Yucca is a genus of over 40 perennial plants, shrubs, and trees. A few are grown as houseplants, including Yucca gigantea (also known as Y. guatemalensis and Y. elephantipes) and the Yucca aloifolia. Yuccas are native to the American Southwest, Mexico, and the Caribbean—they are visually interesting, looking similar to agave or dragon plants. Special note: These plants are not the same as yuca or cassava plants—edible, starchy tubers common in Latin American cuisine.
Some are fast-growing plants growing up to two feet per year, while others grow slowly, about 5 inches a year. All are extremely drought tolerant. Most species of yucca will grow into room-devouring monsters, but this takes so long that you'll get many years of use as a houseplant before it overwhelms your space. Most can grow outdoors, withstanding cold snaps down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Some varieties can survive subzero temperatures.
Plant them outdoors in the early spring. However, do not plant them too close to the house; these plants are not invasive species but have invasive root systems that can damage home foundations, sidewalks, and underground pipes. Beware the tips of the long, spiny leaves of yucca plants; they are sharp and pointy and can cause injury. Pet owners should take caution if adding yucca plants—all parts of the plant are toxic to dogs and cats (as well as horses).
|Common Name||Yucca plant|
|Botanical Name||Yucca spp.|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||1-30 ft. tall, 3-15 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Neutral, acidic|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4 -11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America, Caribbean|
|Toxicity||Toxic to pets|
Growing Outdoor Yucca Plants
Yucca plants are native to the Southwest U.S. They prefer dry, sandy regions like the desert and Great Plains. They have naturalized from Florida to New England to the Mississippi River and can tolerate poor, sandy, well-drained soils in full sun, efficiently handling heat, drought, and salt spray. Outdoor plants have a higher chance of blooming regularly than indoor yucca plants.
If planting yuccas outdoors, locate them away from paths and sidewalks since their leaf tips are sharp and can injure passersby. Also, their roots can disrupt sidewalks. An ideal place for this plant is in the sun, but ensure it gets a few hours of shade during the day.
If growing your yucca plants indoors but want to bring them out during the summer, slowly acclimate them to life outdoors by hardening them off several hours each day outside. Gradually introducing plants to outdoor life can reduce the chance of leaf burn or systemic shock. Yucca species that aren't as cold hardy should return inside as the weather turns cold. Again, slowly harden off the plants so they get gradually accustomed to indoor life.
Indoor Yucca Plant Care
Under the right conditions, yucca plants are not difficult to grow. They tend to thrive on a bit of neglect rather than too much attention. They can easily get overwatered. Soggy stems signify too much water. In the right conditions, they live about five years as houseplants and up to 20 to 50 years if grown outdoors.
A bright corner with relatively low humidity is the best indoor condition for a yucca plant. Additionally, yucca plants are not prone to many pests, although scale insects can occasionally be an issue. Over time, yucca plants will typically lose their lower leaves (in nature, they droop, forming a skirt around the trunk), giving the plant a pleasant "tree-like" appearance.
Yucca plants thrive in bright, indirect light indoors. Growing yucca in too little light can result in thinner and slower growth, while intense, direct sunlight can cause white spots on leaves or crispy, brown tips.
Yucca plants naturally grow in sandy terrain. Inside, plant your yucca in a loose, well-drained potting mix. Low-maintenance yuccas do not need specially formulated or rich fancy soil. Instead, get an inexpensive potting mix and blend in coarse sand and perlite to promote drainage.
Yuccas are highly sensitive to overwatering. Water your plant once a week during the spring and summer growing seasons, but ensure it has excellent drainage and dries out between waterings. Come winter, decrease your watering cadence to once every few weeks (or even less). Never let a yucca plant sit in a tray of water.
Temperature and Humidity
Yucca plants are adapted to the desert, where temperatures can soar above 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Therefore, yuccas are relatively adaptable to most indoor temperature conditions and fluctuations. They will grow best with moderate humidity, but as desert plants, they are perfectly content in dry conditions, and there is never any need to mist this plant.
Fertilize your indoor yucca plant during the growing season with liquid or controlled-release fertilizer according to label instructions. A once-a-month feeding is usually sufficient.
How to Remove
Some species are voracious growers with invasive root systems that can affect nearby foundations and structures. To remove a yucca plant, cut down the plant aboveground. Dig under it and remove every last bit of the root system. If you leave even the smallest piece of root behind, you can expect a plant to sprout in its place.
