Caring for Dracaena Compacta Janet Craig

Meet the Shapely Proper Compacta

Dracaena Compacta is among Dracaena that are widely used as houseplants. This plant is highly distinguishable from most other interior Dracaena, having a green stem and very tightly compacted clumping leaves that are only 2 to 4 inches in length from the base of the cane. It has a very distinct shapely look that is very popular in contemporary designs similarly to Pleo Reflexa.

Dracaena are generally slow growing indoor plants, Compacta is possibly the slowest growing of common indoor Dracaena. Due to this very slow growth these speciamens are slow to change. This plant is also one of the most expensive indoor Dracaena.

Frequently found to be a bit more difficult to care for than some of the other Dracaena like; Mass Cane, Lisa, Warnekii, Rikki, and Reflexa. It seems that the difficulty is compounded by the added delay in reaction to trauma.

For better potential success with a Compacta, a better understanding is a must.

Finding a Space

Compacta is often touted as being a low light tolerant plant, but experience has shown that the degree of tolerance lower light is not much, it is best to stay within the range the low end of moderate light for best results indoors. Productivity can slow to a near stall for a Compacta in low light, watering must be adjusted to match the condition.

In low light it will begin to loose foliage from the bottom to the top. A common problem is brown tipped leaves that can frequently appear in mass quatities, if too many of these leaves are removed at once the cane is often found to shrivel where the leaves are removed, and the remaining foliage head becomes top heavy and tips over. Symptoms such as these are typically attributed to over watering but Compacta are prone to exhibit these symptoms as side effects of acclimation.

High indoor light is acceptable for Compacta. In high light Compacta will use water at a more regular rate, so it may dry out over a weeks time and need watering as frequently as once a week.


Native Habitat Southeast Africa


Watering Compacta can be a challenge since it is most often potted in lava rock, and has incredibly slow productivity.

Lava rock is a difficult soil medium for checking moisture, when watered the water rushes through to the liner. If Lava rock is the soil medium it is often best to put your plant on a watering schedule. For a Compacta in moderate light conditions watering every other week, just to the point that water starts to trickle into the liner should be sufficient. In higher light increase the frequency, in lower light decrease the frequency and or amount.

The very slow productivity of this plant makes it very slow to show symptoms of over or under watering. For example when brown tips are produced the initial over watering damage that caused it may have occurred several weeks prior to the display of the symptoms. Paying attention, remembering any changes in environment, and keeping track of water application from week to week are most helpful to identifying issues and making sure to avoid over correction for a past issue that has recently shown its effects.

In general Compacta is a houseplant that can be described as doing best when kept on the dryer end of the water spectrum, however it does well with a consistent watering schedule. Feast or famine watering is not a great choice for Compacta. Use more of a regular distribution, limited portion control mentality when watering Compacta for best results.

Like most cane Dracaena the reactions of particular cane's can be very telling in regard to watering anomalies. Different canes have roots at different levels and their reactions will indicate different watering issues in detail. Check the link to the right for more information about the internal potting structure of Dracaena Cane's, and how to use the individual cane reactions to troubleshoot watering issues.

Remember to distribute water evenly across the soil surface when watering.

Dracaena Compacta & Mealy Bug

The most common houseplant pest found on Compacta is the Mealy Bug. These little white linty looking bugs love to live nestled down in the foliage crowns.

The best treatment for Mealy Bug is to hand wipe the visible bugs off with a baby wipe or wet paper towel. In extreme cases the new growth crown can be cut out to remove the bugs nestled deep inside. The crowns will regrow, and will often sprout multiple crowns in place, but since this is a slow growing plant regeneration of new growth can take a significant amount of time.

For more information on identifying and treating Mealy Bug check the link to the right.

General Maintenance Tips

There are some very common issues associated with Compacta that should be tended to regularly.

