How to Grow and Care for Yucca Plants

Keep Your Yuccas Thriving for Years

yucca tree in a living room

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Yucca is a genus of more than 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. 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 such a long time that you'll get many years of use as a houseplant before it overwhelms your space. Most can also be grown outdoors, able to withstand cold snaps down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit—some varieties can even survive subzero temperatures. Plant them outdoors in the early spring. Pet owners should take caution if adding yucca plants to their homes—all parts of the plant are toxic to dogs and cats (as well as horses).

Common Name Yucca plant
Botanical Name Yucca spp.
Family Agavaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 1-30 ft. tall, 3-15 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial
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. Plants grown outdoors 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. An ideal place for this plant is in the sun, but make sure 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.

The best indoor condition for a yucca plant is a bright corner with relatively low humidity. Additionally, yucca plants are not prone to many pests, although scale 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.

closeup of a yucca tree
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle
closeup of a yucca plant
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Light

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.

Soil

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 mix in coarse sand and perlite to promote drainage.

Water

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.

Fertilizer

Fertilize your indoor yucca plant during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or controlled-release fertilizer according to label instructions. A once-a-month feeding is usually sufficient.

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 are 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, this is 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 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:

  1. 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.
  2. To propagate by division, separate the plant's rhizomes, and plant in new pots.
  3. 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.
  4. Using a sharp knife, slice off the pup from the parent plant, including a portion of the parent's root with the pup attached.
  5. Replant the pup in a new pot with fresh soil.
  6. Water well and keep the soil moist (but not soggy). Pups should quickly root in a few weeks and begin producing new growth shortly thereafter.

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 ground. 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.

Common Pests and 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 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 garden additions because they erupt into bountiful, 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 in the future.

FAQ
  • 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 the look and care requirements of a yucca plant, you can try your hand at 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 having to replant or prune it.

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Article Sources
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  1. ASPCA. ASPCA. Yucca Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants.

  2. Managing Pests in Gardens: Trees and Shrubs: Agave, Yucca. University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources