and rotate the pot once a week to ensure even lighting.

Your last question is about rooting cuttings. This is ridiculously easy for a healthy plant in good light. Cut a section of new stalk off that has at least 3 or 4 inches of bare stem and place in water in good light.

A plant with rot or mites is not going to have cuttings that do much better so you need to diagnose the primary issue first before taking cuttings.

In my ten years as an interior landscaper I noticed the most long lived massangea were the ones planted in a clay soil. This is totally contrary to what you would expect but an interesting idea if you have clay soil and a healthy plant. The dangers of microbes and "bugs" in soil from outside are exaggerated in my opinion.

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I've cut off all the yellow leaves to see if other leaves are going yellow. I cut a small stem off, and the stem wasn't mushy, but it was 100% hard - is that normal (i.e. if it's not root rot). Also, I'm seeing new (healthy) growth - would that happen with root rot? –  Remy Sharp Dec 4 '11 at 20:29
    
See my edit above and check for mites, if in doubt use soap and water anyway –  kevinsky Dec 5 '11 at 2:51
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