Yucca Plant Care Tips & Growing Advice
The yucca is such a hardy, attractive, and low maintenance plant, it's popular with gardeners of all experience levels. The yucca adapts, and even thrives, in many types of environments, making it among the most popular house plants.
You can grow yucca in the garden, in a container on the porch or as a potted houseplant. Yucca plants can grow to be rather tall and wide under the right conditions. When the time comes, height and width can be easily maintained with pruning and dividing the plant.
Types of Yucca Plants
There are over 40 different species of the yucca plant (sometimes called a yucca tree), but all have the same large, spiky leaves and white flowers. The plant is a member of the Asparagaceae family and subfamily Agavoideae. This variety of shrub tree is native to the hot, dry, arid parts of the Americas and the Caribbean.
Here's a quick rundown of the 40+ different yucca species (using common names where possible):
Banana Yucca (yucca baccata)
Spoonleaf Yucca (yucca filamentosa)
Palma Chuna Yucca
Flaccid Leaf Yucca (yucca flaccida)
Great Plains Yucca (yucca glauca)
Moundlily Yucca (yucca gloriosa or spanish dagger)
New Mexican Spanish Bayonet
Big Bend Yucca
According to Succulent-Plant, while yuccas grow exclusively in the Americas, various species have adapted to conditions in arid desert climates, fertile grasslands, and even tropical rainforests. These diverse plants are ideal for gardens in almost any location, providing a splash of color when in bloom.
These succulents are incredibly easy to grow either in a container or your garden. They require very little in the way of maintenance to keep them healthy and thriving. This is an aesthetically pleasing plant that can add a dramatic design element to your garden and indoor spaces.
Tough, evergreen, dagger-shaped leaves can range in coloration from pale green to bluish with variations of cream, yellow, white or light pink flowers. For example, yucca aloifolia is a slow-growing succulent that has creamy-white flowers with a hint of pink or purple.
Most species of the shrub are pollinated by yucca moths, with a small number of the plants being self-fertile. The moth larvae often eat through the yucca seeds, drastically reducing the number that is viable when it comes time to spread them.
Nearly every type of succulent flowers many times, and these plants also grow horizontally when their vertical shoots grow into flower buds. Division of the offshoots, or pups, lets yucca easily propagate. Cuttings taken from the cane or stem easily grow additional plants, without harming the original.
Most species can handle variable temperatures ranging from 30 degrees up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. While these plants favor sunlight, they also deal well with partial shade.
In general, your yucca will be happiest in a low humidity environment with good drainage and ample exposure to sunlight. However, because there are so many varieties of yucca, it’s important to follow the instructions specific to your region and type of plant.
Yucca Plant Uses
If you're growing yucca, it doesn't have to just sit around being pretty. There are loads of uses for this amazing plant.
it cleans your air
The NASA Clean Air Study found that certain indoor plants can actually remove harmful toxins from the air. You’ll be pleased to know that the yucca is one of the top-rated air cleaning plants. As houseplants, these shrubs add visual appeal to indoor settings.
you can eat it
In addition to their good looks, many yucca plants are also edible. These include the banana yucca and soapweed yucca, which have flowers and fruit that animals and humans can eat. The benefits aren’t only in taste, however, since the roots and leaves are said to contain an anti-inflammatory agent.
When picked from the thick-leaf types of yucca, the edible fruit resembles the taste of figs, easily baked, dried, or ground into a sweet tasting flour. Picked at just the right time, the flowers lend a sweet and delicate taste.
it's a cleaning agent
Yucca is also a key ingredient in natural shampoo, with one medium-sized yucca plant’s roots blended into an amber liquid. Native Americans used the saponins from the roots and trunk of plants like yucca elata, the soaptree yucca, to make soap for clothes and hair washing applications.
it's good for your skin
Native American also cultures used yucca sap for a skin salve, nurturing common ailments like cuts and scrapes. To these cultures, the fruit also served as a laxative of sorts.
you can make rope from it
Historically, yucca fibers made strong rope with many utilitarian uses across multiple cultures. Some applications of these fibers were the creation of animal traps and baskets for food and other items. Basket weaving used the long, narrow leaves of multiple species of yucca.
