Yucca are desert plants native to the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. They've also been naturalized throughout the Southern United States. As far as houseplants go, yucca are probably eclipsed by the similar-looking Dracaena genus (which is often mistaken for yucca). They are, however, interesting and slow-growing houseplants that have the added benefit of being extremely drought tolerant.
If you kill a yucca, it's probably due to overwatering. Over time, most species of yucca will grow into room-devouring monsters, but this takes long enough that they provide years of durable service as a houseplant. One word of caution, however: One of the popular species, Y. aloifolia has very sharp spines on its leaf-tips that could potentially cause injury. Spineless species are much more suited for indoor cultivation.
- Light: Bright, unfiltered sunlight. Yucca thrives in full sunlight, so they're perfect for that west-facing window where everything else burns up.
- Water: Yucca is highly sensitive to water-logging. Water regularly in the spring and summer growing season, but make sure the plant has excellent drainage and dries between waterings. Water sporadically in the winter. Never let a yucca plant sit in a tray of water.
- Temperature: Widely variable. Yucca is adapted to the desert, where temperatures can soar into the 90s or higher and down into the 30s at night.
- Soil: A loose, well-drained potting mix.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or controlled-release fertilizer according to label instructions.
The easiest way to propagate yucca is with offsets of older plants. Divide the plant during repotting or carefully slice away the offset and pot up into a separate container.
They can also be propagated by stem cuttings, using pieces of stem measuring at least 4 inches and rooting hormone. Yucca grown indoors will likely not flower or bear seeds.
Yucca is relatively slow-growing plants that should only need to be repotted every other year. They do well slightly pot-bound, as long as they don't become heavy enough to tip over their containers. Repotting larger yucca plants can be difficult, so larger plants can be refreshed with new potting soil by digging out the top two inches of the container and adding new soil. During typical repotting, remove the yucca plant from its container and go up one container size. Always use fresh potting soil.
There are about 40 species in the Yucca genus, but only a few are regularly grown indoors. In desert areas, such as the southeastern United States, yucca is common outdoors plants, where they attain their full size. Indoors, however, people tend to stick with a few species:
- Y. guatamalensis (formerly Y. elephantipes). Sometimes called the spineless yucca, 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, however, and will live indoors for years before outgrowing their space.
- Y. aloifolia. Sometimes called the Spanish bayonet, this plant features stiff leaves that end in sharp points. Leaves up to 20" long and can be dangerously sharp.
Under the right conditions, yucca is not difficult to grow. They tend to thrive on a little neglect, rather than too much attention. They are especially easy to overwater, and soggy stems are a sign of too much water. The best conditions for Yucca include a sunny corner with relatively low humidity. Yucca is not prone to many pests, although scale can 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.