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Image of Dracaena marginata (dragon tree) below. Indoor houseplant.

I recently (about 2 months ago) cut the head off this Dracaena marginata so that I might get two nodes instead of the previously single head. I read online that cutting the head off an already established plant often results in several nodes growing back.

After cutting the head off, over about the course of a month, two nodes sprouted like you see in the picture, but it's been about 2-3 weeks since and only one of the nodes is growing, the other hasn't grown at all. It doesn't look dead to me (no browning or shriveling is apparent) but I don't know what I should do with it.

Thoughts?

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Most of the energy a plant produces via photosynthesis goes to this apical or terminal bud. When those tips are cut off, the energy goes back down the branch to neighboring buds and the rest of the plant.

This is called 'heading' in the pruning world. Heading a shrub means cutting off mostly these powerhouse apical tips causing the energy to be diverted into the entire plant.

Cutting off flowers is similar. Cut off the drainers of energy and that energy goes into making the parent plant stronger, healthier, more disease resistant. More floriferous.

The foliage of the right bud in the picture is vigorous and healthy. It is superseding the other bud. A good thing as you need to continue to promote outside buds, not buds growing into branches or leaves that travel to the center of the plant.

I think I see a new bud at the bottom of the main trunk. You should be getting a new branch there as well.

Cutting the 'head' off a plant is a good way to starve a plant. Shows how robust some plants are. The green leaves make the food the plant has to have for all functions of growth, storage and reproduction. Tip plants only when there is enough photosynthetic growth to take care of the plant. Plants get stressed when they are unable to make the food, the carbohydrates they need to survive. Most plants cut this far back die.

Leave your plant alone for now. Have you applied any fertilizer, a balanced fertilizer? How did your plant look before you cut it's 'head' off? Grins. Make sure your plants gets enough light, enough chemistry to be able to do photosynthesis, has enough leaves or factories to make the energy source for the plant to survive, watered correctly for the plant's needs, and all plants planted in pots need sterilized cheapo potting soil.

Did you put rocks beneath the soil and above the drain hole? All pots need drain holes and just plain sterilized potting soil. No rocks or gravel below the soil.

I just now also noticed another bud coming straight at the camera between the other two buds. If there isn't enough light or chemistry to support more growth more growth won't happen.

This plant is still alive! Be happy. Tell us more about the environment, the soil (is this potting soil, sterilized potting soil or not), your watering habits, why did you cut off the leaves of this plant in the first place, were they not healthy looking? What have you added for fertilizer? How much light is your plant getting? Do you happen to have a covered porch or patio? Where on this planet do you live?

The other kind of pruning is called thinning. This is to maintain the natural form of a plant, enhance air flow, reduce fungal disease.

  • I repotted the original plant because the roots were coming out the bottom of the container. A week after repotting, I cut the head off, rooted it in tap water and planted it in a container. The head is about 1.5 feet tall. I got the soil from my raised vegetable beds outside w/some compost. I live in northeastern Kansas. The bud you see in between the two others had been competing with the other two, but it never sprouted and I don't expect it to. The bud at the bottom of the trunk has been there for longer than a year. I am keeping the soil mostly dry, this pot lacks a drainage hole. Thanks! – ahmad Aug 5 '18 at 15:06
  • @aakkam22 First project for you is to get another pot with drainage holes. You might be able to drill holes in this one (at least 1" in diameter). Your plant isn't photosynthesizing meaning it is not able to make food for itself, for processes such as growing more photosynthetic top growth to be able to make carbohydrates for energy. Your plant is starving and using stored energy in its roots right now. It most certainly wants to survive and it needs leaves to do that. Rooting in tap water makes 'water roots' not roots meant for soil. Where is that head anyway? This is the bottom, yes? – stormy Aug 5 '18 at 20:01
  • This is the bottom, yes. I will look for another pot but I've been afraid to transplant it so as not to stress the plant in this delicate stage. Is it a good idea now or just hold off a bit more? When will the plant restart photosynthesis? Meanwhile here are two headshots :) imgur.com/a/1xq7ue8 The head has been struggling ever since I potted it, you can see at the very top the new growth is slumping, but it's getting better. Been about a month since I potted it. roots were about half a centimeter long. Should I find a smaller pot? This is the smallest I could get. – ahmad Aug 6 '18 at 1:18
  • Amazing. This 'head' of your plant looks absolutely wonderful. Just leave them be for now. The next transplanting will be into sterilized potting soil? What have you used for fertilizer? – stormy Aug 6 '18 at 2:37
  • I've never fertilized this plant before. I have an "all purpose fertilizer" it's blue and dissolves in water, says miracle-grow by scotts. I bought it years ago when I started growing vegetables but then stopped using it as I transitioned away from chemicals. Now I use organic fertilizer for my vegetables, it's in pellet form, says 4% N, 1% phosphates and 2% potash. I don't know if that's suitable for a houseplant especially a small one like mine. The soil in both pots has some compost mixed in though. – ahmad Aug 6 '18 at 11:53
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The trunk of your plant is bent and the upper bud exercises apical dominance. I would try to use some tutors to straighten the trunk so the two buds would reach a symetrical position relative to the stem, otherwise the big one would continue to grow faster.

Another option is to let the trunk like it is now and promote the growth of a third bud on the opposite side of the small one. I see a small bump that may be an emerging bud.

  • The trunk has been crooked since as long as I can remember. This plant originally is about 20 years old, it used to be close to 6 feet tall! I cut the head off that plant a few years ago, planted it, and that's what this plant is now. I guess I'm repeating the process again now. – ahmad Aug 5 '18 at 15:35
  • For the second option, how can you promote the dormant (third) bud? – benn Aug 5 '18 at 17:50
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    Grins! This plant will always has always had crooked trunks. Part of its beauty. One vigorously growing bud is a GOOD thing after what your plant has been through. There is a rule about pruning or cutting off top growth of a plant; remove no more than 1/3 at a time. You chopped this sucker down a lot more than that and for it to still be living is a good good sign. Do not mess with stressing this plant any more right now. It needs a new pot with drainage and sterilized potting soil and then a bit of balanced fertilizer. Those nodes will grow when the plant is able to support new growth. – stormy Aug 5 '18 at 20:15
  • +1 stormy, this plant has never straightened out but I love how it looks that way! – ahmad Aug 6 '18 at 1:22

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