Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa) is a slow-growing broadleaf evergreen shrub often used in Southwest-themed landscapes; it's related to many commonly grown cacti and succulents. A yucca plant in the asparagus family, Adam's needle is a virtually stemless shrub that looks more like a perennial plant. The blade-like leaves form a basal rosette ending in sharp spines. The foliage clumps are usually 2 to 3 feet tall, with curled threads lining the edges of the leaves, giving it its species name—filamentosa—for its threads or "filaments."
Mature plants about four or five years old will send up flower stalks from the center of the foliage in late spring or summer, which can double the height of this yucca plant, sometimes growing to over 8 feet tall. The blooms look like nodding, white bells. Adam's needle can be planted almost any time, though it is most commonly available at nurseries in the spring. Humans can eat the fruits and flowers of this plant; however, it is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
|Common Names||Adam's needle, needle palm|
|Botanical Name||Yucca filamentosa|
|Plant Type||Shrub, rhizome|
|Mature Size||4-8 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||5-10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to pets|
Adam's Needle Care
This succulent is one of the easiest plants to grow outdoors. It needs very little care, so if landscape maintenance is not your cup of tea, Yucca filamentosa could be an ideal plant for you. The only thing usually required—and only if you're fussy about the look of your landscape—is to cut off the spent flower stalks at the end of the year and occasionally remove old leaves that have turned brown.
Though this is a slow-growing plant, it's best to give it 2 to 3 feet of space around the plant, which will make it easy to work around the spiky leaves. Create a planting hole about twice as deep and wide as the nursery container, and plant the specimen at the same level as it grows in the container.
Yucca filamentosa has few severe diseases or pest issues. Adam's needle attracts yucca moths at night.
This plant grows best in full sun but will tolerate a little shade. In low light conditions, however, yucca will stretch toward the sun.
Adam's needle needs well-drained soil, and you should keep it a bit on the dry side. It does not require fertile soil, so it is a good choice for poor, rocky, or sandy soil areas. It also does not seem to mind pollutants or salty soil, making it suitable for roadside plantings. Yucca is a great choice when growing a rock garden, and it works well on a slope to provide valuable soil erosion control.
Adam's needle has good drought tolerance once established. It is often used in xeriscape landscaping. In its first year, water it lightly every week—depending on the size of the plant, light watering can mean a few ounces to a cup—but after its first growing season, it should not need supplemental watering at all. Container-grown plants will continue to need a small amount of weekly water.
Temperature and Humidity
Although native to the southeastern U.S., this hardy succulent has naturalized farther north. You can plant Yucca filamentosa in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 10, where it readily adapts to all climate variations within those zones. This plant can handle temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit but may also survive temps of -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit if covered with mulch over winter. They will grow best with moderate humidity but can acclimate to low humidity conditions.
Adam's needle usually does fine without any feeding, but if the plant is languishing, feed it once in spring with a granular, balanced, general-purpose fertilizer mixed into the soil around the base of the plant. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. You can give it an additional feeding after about three months.
Types of Adam's Needle
- 'Bright Edge': Bicolored type of Adam's needle; well suited for zones 4 to 9
- 'Golden Sword': Bright variation with gold in its leaves
- 'Garland’s Gold': Golden and bright variety
- Yucca flaccida: looks similar to Adam's needle but leaves appear limp; grows in zones 4 to 10
- Yucca glauca (soapweed or Spanish bayonet): grows about half the size (2 feet wide) of Adam's needle; easily confused with soap-tree yucca; suitable for zones 3 to 10
Wear long, sturdy gloves when working with this plant. It has sharp, spiky ends; a prick from this plant can cut you and some experience a skin reaction.
Trim flower stalks down once the blooms have faded. Or, after the flowers fade, you can wait until their seeds pods are ready to harvest. In fall, remove yellowing leaves after they have dried. If you notice branching from the trunks, remove it in late winter or spring. Prune away leaves down close to the base of the plant.
Propagating Adam's Needle
Adam's needle can be propagated by several methods: seed, stem cutting, rhizomes, or basal offshoots. It is best propagated in spring or summer unless you plan to propagate by division, then winter is best for rhizome propagation. Pruning yucca is sometimes necessary to keep a plant from growing too tall and unruly; pruned healthy stems are perfect for stem cutting propagation.
Rhizomes are the underground root system of the yucca plant. Here's how to propagate by rhizome division:
- You'll need a spade or shovel, a sharp, sterilized knife, a pot with many holes, and a well-draining potting mix. Also, wear sturdy protective gloves and long sleeves.
- Using the spade or shovel, dig up part of the root. With your knife, cut off a 3-inch section of healthy root.
- Transplant it into a well-draining potting mix.
- Keep it in a warm, well-lit indoor room.
- In 3 to 4 weeks, the plant should produce roots, and you should notice new growth.
To propagate from a stem cutting:
- You'll need a sharp knife or garden pruners to remove one or several stems between 5” to 10” inches long. You'll also need well-draining potting soil and a pot with drainage holes.
- Allow the cut to dry for 24 to 48 hours before you plant it in well-draining sandy soil.
- With the cut-end down, plant it in moist soil in a shady location until roots begin to develop. Root growth can take one to two months. After two months, you can gently tug at the leaf and will feel if roots have taken hold, or you may notice new growth.
Offsets or pups grow at the base of the parent plant and are genetic clones of the mother plant. To propagate from its offshoots:
- You'll need a new pot with well-draining soil and, optionally, a sharp knife.
- If your yucca is in a pot, remove the plant, and identify the offshoot or pup. Or, if in the ground, carefully dig around the offshoot. Most offsets will have their own root system. You should be able to break it away from the parent plant easily. If offset roots are connected to the mother, gently cut them away from the parent.