Remove any young sprouts that come up, dig up their root systems, and as a last resort, douse the area, or drill holes around the area and inject the soil with stump remover or herbicide to reach any remaining roots.
Types of Yucca Plants
In desert areas (such as the southeastern United States), yuccas are common outdoor plants where they reach their full size. Indoors, however, people tend to stick with two species:
- Yucca gigantea (also known as Y. guatemalensis and Y. elephantipes): Sometimes called the spineless yucca or yucca cane, this plant grows from a bulbous base with long, sword-like leaves that lack the typical leaf-tip spine. Mature specimens grow into small, branching trees with bare trunks topped with spiraled rosettes of arching leaves. They are relatively slow growers and will live indoors for years before outgrowing their space. This species is by far the most popular houseplant variety.
- Yucca aloifolia: Sometimes called the Spanish bayonet, this yucca plant features stiff leaves that end in sharp points. The leaves are up to 20 inches long and can be dangerously sharp. Generally, this is not a plant recommended for homes with small children.
Common outdoor varieties include:
- Banana yucca (Y. baccata): This cactus-like succulent has fleshy, sweet seedpods that range from green to dark purple that is the size and shape of a banana (although they taste more like sweet potatoes).
- Joshua tree (Y. brevifolia): This iconic, slow-growing evergreen is commonly grown in the Mojave Desert in the southwestern United States. It is the largest Yucca species, growing over 30 feet.
- Adam's needle (Y. filamentosa): A slow-growing broadleaf evergreen shrub, a stemless plant with long blade-like leaves.
Pruning Yucca Plant
Indoors, yucca plants occasionally need to be pruned when they grow too tall for your space. However, doing so is a bit unconventional, especially if you're used to pruning traditional landscape plants. Cut back in early spring.
To prune, remove the plant gently from its pot and use a saw or sharp pair of loppers (Long-handled Gardening Shears) to cut the trunk in half. Repot the rooted end of the trunk and water it well, continuing to care for the plant as you traditionally would. In just a few weeks, the plant should start producing new leaves, eventually appearing much as it did before, just shorter. You can also plant the top portion of the yucca to try to propagate a second plant.
Propagating Yucca Plant
There are a few ways to propagate a yucca plant. If your yucca has outgrown its space, cutting the plant's stem in half and repotting the pruned top portion may lead to a second plant. However, propagating from divisions or pups (offshoots) is a more successful method of creating new plants. Here's how:
- Propagation is best done in the fall. The plant's growth slows in the fall, causing less damage to the plant. Remove a mature yucca plant from the pot.
- Separate the plant's rhizomes and plant in new pots to propagate by division.
- To propagate by pups, wait until pups are green. When pups are green, they have enough chlorophyll manufacturing capacity to survive independently. Pale, whitish pups are too young to remove, as they rely on the parent plant for survival.
- Using a sharp knife, slice off the pup from the parent plant, including a portion of the parent's root with the pup attached.
- Replant the pup in a new pot with fresh soil.
- Water well and keep the soil moist (but not soggy). Pups should quickly root in a few weeks and produce new growth shortly thereafter.
How to Grow Yucca From Seed
Gather seed pods as they begin to dry, but before they split. Once dry, crush them to remove the seeds. Yucca plants need a chilling period before germinating. Keep seeds in moist sand in the refrigerator for 90 days. They can keep longer if in a tightly sealed container. Start the germination process indoors in March. Germination will begin at 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Growing from seed has a 45% to 98% success rate, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You will have greater germination success if you soak the seeds in water for 24 hours at room temperature, scarification, or remove the hard seed coat. It can take four to five weeks for seeds to germinate. Here's how to sow the seeds:
- Use a sterile, soilless mix or seed starter mix.
- Tamp down the soil in the pot, leaving about an inch of room at the top of the pot.
- Place the seed on the soil and cover it 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 until it's large enough to plant in a permanent location.
Potting and Repotting Yucca Plant
Yuccas do well if they are slightly pot-bound as long as they don't become heavy enough to tip over their containers. You won't need to bother with repotting for at least two or three years.
Repotting larger yucca plants can be difficult, so larger plants can be refreshed with new potting soil by digging out the top 2 inches of the container and adding new soil. During a typical repotting, you can remove the yucca plant from its container and increase it by one container size, always using fresh potting soil.
