If you’ve been gardening (either indoors or out) for a while, you’ll most likely have heard of the genus Yucca. It’s hard not to take note of this species: it’s a very popular choice due to its easy care and hardiness. Additionally, some varieties are appreciated for their beautiful white flowers as well as edible parts like fruits and flower petals.
Naturally found in arid areas throughout North and South America as well as the Caribbean, Yucca is a genus containing around 50 different species. All are characterized by their waxy, thick leaves that have succulent-like capabilities to store water in the harsh habitats they occur in.
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Types of Yucca Plants
Almost all garden centers or plant stores will stock at least one or two varieties of Yucca. Popular types of Yucca plants that you might have seen before include the following:
- Yucca elephantipes is the most popular Yucca to grow indoors and a great choice if you’re looking for a hardy houseplant! Also referred to as spineless Yucca because its leaves aren’t nearly as spikey as some other species.
- Yucca aloifolia is also known as Spanish bayonet and as its name implies this Yucca has very sharp leaves. However, it also features the beautiful white inflorescence many gardeners know Yucca for!
- Yucca filamentosa is a softer leaved species also known as Adam’s needle. This variety is grown for its decorative yellow-green striped foliage.
- Yucca gloriosa is often confused with Yucca aloifolia because its common name is Spanish dagger (rather than Spanish bayonet). This is a very typical Yucca variety to be found in gardens around the world!
- Yucca brevifolia is commonly known as the Joshua tree. As its name suggests, its growth pattern is similar to that of a tree and it can grow just as tall! This is a protected species naturally found in the Mojave desert.
- Yucca rostrata is a fascinating Yucca variety easily recognized from its leaf growth pattern. Its thin, abundant leaves growing on a tree-like trunk almost resemble a firework exploding!
All of these types of Yucca plants make great eyecatchers in your outdoor garden and can handle harsh conditions that many other plants wouldn’t be able to thrive in. Additionally, you can also grow Yucca indoors, which we’ll be providing more details on in this article!
However, let’s first briefly touch upon outdoor Yucca plant care, which is quite straightforward.
Outdoor Yucca Plant Care
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Yucca care outdoors: planting and growth requirements
As mentioned in the intro, Yuccas are a great choice for your garden. Gardeners in arid areas will appreciate this genus’ ability to survive on little water, while those in colder climates will be pleased to discover that many varieties can withstand temperatures as low as 10 °F.
The most important factor to keep in mind while growing a Yucca plant outdoors is light. This species doesn’t just handle pretty much anything the sun can throw at it, it actually loves it. Bright light is essential to successfully growing Yucca, so keep it out of shade to avoid spindly growth. Enough light is also essential for the more spectacular varieties to develop their typical lovely blooms.
Like most plants from dry habitats, Yucca won’t appreciate its roots being left in standing water. The type of soil you use isn’t of much importance outdoors, what matters more is drainage. If you’re growing the plant in a pot, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom and consider mixing some grit into the soil so water passes through easily. Many Yucca species can grow quite large and produce offsets from their roots, so ensure your plant has plenty of space if you want it to grow to its full potential.
Tip: keep your Yucca away from crowded parts of the garden. Its leaves are just as sharp as they look and you really don’t want to accidentally brush past or bump into them!
You won’t have to water your Yucca plant very often if it’s grown outdoors, since natural rainfall will often be plenty for it to thrive. This especially applies if you live in a wetter climate. If you grow the plant in a pot where it might dry out faster, water once the soil has gone completely dry. Keep in mind that the species has evolved to go dormant during the hottest summer months, so if it doesn’t appear to be actively growing then be sure to limit the amount of water you provide to avoid overdoing it.
Yucca care outdoors: pests and diseases
One of the many reasons Yucca is such a popular species for the outdoor garden is the fact that it’s quite resistant to pests and diseases. However, “classic” succulent pests like mealybugs and scale might still appear on your Yucca and require treatment with horticultural soap to prevent them from sucking the plant dry.
Bugs specific to Yuccas include Yucca plant bugs, which are easily recognized by their bright orange head. These also survive by piercing the plant’s thick leaves and drinking the water stored inside, leaving yellow spots in their wake. Treat accordingly once you see them! You might also find your Yucca infested with the dreaded Yucca weevil, but unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about these annoying beetles once they’ve infested your plant. The only thing that’s been discovered that helps is to simply prevent their appearance altogether by keeping the plant healthy and happy so it’s not an easy target.
There are also some diseases that mainly target Yucca, causing brown or grey leaf spotting or white growths. Most of these can be treated with a high-quality fungicide.
Indoor Yucca Plant Care
As mentioned in the paragraph on types of Yucca plants, the most common Yucca to be grown indoors is Yucca elephantipes, also known as cane Yucca. That being said, care guidelines for pretty much all of the varieties are more or less the same and they can all be grown inside if enough light is provided. Just keep in mind that most Yuccas can become quite large as the years go by!
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If you’d like to grow a Yucca plant indoors, a good rule of thumb is to treat it somewhat like a succulent. Now, if you have any experience with succulents you’ll know that almost all species like plenty of light. As was already mentioned in the paragraph on outdoor Yucca care, this is no different for this genus.
Light can be a bit of an issue indoors. If you lack windows that receive sun you could consider using some extra artificial lighting or placing your Yucca plant outside in summer. That way it can soak up those precious rays in the warm months and you can enjoy your indoor greenery in winter.
As is easy to conclude by looking at Yucca’s natural habitat, this plant is well-adapted to dealing with a lack of water. In fact, like many succulents, it’s actually more sensitive to over- than underwatering and too much moisture is a surefire way to cause root rot in your Yucca plant. This applies even more strongly indoors, where there is less light than outside and the soil dries out more slowly.
Although it’s impossible to give exact watering instructions for any plant, a good rule of thumb for Yuccas is to let the soil dry out before watering again. If the pot feels heavy or a chopstick poked into the soil comes out (partly) moist, wait a few more days.
When it comes to soil for your indoor Yucca, again, think succulent. Although the plant can do fine in regular potting soil it will require a bit more caution with watering when planted that way, as it might stay moist for too long. To make things easier in this department, use a succulent or cactus soil instead. You can easily make one yourself: just mix potting soil with a good few fistfuls of horticultural perlite. Alternatively, you can buy your soil mix online.
Your indoor Yucca plant won’t need a lot of fertilizer to stay happy and healthy. During the growing season when the plant is actively putting out new leaves, you can lightly fertilize it once or twice a month. A regular houseplant fertilizer or one for succulents will work well, but be sure to dilute it to avoid burning the plant’s roots. It really doesn’t require much to thrive.
Temperature and humidity
If your home seems to be a bit too dry to grow popular tropical houseplants that require high humidity, Yucca is the genus for you. As can be expected from a desert plant it doesn’t have a need for high moisture levels in the air, so it’s a good candidate for the drier areas in your home.
Temperature-wise, this plant is not fussy at all either (to be honest, it’s not really fussy about anything!). As mentioned earlier, many species are perfectly fine with temperatures as low as 10 °F provided their soil is kept absolutely dry during these freezes. Highs of 90 °F and probably even a bit more shouldn’t be a problem either, so all in all it will be very rare for temperatures to reach danger zones
Potting and Repotting Yucca Plants
As briefly mentioned earlier, potted Yuccas need a pot with a drainage hole at the bottom. Drainage is key for all plants from arid areas and this genus is no different! Other than that requirement the type of pot you’d like to use is really up to you. It is advisable to use a tall one, though, since your Yucca might topple over if it’s not planted deep enough.
Yuccas do fine in a small pot, so don’t worry if yours is looking a bit crowded. In fact, it might grow too large to keep indoors if you provide it with a big container and lots of fresh soil. If things really do start looking a bit too cramped for the plant, just go one pot size up next spring.
Yucca Propagation Methods
This is a very easy plant to propagate. In fact, if you buy a Yucca elephantipes, you’ll often be able to tell that it’s actually a regrown stem cutting. Taking these stem cuttings is the easiest way to multiply your Yucca plant and it might become something you need to do at one point if the plant is becoming so top heavy it’s at risk of falling over (see the section on pruning below).
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All there is to taking a stem cutting is simply cutting it in half at a point you think will be manageable height-wise. You can then separate the cut trunk into sections of about a foot each and replant them. They’ll look like sad sticks at first but don’t worry: each piece will grow roots and new shoots to turn itself into a whole new plant. Additionally, the beheaded original plant will also send up new shoots!