- Pot the offset with its roots in its new pot. Provide water. Keep the soil moist for the first few months until you notice new growth.
- Allow the offset to root in the pot before transplanting the new root ball into the garden.
How to Grow Adam's Needle From Seed
Sow more seeds than the number of plants you ultimately want since germination is unpredictable. Start the germination process indoors in March. It can take four to five weeks for seeds to germinate. For best results, many gardeners soak the seeds overnight. Use a sterile, soilless mix or seed starter mix. Tamp down the soil in the pot, leave about an inch of room at the top of the pot, place the seed, and cover lightly, with about 1/8-inch of soil. Keep the soil moist at about 55 degrees. Once the plant sprouts, put it in the bright window or under a grow light.
Potting and Repotting Adam's Needle
Adam's needle does not need a large container; it can grow suitably in an 18-inch pot with ample drainage holes. It prefers to be slightly rootbound. Roots growing out of the drainage holes are signs your yucca is ready for a new home. You shouldn't need to transplant it often—only every three to four years into the next size pot over the winter months.
To repot, use a porous succulent or cactus potting mix. Adam's needle generally prefers to be alone in its pot, but it blends well with other large potted plants arranged on a patio or deck or around a sunny entrance. Adam's needle needs a pot that's only slightly larger than its rootball.
Yucca plants will stop storing water in their leaves during dormancy over the winter, protecting the plant from deep freezes. Winter burn may affect some of the leaves in regions with cold, windy winters. By late summer, start to reduce the amount of water the plant receives. Stop watering entirely by September.
Let the stalks naturally die back before cutting to allow the plant to store needed nutrients in the roots for next season's growth. It can withstand 5 degrees Fahrenheit but will benefit from some winter protection.
Insulate and protect it from the cold winter weather by cutting the stalks to the ground and applying a 6- to 8-inch layer of mulching material over the plant in late fall before the first frost. Cover with plastic sheeting or burlap over the mulch pile to further insulate. Hold down with stakes or large rocks placed around the edges. Remove the sheeting and mulch in the spring after the chance of frost has passed.
Yucca plants can fall victim to insect activity much like other plants, but their woes are generally easier to handle. You can dispatch pests like aphids and mealybugs with blasts of water. Scale bugs will fall away with neem oil. Agave plant bugs and mites will disappear after several applications of insecticidal soap. The only genuinely problematic pest that can kill your plant is an infestation of yucca weevils.
Yucca weevils burrow underground and feast on the rhizomatous root. If you notice tell-tale holes in the leaves, pull up the root to inspect it. If weevils ravage the root, you may need to destroy it. But, if you can find a healthy, untouched portion of the rhizome, you can cut it off and repot it in a separate container.
How to Get Adam's Needle to Bloom
Yucca plants may bloom from June up to September. However, if grown from seed, it may not bloom until it fully matures, which may mean four to five years before its first bloom. The flower stalks can grow up to 5 or 8 feet high, developing creamy white colored bell-shaped flowers.
Regular fertilization and trimming of the old flower head and stalk from the previous growing season will keep the plant healthy and encourage more growth and yucca flowers in the following season. Adding phosphorus-rich fertilizer or bone meal to the soil can encourage flowering.
Also, if your plant is not flowering, it may need to be hand-pollinated. Yucca's sweetly-scented flowers bloom at night, attracting the plants' only pollinator, the yucca moth. If these moths are not present, you might need to provide a helping hand.
Common Problems With Adam's Needle
Yucca is an easy plant to grow and maintain. Its pest problems are minor, and it's cold-hardy and drought tolerant.
Leaves Turning Yellow
If you notice that the plant's leaves turn yellow, you may be overwatering your plant. Other signs of overwatering include the trunk feeling soft or spongy, and if you pull up the rootball, you might notice root rot or a decomposing smell. If caught early, you can reverse root rot if you cut away the damaged part of the root and apply a fungicide. Also, reduce the water significantly. Yucca should only be watered when the soil dries out. A few yellowing leaves at the plant's base are normal at the end of the growing season. Allow those leaves to dry out and remove them.
Leaves Turning Deeply Green
If a yucca plant develops dark green leaves, this sign is usually a welcome sight. However, in an indoor yucca plant, it can mean that your yucca is starving for more light. If your yucca plant's leaves start to turn deep green, the plant is trying to compensate for the lack of natural light by producing more chlorophyll to keep the plant alive. If the plant does not get more light shortly after that period, you may notice its leaves turning yellow and falling off.
Browning Leaf Tips
Browning leaf edges and tips combined with slow growth, leaf drop, and wilting leaves could signify that your plant is getting too much fertilizer. These symptoms describe fertilizer burn. Adam's needle doesn't need fertilizer, but if you provide it, only give it once at the start of the growing season, and maybe again three months later. If you think you might have overfertilized your plant, the best action is to flush the fertilizer salts out of the soil with water.
Does Adam's needle spread?
Adam's needle is native to the U.S. and self-propagates readily. It has spread gradually throughout the U.S. It is not an invasive species but can overgrow in an area if left alone.
Can yucca filamentosa be grown indoors?
Adam's needle can grow indoors. It is best placed in a west-facing window since too much sun from a southern exposure might burn it or dry it out. Many Adam's needle plants grown indoors will not flower. For many, non-flowering is preferred since its flower stalk can grow up to 8 feet in the best conditions. Also, this plant has sharp tips and edges, so keep it out of the way of passersby. Also, consider its toxicity to animals if you have indoor pets.
How long does Adam's needle live?
Adam's needle lives on average 20 to 50 years under ideal conditions; likely less in indoor living situations. Some specimens can live hundreds of years.