Beyond the use of its roots, leaves, and flowers, yucca earns admirers for its good looks. In fact, episodes of the show Star Trek used the somewhat exotic-looking yucca brevifolia in landscaped sets of “distant planets,” a nod to their otherworldly appearance.
In general, these tough plants are seemingly impervious to plenty of conditions that would wither other vegetation, but they are not free of potential pest problems. A few types of bugs enjoy various parts of the shrub, and if left untreated, can damage or kill it.
Scales are one type of bug that commonly cause yellowing or wilting on yucca plants. These tiny critters feed on plant fluids and may also cause visible marks on the leaves of your plant. Scales feed on the plant and attract ants with their sweet-scented excretions.
The moisture that scales create also makes an ideal setting for mold to develop, so it’s important to check the plant for signs of an infestation.
If your yucca is healthy, it may withstand some minor scale feeding without too much damage, especially when living outdoors. Natural predators and parasites may keep scales at bay, but applying topical treatment is the most effective way to get rid of the pests.
A yucca weevil is another bug to be wary of when cultivating yucca plants. These bugs are black beetles that make tunnels into the plant, causing holes and areas of weakness throughout the stalks. Once a yucca has an infestation, there’s no way to remove the bugs.
Unfortunately, weevils can only be eradicated by removing and destroying existing plants and avoiding planting more for a number of years.
Mealybugs are another pest that commonly hangs around yucca plants, but cleaning the plant with water will get rid of these bugs quite easily. The damage done by these critters isn’t as severe as the damage caused by weevils or scales.
Finally, some species of yucca are susceptible to a type of mite that is part of the arachnid family. Practically invisible, these tiny bugs manifest in a visible “webbing” on the plant’s leaves, which plain water can wash away. Rinsing your yucca, and keeping it moist, can help prevent mite infestations.
Where Should You Plant a Yucca?
When planting yucca, it's important to remember that it thrives both indoors and out, so choosing where to plant yours depends on how much outdoor space you have, the climate where you live, and how much time you have to invest in caring for your plants.
To prevent potential pest infestations, the easiest trick is to keep yucca potted indoors. However, this limits the amount of natural sunlight your plant will get unless you have a sunroom or sunny window that’s accessible to the plant.
Planting outdoors makes more sense when you have the time to check your yucca thoroughly for potential overwatering or bug problems. The type of soil that already exists in your garden area, or what type you have transplanted, will also dictate the most desirable location for your yucca.
For plants with a tendency to grow to towering heights, or those types with sharper, spine-shaped leaves, planting far away from walking paths is a wise gardening choice. Keeping pets and children away may prove difficult, so choose the type of plant and its location wisely.
If you plant to purchase a small-sized species of yucca, an indoor location will work well. Conversely, if you plan to purchase a larger variety, such as a yucca constricta, or Buckley Yucca, you’ll need to allow for its potential growth to reach up to ten feet in height.
Also, some varieties of yucca more closely resemble trees as opposed to shrubbery, such as the yucca brevifolia, also known as the Joshua Tree. These trees can grow up to thirty feet tall when planted in areas with ample space.
However, the variety you can find at your local store will depend on your climate as well as the origins of the plants. Yucca decipiens, for example, are tree-type yuccas that originate in central Mexico. It’s unlikely that you’ll find this type of plant in North America, especially due to its large size.
When shopping for a yucca plant, look for sturdy, well-rooted plants with no ‘cane-wobble.’ Make sure that your plant is healthy, with robust and appropriately colored foliage. Choose a plant that is well suited to the planned location and keep in mind the potential size of the species you are considering.
Growing Yucca Outdoors Vs Indoors
Yucca potted for either outdoor or indoor enjoyment should be put in a container that is two to three times the size of the existing pot to give it some room to grow. This eliminates the need for too frequent re-potting, which can cause trauma to the plant.
