Yucca is a genus of more than 40 perennial plants, shrubs, and trees, but only a few are grown as houseplants under the label "yucca plant." Sometimes confused with the similar-looking Dracaena genus, yuccas are 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 such a long time that you'll get many years of durable service as a houseplant before it overwhelms the space. Yuccas are relatively slow-growing plants that require repotting only every two or three years.
|Botanical Name||Yucca spp.|
|Common Name||Yucca plant|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennials, shrubs, trees|
|Mature Size||Varies by variety|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun or bright, indirect sun|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 7.5|
|Bloom Time||Mid-summer to early fall (flowers are not significant)|
|Flower Color||Creamy white, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Hot, arid parts of the Americas and the Caribbean|
|Toxicity||Poisonous to animals; may cause skin irritation to humans|
Yucca Plant Care
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.
In homes with active children, it's best to choose a spineless species, such as Yucca guatemalensis, which is less likely to cause skin pricks.
Yucca thrives in full sunlight, so they're perfect for that west-facing window where everything else burns up. They also do well in bright, indirect sun. Growing yucca in low light will lead to fewer flowers and thinner growth for the plant. However, a yucca grown in a shadier spot will grow more slowly, which you may find to be an advantage.
Yucca naturally grows in sandy, dry deserts. Inside, though, plant the yucca in a loose, well-drained potting mix. The potting mix doesn't need to be specially formulated or rich; in fact, this isn't a good idea for low-maintenance yuccas. Just go for a bag of inexpensive potting mix and mix in some coarse horticultural-grade sand and perlite to promote drainage.
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 and Humidity
Yucca is adapted to the desert, where temperatures can soar above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and down into the 30s at night. It is therefore fairly adaptable to most indoor temperature conditions. Yucca plants will grow best with moderate humidity, but as desert plants, they are perfectly content in dry conditions. There is never any need to mist this plant.
Fertilize during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or controlled-release fertilizer according to label instructions. A once-a-month feeding is usually sufficient.
Is Yucca Plant Toxic?
Yucca species contain steroidal saponins in their leaves, chemicals that can cause intestinal irritation and even central nervous system problems if consumed in large enough quantities. The plant has quite a bitter taste, so it's rare for dogs and cats to eat it in dangerous quantities, but grazing animals such as horses have been known to become seriously ill from eating i.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Animals that have ingested yucca leaves may show signs of drooling, vomiting, weakness, and muscular incoordination.
While not listed a toxic plant to humans, some yucca plants have sharp spines on the tips, and puncture wounds from these leaves can become irritated and require medical attention. Yuccas grown indoors should be positioned where they are out of the way, especially in homes with children.
Yucca Plant Varieties
There are more than 40 species in the Yucca genus, but only a couple are regularly grown indoors. In desert areas, such as the southeastern United States, yuccas are common outdoor plants, where they attain their full size. Indoors, however, people tend to stick with two species:
- Yucca guatemalensis (formerly 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, however, and will live indoors for years before outgrowing their space. This is by far the most popular species to grow as a houseplant.
- Yucca aloifolia: Sometimes called the Spanish bayonet, this plant features stiff leaves that end in sharp points. The leaves are up to 20 inches long and can be dangerously sharp. This is not a plant for homes with small children.
Potting and Repotting
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 two inches of the container and adding new soil. During typical repotting, remove the yucca plant from its container and increase by one container size. Always use fresh potting soil.
Propagating Yucca Plant
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 four inches. Treat the ends of the stem cutting with rooting hormone before planting it in a fresh pot. Stem cuttings will quickly root themselves if the potting soil is kept moist (but not soggy).
Yucca grown indoors will likely not flower or bear seeds, so vegetative propagation is usually the only option.
Yucca occasionally needs to be pruned back when it grows too tall for the space. 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.
If you want to prune the flowers of a yucca, you can do so at any time, even if it's not blooming. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears to cut the stalk off 3 to 4 inches above where the stalk grows from the main trunk.
Managing Pests in Gardens: Trees and Shrubs: Agave, Yucca. University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources
Yucca filamentosa. North Carolina State University Extension
Plants Poisonous to Livestock. Cornell University Department of Animal Science
Vartanyan, M., Orimoto, K., Dragovic, A., Crock, C., Dobson, M. and O'Leary, S. (2018), Garden terror—Case series of twenty‐eight serious ear injuries caused by yucca plants. Clin Otolaryngol, 43: 749-753. doi:10.1111/coa.13049