  • Yellow Leaves or full brown leaves should be completely removed. This is commonly a symptom of under watering at some point.
  • Brown crunchy, or yellow leaf tips are one of the most prevalent issues. The tips can be trimmed back to the green area of the leaf if needed, or if it is severe enough the entire leaf can be removed. If this problem becomes persistent and severe there is either an issue of over watering or inadequate.
  • No need to fertilize in most interior situations. Even in high light it is rare to find a Compacta that is active enough indoors to process nutrients sufficiently from the soil, adding nutrient will most likely cause leaf spots and chemical burn. Even more rare is to find that this plant has been active enough and lasted long enough to have used it's pots nutrients
  • Remove dead canes if they are to die out.
  • Rotate to maintain balance and distribute light evenly around the entire plant.
  • Dust your plant to keep it looking green and shiny.Start from the top and go down the foliage with a duster, a bit of detailed dusting may be needed to get into the tight leaf bases.

Given the proper attention and living space Compacta can make for an interesting and visually striking houseplant.

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Questions & Comments Welcome! 11 comments

Christopher 2 years ago

I bought a dracaena compacta that was potted with lava rocks. How do I repot the plant to a new pot? Do I keep the lava rocks? Use potting soil only? Or both?

thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 2 years ago from Utah Author

You can repot it with the lava rock, which is a common soil medium for a Compacta. Add in more lava rock if you can find it, or it is fine to mix in soil with the existing lava rock. I would recommend that if you use soil find an indoor cactus soil, regular potting soil can often retain too much moisture for a Compacta. Most importantly, before repotting evaluate if that is really necessary. Repotting can be very stressful on house plants, especially new ones. If it's a matter of the look of a container there are some options other than repotting. Hope this helps, Thanks Christopher!

hellon 17 months ago

I have seen a lot of Mass Dracaena Cane plants in business and in churches that their leaves are pretty and very shinny. Someone told me to use mayo. I don't have a green thumb but I never heard that before till now, is that true or is there another way to make the leaves look nice instead of dusty looking.

thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 17 months ago from Utah Author

Hellon, I would recommended using a non aerosol leaf shine to achieve the look you have mentioned. There are many aerosol leaf shine products but I have found them to be too thick leaving a thick film, the non aerosol tend to leave a cleaner more natural shine. Simply cleaning your plants leaves with a light mixture of dish soap and warm water can also work wonders for it's appearance, and help defend against pests and disease. I have never used mayo as a shine product, and my basic instinct leads my thoughts to potential food born bacteria, so this is something I personally would avoid.

Stephen 8 months ago

My dracaena compact is long its leaves, and only has clump at the topmof each stalk. is this normal?I water it once a week.

thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 8 months ago from Utah Author

Stephen, I am assuming you are asking about lost foliage in your comment. What you have described does not sound like a healthy plant. It would be my guess that your plant has lost foliage due to low light conditions especially if you have witnessed the leaves turning mosiac yellow all over before falling off. If you have seen purple colored leaves before they have fallen off some the plant may have been exposed to cold. Compacta are a very slow processing plant, so I would also venture to guess that watering once a week may be too much, make sure the soil or lava rock dries out before watering again.

jan 5 months ago

My dracaena compacta is quite tall and top heavy...I have had to pull a number of brown crunchy leaves off of the stalk. How do I cut this back to a more manageable height? I have bamboo stakes around it now. Can I root any of the stem that I cut off? I thought the dead, crunchy, brown leaves was a soil infestation problem...seems I am the problem/cause of the brown leaves....I can work on that. Have had the plant for 3 or more years.

thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 5 months ago from Utah Author

Jan, you can simply lop the top of the stalk back to the desired height. New growth should begin to regenerate from that point, occasionally multiple new stalk points will begin to emerge.

You can attempt to root the portion that has been removed, for this I would recommend referencing some information on root cutting techniques.

Tyler 5 months ago

When plant becomes to tall can I cut off. And if I cut off will it sprout new buds where I cut at?? Thank you

thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 5 months ago from Utah Author

Tyler, you can cut a stalk back to a desired height. Draceana will usually sprout new heads at the point they have been pruned, it is also not uncommon for them to occasionally sprout multiple heads from that single point.

Irma 7 weeks ago

Hi, my plant is super tall , can I cut off the top? can I re-root the one I cut off? can I put it in the some pot?

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