Container-grown seedlings should be kept inside and protected from frost the first winter.
Mature plants can get winter burn on their leaves in regions with cold, windy winters. As yucca plants enter dormancy in the cold months, they will stop storing water in their leaves, protecting the plant from deep freezes. In regions with frigid winters, reduce supplemental watering in late summer. Halt watering entirely by September.
Let the stalks naturally die back. The plant will store its nutrients in its roots. Insulate and protect it from the cold winter weather by cutting the withered foliage to the ground and applying 6 to 8 inches of mulch over the plant in late fall before the first frost. Cover the mulch pile with plastic sheeting or burlap in the coldest zones to provide further insulation. Remove the sheeting and mulch in the spring after the chance of frost has passed.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
While yucca plants don't have many pest issues, there are a few typical culprits you should watch out for, such as aphids and small mealybugs. Many yucca plants also have to contend with agave plant bugs that pierce the leaves and suck the juices out. If you notice tiny brown scars on the leaves of your plant, chances are you have an agave plant bug problem. To treat, spray the plant with several applications of insecticidal soap until all signs of an infestation have ceased.
In addition to mild pest issues, yucca plants can be susceptible to fungal diseases, which appear with spreading black spots. The plant's foliage can be extra sensitive to overhead watering, which introduces excess moisture into the plant's dense core and can breed fungal disease. To eradicate, treat the plant with a copper fungicide or neem oil until lesions have decreased.
How to Get Yucca to Bloom
Yucca plants are beloved additions because they erupt into beautiful blooms. If your yucca isn't blooming, there are a few things you can consider tweaking. For starters, make sure you are fertilizing your yucca enough. If your soil is particularly nutrient-deficient, choose a fertilizer rich in phosphorous—bone meal could also work.
In addition to ample feedings, be careful not to overwater your yucca plant. Too much water can lead to fungal diseases, sickening the plant and discouraging blooming. Also, consider moving your plant outdoors in the early spring if possible. Most yuccas will bloom in the spring and early summer.
Ultimately, it can take several years for a yucca plant to reach maturity and begin to bloom, so if your plant is still young, have patience and confidence it will bloom.
Common Problems With Yucca Plants
Yucca plants are so easy to care for, drought tolerant, and pest resistant, but they can still get occasional problems if their care isn't ideal.
Yellowing Leaves and Spongy Stem
In most cases, yellowing leaves can be caused by the plant getting too much water. The central stem may start getting soft, which is a sure sign the plant is being overwatered. Yuccas only need to be watered once the soil has almost completely dried out. Don't plan to keep to a routine watering schedule; instead, assess the dryness of the soil by using your finger as a guide.
To fix an overwatered plant: Stop watering and improve drainage by moving the plant to a pot with more drainage holes or providing well-draining soil. Increase the ventilation around the plant and ensure the humidity is not too high near the plant.
Yellow, Brown, or White Spots on Leaves
Yucca plants like the sun, but they can get sunburned if they are suddenly exposed to too much sun without acclimation. Sunburn on plants looks like yellow, brown, or white spots. To prevent this from happening, slowly acclimate the plant to more and more sun each day. It will eventually adjust when done gradually.
To help a plant recover from sunburn, move the plant to a shadier spot. Make sure it has water and let it heal. Gradually reintroduce it to the sunnier spot, more and more each day.
If you notice your yucca leaves are curling, it could be too hot or too cold for the plant. Yuccas prefer a temperature range between 45 F to 90 F. Whenever a yucca plant is experiencing temperature stress, it might even get red spots on the leaves and start dropping. To correct the situation, move the plant to a location where the temperature suits the plant. It should begin to improve within the next two days.
Where should I place my yucca plant?
Yucca plants thrive in full-light locations, so they're perfect for a west-facing window that may be too bright for most other houseplants.
What plants are similar to yucca plants?
If you like a yucca plant's look and care requirements, you can try growing a plant from the similar-looking Dracaena genus.
How fast do yucca plants grow?
Some yucca plants grow relatively slowly, particularly if grown indoors. For example, you can grow an indoor yucca plant for at least five years without replanting or pruning it.
ASPCA. ASPCA. Yucca Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants.
Managing Pests in Gardens: Trees and Shrubs: Agave, Yucca. University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources