Yucca plants are a quintessential part of the Southeastern US landscape and line roadsides and open arid areas for miles to see. They also are a popular addition to xeriscaping and indoor gardens, yet many people are unaware of their diversity and ease of care. Here, we’ve gathered the most popular species options for both outdoor and indoor plantings, full care requirements (including light, water, fertilizer, humidity and pruning), as well as tips and tricks to keep them healthy for years to come.
AKA Narrow leaf, Banana, Joshua tree, Soaptree, Spanish Dagger, Mojave, Don Quixote’s Lace…
Ease of Care: Very easy to care for and propagate
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Water: Very little
Temperature: USDA Growing Zones 3 – 13
Height: Varies depending on species. Some can reach 70 feet, most stay between 2 – 10 feet
Growth Rate: Approximately 6 to 14 inches a year depending on species
Pests: Agave plant bugs, aphids, mealybugs, scale, mites, yucca weevil
Disease: Stem rot, Gray leaf spotting, Brown spots, Sclerotia
Toxicity: Sharp leaves may cause contact issues with skin, but are not poisonous. Ingestion of the plant will cause poisoning by steroidal saponins, particularly problematic in animals
What Defines the Yucca Species
There are approximately 50 varieties of yucca found worldwide, with close to 30 being native to North America. Although variations exist between one species and the next, most differences are minor, and all are defined by rigid, long spike-like leaves that are deciduous and stay green year-round.
Some grow lower to the ground, rarely getting over 2 or 3 feet in height, while others grow more like a tree with a fibrous trunk and multiple branches and ‘tufts’ of leaves. Many also send tall stalks skyward that open to dozens of white, bell shaped flower clusters. These flowers are almost exclusively white, or a creamy yellow, but a small, reddish-pink variety also exists.
Yuccas, on a whole, are an incredibly hardy species and can handle HUGE temperature changes. They also tolerate poor soils and are extremely drought tolerant. This makes them an ideal choice for low maintenance landscape plantings.
Why Keep Yucca?
The Yucca species, although all fairly similar in their look and growing habits, is a popular one for many landscape designs. Native to arid, desert like climates, they actually grow very well in all zones and are tolerant to both subzero temperatures as well as high desert heats. The rigid, spike-like leaves are deciduous and the tall, bell shaped flowers many produce are an excellent addition to your garden beds. They also are an obvious choice for xeriscaping to add both texture and height.
The deciduous nature of them provides greenery and texture year round as well, and, as mentioned, they are very easy to care for due to their low maintenance needs. They thrive in poor, well drained soils and require little, or no fertilization.
Caring for Your Yucca
Yucca are one of the few species you can plant and more or less walk away from. More than anything you should pay attention to the soils upon the initial plantings to ensure water can easily drain away. The only real threat to the plant is root rot due to water sitting at the roots, and you may want to mix your soils with sand in an area equivalent to 2 to 3 times the size of the root balls prior to planting.
Once planted, you only need to water until established, and after that the rainfall your area gets will most likely be enough. Be sure to check with the species you plant to ensure you provide any specialized care it may have.’
Indoor plantings also need to be carefully planted in well drained soils. And only water when completely dried out, after which you need to pour or drain out excess water. You can wipe dust off the leaves with a damp cloth, trim dead flower canes or leaves, and provide a balanced, liquid water soluble fertilizer once or twice a year- usually in spring and mid-summer.
Yuccas thrive in full sunlight, but can tolerate partial shade as well. But the rule of thumb is, the more sun the better. When you have plants indoors, be sure to keep them in a sunny window, or provide a grow light of some sort for part of the day.
Almost all species have sharp tipped leaves. These are very sharp and can easily pierce skin. When you plant them, you want to take care to place them away from walkways and areas of high activity to avoid any accidents.
Yucca is easy to propagate and if left alone, will quickly multiple via seed and root. In order to purposely propagate your own yucca you do so via various ways. Yuccas typically begin to spread outwards with new, young plants. You can separate these plants off and move where you want them. You can also root and stem cuttings, as well as plant seeds.
When planting offsets, strip the bottom few inches of leaves before placing in the soil. However, cutting from the rhizome root-like structure is probably the easiest way to get plants sprouting up where you want them. Simply dig up a section of rhizome and cut into 3 pieces- then plant where you want them to come up in about a month.
Mature Plant Care
Yuccas truly don’t require much care once planted and established, but you should keep it cleaned up as much as possible. Remove any dead or dying leaves, which will show from the bottom as the plant grows and regenerates. Also, remove the stalk after blooming, unless you want the plant to reseed itself. The seeds will scatter and come up in places you don’t expect.
If you don’t want the plants to self-propagate, be sure to remove the stalks when the seed-pods are still young. Also dig up any young plants from the root, and pour salt at the site of the root to keep it from resprouting. These are a fairly slow growing plant that takes 2 to 3 years to mature, or longer, so it is easy to keep on top of plant control.
Popular Yucca Varieties
There are many different yucca species, and all are fairly similar to one another overall. Because of this identifying them is a challenge for many people unless there are distinct defining characteristics, such as a trunk or flower color. The following variety are the most commonly seen in landscape plantings and indoor propagation.
Spanish Dagger (Yucca aliofolia)
This is a great option for upright interest as it can grow between 6 and 12 feet tall on an upright stem. Most hardy in zones 7 -11, it is definitely a plant for outdoor gardens or large sunroom and greenhouse additions.
Soapweed (Yucca arkansana)
Not quite as rigid in nature as other types, and they also are not as wide overall. They grow upright without a trunk and are good for both indoor and outdoor propagation.
Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)
The Banana Yucca is probably the most popular outdoor yucca species. It grows up to 3 feet wide and tall and sends a 4 to 5 foot tall stalk that produces clusters of white flowers. It reseeds easily and will grow in clusters of plants if allowed.
Blue Boy Yucca (Yucca desmetiana)
The long, blue-tinged, leathery leaves of the Blue Boy doesn’t have as sharp a tip and makes it an ideal planting for both indoors and outdoors. It grows well in pots, and also makes a beautiful border.
Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata)
This tall, tree like yucca is great for vertical interest and can grow up to 20 feet tall. It also sends out tall stalks that fill with white, bell shaped flowers. When not in bloom it resembles a small palm looking tree.
Giant Yucca (Yucca gigantea)
The broad leafed, spineless leaves of the giant yucca makes it a popular indoor and outdoor planting. It grows on a trunk that branches over time and can grow up to 40 feet in height. When grown indoors it rarely gets over 10 feet tall.
Dwarf Yucca (Yucca nana)
With a growth habit of approximately 1 foot by 1 foot, this small yucca is a popular planting in both indoor and outdoor displays. It also looks great in a pot, despite it’s sharp, spined tips. They are often clustered together or used as a border.
Pale Yucca (Yucca pallida)
The pale green and bluish leaves of this yucca, and smaller growth habit makes it a great choice for indoor and outdoor pots and gardens. It only gets about a foot in height, but can grow up to 3 feet wide, and will cluster together if allowed to naturally propagate.
Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata)
This is one of the most popular upright yuccas you can plant in your garden. Tree-like in nature, the leaves grow in a tight globe display for an aesthetically pleasing effect. It also grows well in pots and is a great addition to indoor sunrooms and greenhouses.
Don Quixote’s Lace Yucca (Yucca treculeana)
The upright growth of this yucca is almost treelike, and it reaches up to 12 feet tall, and 10 feet wide. As it grows the old leaves create a bushy undergrowth and bright 3 foot long leaves and spear-like flower stalks reach upwards upon maturity.
Spineless Yucca (Yucca elephantipes)
The wider, thinner, and softer leaves of the spineless yucca still have a slightly sharp tip, but are much more comfortable to work around than other popular species. Because of this it is a very popular indoor plant, and grows on a trunk in an upright position.
Yuccas are naturally growing plants in many southern and western states, but do grow well elsewhere. If you are looking to grow your own, look to local plant nurseries for plants that do well in your climate. If they do not have what you are looking for, many online nurseries are happy to ship root cuttings and small plants for you, and will answer any questions you have about their survival in your area.
Common Questions Gardeners Have About Yucca Plants
Despite being an incredibly easy plant to grow, there are a few common questions people have about them. These are some of the more frequently asked questions concerning their health and care.
What diseases and bugs do yuccas get?
Luckily, yuccas do not draw in many insects nor are they very susceptible to disease. However there are a few things to pay attention to if you notice the following:
- Brown spots 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter caused by a fungus. Simply remove the leaves these show up on and spray the plant with a fungicide.
- Gray leaf lesions may show up on older leaves. Again, simply remove them and spray with a fungicide.
- Necrotic tips may occur due to a nutrient loss in the soils. It will show up on the tips and edges of the leaves, but will not harm the plant. You can add lime to the soil to help offset this.
- Stem rot, marked by a blackening or decay towards the bottom of the plant. This is generally due to too much water that begins to rot the plant and introduce bacteria. Once a plant shows this, it may be too late to salvage.
- Sclerotia is a fan like bacteria seen on the stem near the base of the plant. A fungicide can help control it.
- The types of bugs that you may have issues with are all sucking type bugs such as aphids, agave plant bugs, mealybugs, scale, and mites. If you notice you plant not thriving, or any of these bugs on them, simply spray with a Neem oil to control.
- Weevils are the most problematic insects and burrow into the crown of the plant. Most yuccas are never bothered by this as weevils attack weak and ailing plants. Once your plant has them it is almost impossible to get rid of them.
What do I feed Yucca plants?
Yuccas in the wild are fed by nothing but nature, but when you plant them in the garden or in your home, you may want to feed them once or twice a year. In general use a balanced liquid soluble fertilizer in the spring, and again in the summer if you want.
How do I get rid of Yucca plants?
Sometimes yuccas can get a bit too big and unruly. This is especially so if they are native to your area and grow like weeds. Yuccas are notoriously hard to get rid of since they propagate from the root system and send out hundreds of seeds. However, if you are determined to wipe them out (or just keep them under control) you need to get them up by the root and try to get all the rhizomes. Putting salt on the root can help dry it out and keep it from growing back.
Are Yucca plants dangerous?
The sharp points of the Yucca can certainly be very uncomfortable and cause all sorts of discomfort when you get pricked or scratched from one, but rarely are they deep enough to cause any issues. If you do happen to get one that draws blood, simply clean with soap and water and keep it clean. When working with them, always wear long sleeves and gloves for protection.
However, if you dog or cat chews on the plant or ingests any of it they most likely will be poisoned by the steroidal saponins that create intestinal irritation and central nervous system issues in large enough doses. Drooling, vomiting, weakness, seizures, and dilated pupils are indications of the poisoning. If you think your pet has consumed any yucca, early detection is best for a full recovery and you need to get to a vet ASAP.
The bottom line is, yuccas are crazy easy to grow whether you put them indoors or out. They are also incredibly easy to propagate and you may find you have more plants than you planned on before too long. Luckily, they are fairly easy to control if you take care of young plants before they get too large.
We’d love to answer any questions you may have, and see how you have landscaped with these unique plants that bring a ton of interest and texture to your home. As always, please share!