Dragon’s tongue, also known as Hemigraphis repanda, is a striking plant grown indoors or out. Bringing color to any corner, it’s a top choice for beginners.
In this care guide, our experts show you how to make yours thrive!
What is Dragon’s tongue?
Dragon’s tongue is a tropical grass-like plant native to India and Malaysia. It can be grown as both an indoor plant and a ground cover or shrub border in outdoor gardens.
The Dragon’s tongue main feature is its showy foliage. The narrow, serrated, dark green leaves have a deep purple underside, making an elegant contrast when paired with lighter-colored plants. In some cases, Dragon’s tongue flowers, producing small, white, or pale pink clusters of flowers, which release a pleasant fragrance.
Dragon’s tongue is a versatile plant that is also low maintenance and beginner-friendly. It rarely grows taller than 15 inches (38 cm), making it a perfect choice if you don’t have too much space in your home.
How to care for Dragon’s tongue
– Light requirements
Dragon’s tongue grows best in indirect light and can even tolerate some partial shade. If you’re growing it as an indoor plant, place it in a room where it can get at least 6 hours of indirect sunlight each day. A room with eastern or western exposure will be ideal, as long as you avoid keeping your Dragon’s tongue houseplant next to the window.
You can also grow Dragon’s tongue outdoors, in your garden. In this case, pick a part of your garden that receives partial shade. Growing it as a small border or ground cover, close to trees and shrubs that can provide some dappled shade during the hottest parts of the day, is an excellent choice.
Dragon’s tongue needs light to maintain the purple coloring on its leaves. Too little light will result in faded, green leaves and a sparse, leggy look. On the other hand, too much light will scorch the leaves, causing brown, burnt spots.
Dragon’s tongue can quickly grow in most indoor temperatures, as long as it doesn’t drop below 50 °F (10 °C). If you’re growing it outdoors, it’s best to note that it will die off if temperatures drop below 39 °F (4 °C). You can typically enjoy your Dragon’s tongue plant as an evergreen perennial in areas with mild winters.
– Water requirements
Keep the soil of your Dragon’s tongue moist but not soaked. You can tell whether your plant needs to be watered by checking the soil with your finger. If the top inch feels dry to the touch, give the plant a good soak. Let the soil dry out slightly in between waterings to prevent root rot and other problems.
For Dragon’s tongue grown in the garden, you might need to water it weekly or even twice a week, depending on how hot the weather is. Use a sprinkler or a garden hose to water the plant, spraying the leaves in the process. Adding mulch to the base of the plant will also help preserve humidity in the soil.
Dragon’s tongue is a tropical plant that enjoys high humidity. It will thrive if you place it next to a humidifier or even on top of a pebble tray when grown indoors. Avoid keeping it next to a radiator or under an AC vent, as the sudden changes in temperature and humidity can cause it to wilt.
Dragon’s tongue isn’t a heavy feeder. Using an organic, liquid fertilizer once a month throughout spring and summer is more than enough. Some gardeners grow this plant for its clusters of small, fragrant flowers, which can impact the fertilizer you’re using. To encourage blooming, the best fertilizer for Dragon’s tongue should have a nutrient ratio of 5-10-5. For leaf growth, aim for a ratio of 10-10-10.
– Can you grow Dragon’s tongue in an aquarium?
In theory, yes, you can grow Dragon’s tongue as an aquarium plant. However, it’s best to note that, although the plant loves a moist, humid environment, it will not survive underwater for too long. Suppose you want to grow it in an aquarium. In that case, we recommend planting it on an elevated surface so that at least ¾ of the plant is above the water level.
– Best soil for Dragon’s tongue
Plant your Dragon’s tongue in a soil mix that is well-draining and aerated but also retains some moisture. The best soil blend should include organic potting mix, perlite, and some coir or bark to give it a light acidity. The pH range you’re aiming for is between 6.0 and 6.5.
– When to repot Dragon’s tongue
Dragon’s tongue growth rate is relatively slow, which means it doesn’t need to be often repotted. It will have a growth spurt during the first 1 or 2 years, then gradually slow down as it reaches its maximum height of 15 inches (38 cm).