Apart from cutting pieces off the top of your Yucca plant, there are two other ways to propagate it. The second easiest is from runners or offsets. A healthy Yucca, especially one in a larger container, will naturally produce tiny clones of itself from its roots. If you see one of these pop up, you can very easily separate it from the mother plant using a clean knife. Then, just pot it up to give away or expand your own collection. In a lot of cases these offsets will even already have their own root system!
Lastly, you can multiply your Yucca using its seeds. If the plant has flowered and formed seed pods (which usually mostly happens with outdoor Yuccas), you can harvest these once they have dried naturally on the plant. Open the pod to find the black seeds and either plant them immediately indoors or store them in the refrigerator until you’re ready. If you want to plant your Yuccas outdoors then the best idea is to wait until spring for the best chance of success. The seeds can be placed in gritty succulent soil for germination, which will usually occur within a month. The seedlings will have to be kept relatively moist but never wet and a warm spot works best.
How to Prune a Yucca Plant
As with many plants, there is no actual need to prune a Yucca. It’ll grow fine if you don’t, but many (indoor) gardening enthusiasts still do it for aesthetic reasons. The most basic Yucca pruning involves just removing the dead leaves at the bottom of the plant, also referred to as its ‘skirt’. They can make it look messy and some prefer to see the plant without them. You can also remove the flower stalk when it’s done blooming if you don’t like the look of the spent flowers.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you’ll have to prune your Yucca a bit more aggressively if it’s becoming too tall and at risk of toppling over. This involves the stem cutting method described earlier. Might seem a bit drastic, but you’ll end up with two or even more better looking plants next season!
Are Yucca Plants Toxic to Pets and Humans?
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Unfortunately, Yucca varieties are not just sharp and pointy.
They can also be dangerous when ingested by pets or humans due to compounds referred to as saponins, which cause serious health issues. Keep this plant away from any furry or human friends that might be tempted to take a bite out of it!
Common Yucca Plant Problems
Although Yucca varieties are very hardy plants that make an ideal choice for beginning (indoor) gardeners, there are always some possible issues you might run into. We’ll discuss the most common ones below for those in need of some troubleshooting.
Why is my Yucca plant turning yellow or brown?
If your Yuccas leaves are turning an even brown or yellow there are a few possible causes. The most common one is simple leaf replacement, which is when the plant grows and loses need for its bottom leaves, which it subsequently sheds. If it’s not that, check the following: is it possible you’re not letting the plant dry enough between waterings? If so, it might be (early signs of) rot, one of the main Yucca killers. Are there bugs on the (underside of the) leaves? Is the plant lacking light? Care lacking in any of these departments can cause leaves to turn yellow and/or brown.
Yucca plant leaf spots
They are often a first sign of either a pest or a disease having taken hold of your plant. To figure out which one it is you’ll simply have to have a close look at the plant and see what you find. Scale is a pest that’s a prime suspect for leaf spots but it can also be a fungal issue (use fungicide) or blight, which can be prevented by using a sterilized potting soil and letting the plant dry out well between waterings.
Brown leaf tips
Brown leaf tips on Yucca plant can be caused by excessive fluoride or minerals present in tap water. If you haven’t done so in a while, flush the soil thoroughly using distilled water to wash away any build up. Additionally, you might be overwatering (if yellowing is also present) or it might be a rare case of the plant going too dry. The latter can occur if you’re growing it too close to a radiator or have suddenly moved it from low light conditions to heavy sunlight, for example.
Yucca plant wilting
Yucca plant wilting can be a first sign of rot, which is discussed below. Your best bet is to check the roots of the plant. If they’re squishy or black, your culprit is likely rot. It might also be Yucca weevil larvae gnawing at the roots causing the plant to lose the ability to take up water. Alternatively, check whether the soil isn’t excessively dry and always have a peek at the underside of the leaves to see if there’s any pests that might be sucking the juices from your Yucca.
Yucca plant rot
Yucca plant rot is a severe issue that can quickly kill the plant. Rot is usually caused by overwatering and improper drainage. These cause the Yucca to start decaying, often starting at the roots. If you notice your Yucca’s roots or cane appearing black or squishy, the only course of action that might help is immediately cutting off the top of the plant as far away from the affected area and starting over with that. There is no real cure for rot and it can quickly spread upwards.
All in all, Yucca is the ideal genus for both experienced and beginner indoor gardeners. As long as you have a light location to offer this plant is about as undemanding as it gets! Its southern look makes it a great addition to many interior types and you’ll love how easy it is to take and share cuttings.