How to Grow Desert Spoon

Desert spoon shrub with blue-green serrated leaves surrounded by small rocks and wood ledge

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Native to the Chihuahuan desert in North America, the desert spoon plant (sometimes also referred to as the spoon yucca plant) is a perennial shrub closely related to agave. A semi-succulent species, the plant grows at a moderate pace in dry, arid environments across Texas, parts of the Rio Grande Valley, the Pecos Valley in New Mexico, and parts of Arizona.

Best planted in early spring or late fall, desert spoon plants feature serrated blue to grayish-green leaves that are long and slender, with frizzy ends and reddish-brown margins. An inward curve at the leaf base inspires the plant's common name "desert spoon," and a large "skirt" of dead leaves covers the central stubby trunk.

When the desert spoon plant is about seven to 10 years old, it begins to produce showy flowers in late spring or early summer. Female plants will showcase purplish-pink flowers, while male plants boast blooms that are creamy yellow. Bees and hummingbirds are fond of these flowers, which sit atop tall, pole-like stalks.

Botanical Name Dasylirion wheeleri
Common Names Desert spoon, sotol, common sotol, spoon yucca, spoon flower, blue sotol
Plant Type Perennial evergreen semi-succulent shrub
Mature Size 4–6 ft. tall, 3–4 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Late spring, summer
Flower Color Creamy yellow, purplish-pink
Hardiness Zones 8–11 (USDA)
Native Area North America

Desert Spoon Care

Desert spoon is a very low-maintenance plant that's a welcome addition to any Southwest-inspired landscape. You can plant it in spots where it's otherwise challenging to grow plants, such as dry beds, foundation gardens, patios that are in direct sunlight, and rock gardens. Pair your desert spoon plant with other perennials that attract pollinators, like penstemon or Mexican feather grass. Keep in mind, the spines (called "teeth") along desert spoon's leaves can be sharp, so consider keeping the plant away from areas where people can brush up against it, such as a pathway.

Some Native American tribes have a history of making food or drinks from the central part of the desert spoon plant. With proper advice from a foraging professional, you can cook the crown of the plant, dry it, pound it into powder, and use it to make a cake. You can also peel the baked crown, crush it, mix it with water, and ferment it as an alcoholic beverage known as "sotol."

Desert spoon shrub with thin blue-green serrated leaves closeup

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Desert spoon shrub with thin serrated leaves with creamy yellow flowers

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Light

Like most succulents, desert spoon plants thrive when planted in a spot that boasts full sunlight similar to their natural desert habitat. That said, they can also do well in partial shade, but you should ultimately aim for at least six hours of bright light daily.

Soil

For best results, plant desert spoon in soil that is porous and fast-draining, such as garden loam or sand. Avoid sites located near the ocean—desert spoon has a low salt tolerance—and only plant it in a wet climate if the soil is very well-draining. Additionally, desert spoon is not particular about its soil pH level and can do well in a range of neutral to acidic blends.

Water

Water your desert spoon plant regularly until it's established in your landscape and weekly during the summer. You can decrease your watering cadence as you near winter—the plant will only need to be watered every two to four weeks during cooler months. As you water, aim your hose or can towards the base of the plant instead of the crown—too much moisture introduced to the crown area can result in root rot.

Temperature and Humidity

True to its native hot and dry desert environment, desert spoon plants are both heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant. High temperatures suit this plant best, though heat stress may occur if temperatures are consistently above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Desert spoon plants cannot survive long periods of frost and should not be grown in areas where temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize your desert spoon plant—it will establish itself and grow just fine without it. That being said, an optional application of balanced fertilizer in the spring will ensure booming growth.

Desert Spoon Varieties

There are a few other varieties of desert spoon plants you may encounter, including:

  • Smooth Sotol (Dasylirion leiophyllum): This varietal produces small clusters of white flowers on the top of its sturdy bloom stalk, which can grow to be between 5 and 20 feet in height.
  • Texas Sotol (Dasylirion texanum): This varietal has "fierce" spikes on its leaves that are especially long and sharp. Its flower stem grows to be between 9 and 15 feet tall and features clusters of blooms from May through August.

Pruning Desert Spoon

Desert spoon plants rarely produce any litter and, since they grow at a moderate pace, mass pruning isn't typically necessary. At the end of the blooming season, you can remove any spent flowers or stalks—you can also cut off any dry or yellowed lower leaves throughout the year as needed.

Potting and Repotting Desert Spoon

Because desert spoon plants cannot survive very cold winters, gardeners outside of the recommended hardiness zones often grow them in containers. If doing so, choose a pot that is large enough for the plant to grow to its mature size—desert spoon plants do not do well being transplanted or repotted often. As with the soil in the ground, make sure the potting mix, and the container itself, are well-draining.

Common Pests and Diseases

While desert spoon plants don't have many known pest issues, they can encounter some problems with fungal diseases, specifically where excess moisture is concerned. If the soil they're planted in is not well-draining (or if they're excessively watered), root rot can become a problem. High humidity levels or soil that isn't allowed to dry out between waterings can also cause fungal infections. To combat this issue, use a fungicidal treatment and be sure to maintain proper air circulation around the plants and other nearby specimens.