Repot your Dragon’s tongue in the first year, preferably in spring. Use a container with a drainage hole at the bottom, which is around 2 inches (5 cm) wider than its previous pot. Depending on how fast it continues to grow, you will only need to repot it again once every 2 to 3 years.
How to propagate Dragon’s tongue
Let’s take a look at each method.
1. Stem cuttings
- Use a sharp pair of scissors to trim the stem of your Dragon’s tongue plant. Make the cut slightly below the leaf node.
- Take at least 2 or 3 cuttings from each plant to be planted in the same pot after they have rooted. This way, the new plant will have a fuller look.
- Remove some of the bottom leaves until you’re left with around 1 inch (2.5 cm) of bare stem.
- Place the cutting in a 6 inch (15 cm) pot filled with a mix of potting soil, perlite, and coir.
- Use a hand spray to mist the cuttings once every two days. Keep the soil moist, but avoid soaking it, as this will cause the bottom of the stems to rot.
- Place your pot with the cuttings in a room that gets bright, indirect light and where temperatures won’t drop below 60 °F (15 °C).
- The cuttings should take about 2 to 3 weeks to develop roots. The best indication that your propagation has been successful is that the cuttings start to grow new leaves.
2. Root division
- The best time to propagate your Dragon’s tongue plant through root division is when you’re transplanting it to a new pot. Ideally, you should do this in spring, when the plant is coming to the start of its growth season.
- Gently lift the plant from the container, taking care not to break the stems.
- Try to remove as much soil from the roots as you can.
- Separate the root ball by hand. Depending on how big the plant is, you can either separate it into two or even 3 or 4 different root balls. If the roots are particularly stubborn and stuck together, you can also use a sharp knife to slice them apart.
- Plant each new root ball in a 6 inch (15 cm) container, and give it a thorough watering.
- Monitor the divided Dragon’s tongue over the following two weeks. Plants propagated through root division don’t take as long to establish in the soil as those made through cuttings. However, it’s best to keep an eye out for transplant shock, especially if the root ball was damaged in the process.
Dragon’s tongue problems
Dragon’s tongue is a reasonably sturdy plant, so it won’t have too many problems with pests and diseases.
– Overwatering and root rot
When grown indoors, the main problems it encounters are caused by overwatering. If you notice the leaves starting to turn yellow and droop, check the soil to ensure it’s not soaked.
Too much water often leads to moisture stress and even root rot. If the plant becomes stressed because of too much water, repotting it in fresh, well-draining soil is the best solution.
If your Dragon’s tongue leaves are developing brown spots surrounded by yellow edges, that’s usually a sign of root rot. This fungal disease is fatal to your plants, especially if you detect it too late. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the roots. If they are black, soft, and have an unpleasant smell, that’s a sign of root rot. Wash the root ball in the shower, trim off the rotted sections, and repot it in fresh soil.
Indoor plants living in a dry environment are often an easy target for spider mites, and the Dragon’s tongue is no exception. The most common symptom of a spider mite infestation is discolored leaves, curling edges, and a droopy look. Inspect the leaves’ underside, and if you notice any areas with small, white spots covered by a web, take action immediately.
The most effective treatment against spider mites is wiping the infested areas with a solution of water and isopropyl alcohol.
Dragon’s tongue grown in the garden can also be susceptible to pests such as aphids, scale, mealybugs, or whiteflies. These pests usually cause the leaves to wilt or develop yellow and brown spots.
To get rid of them, start by blasting them off the leaves with a hose. Then, spray the leaves with a neem oil solution or even an insecticidal soap. Repeat the treatment for 3 to 4 weeks until there are no more signs of pests on your plant’s leaves.
Dragon’s tongue makes an intriguing addition to any garden or home, and with this guide, it’s easy to grow your own.
Let’s take a look at the basics:
- Dragon’s tongue does best in indirect light and partial shade;
- Not enough light will lead to faded looking, green leaves with no purple, while too much can burn them;
- You can grow Dragon’s tongue inside, outside, or even in an aquarium;
- Too much water is the most common problem with this plant, so be sure to avoid overwatering!
Now that you know the secrets, why not try growing your own Dragon’s tongue plant.
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