If your new plant is a landscape specimen, prepare the site by excavating a hole that is several inches deeper and wider than the existing container. Add a bottom layer of sand and pebbles for good drainage, since yucca do not enjoy moisture saturation.
Add several inches of garden soil before placing the yucca in the ground. Continue to add soil, gently tamping as you go. Water just enough to settle the soil and dampen the root ball, avoiding overwatering.
For indoor planting, place a layer two to three inches thick of small pebbles in the bottom of a container. Add a layer of good, aerated soil before putting the new plant in the pot and surrounding with soil. Pack around the stem, then water lightly to settle the soil.
Adequate pebbles or rocks as the bottom layer for planting helps avoid stagnant water sitting in the bottom of your container. Standing water is often a breeding ground for plant diseases as well as bugs and mold.
This is one benefit to growing yucca plants in the ground versus in containers or indoors since ground-planted yucca will naturally have water filtered away through natural systems. However, recreating this setting in a container is just as easy.
Growing Yucca in Containers
Depending on the size and variety of your chosen plant, as well as the size of your gardening space, planting your yucca in a container might benefit you both. Containers allow you to move the plant to the best location for sun and water daily if needed.
Plants in containers are also portable in that you can bring them indoors during inclement weather. Yucca won’t do well in snowy or frozen conditions, so if you don’t live in a mild enough climate to keep your plants outdoors, consider confining them to a pot.
The best choices for container-planted yucca are smaller varieties that are spineless, otherwise, you risk the plant outgrowing its pot or offering a disposition similar to that of a cactus.
Keep in mind that the plant might become more top-heavy as it grows, so use a container that’s sturdy and wide enough to keep from tipping over.
Here's a great video on how to pot yucca plants after pruning them.
Caring for Your Yucca
Follow a few simple guidelines, and with minimum effort, you’ll have a healthy, happy plant. Other than watering, occasional feeding and pruning, most species of yucca are easy to maintain.
How Much Water Does a Yucca Need?
Yucca is an ideal plant for people who lack a green thumb since they’re usually difficult to kill. These hardy plants appreciate tender loving care, but a little neglect won’t hurt.
These shrub trees have evolved over time to require little water to survive. Water is stored in the thick, fleshy leaves, which enables the plant to survive even in near drought conditions. If you forget to water for a few weeks or even a few months, the yucca will survive just fine.
You’ll know it’s time to water again when the top 1/3 of the soil is dry. Water just enough to dampen the soil as deep as the root system, about an inch a week during the growing season. Over-watering can show up as foliage collapse or cane rotting at the soil line.
Yucca doesn’t like nutrient-rich soils, like those potting soils designed for other succulents or for cacti. These plants, while not picky, don’t appreciate rich and dense soil, and are much happier with decent drainage.
When watering, be aware of changing environmental conditions that may affect your yucca. The wind, precipitation, changes in temperature, and indoor climates changes can all influence the plant’s usual water requirements.
If you live in a climate that sees lots of rainfall, you may not need to water your outdoor plant as often. During droughts, yucca can survive with less water, but for optimum growth and greenery, you’ll want to maintain or increase your watering schedule.
In general, watering once every seven to ten days in mild summer conditions gives most yuccas the best growth potential. In rainy seasons, additional watering is not usually necessary. If your plant begins to wilt, take note and adjust the watering schedule as needed.
Here's a great guide that covers both water and sunlight (which is what we cover in the next section):
How Much Sun Does a Yucca Need?
Your garden Yucca will grow and thrive best in a nice, sunny location. And because this plant is such a trooper, it will do almost as well in an area with partial shade. You can move potted plants for optimal sun exposure, although it’s not generally necessary.
Keep an eye on your plant to ensure that it’s keeping the proper color and successfully growing buds that flower. Your plant’s visual appearance, and therefore its happiness, is the best indicator of a healthy yucca.
An indoor specimen will appreciate a good amount of natural sunlight. Plant Care Today suggests that your indoor yucca absorb loads of sunshine. According to their guide, it will do best in east, west or south-facing windows.
A potted shrub in a shadier spot will probably be healthy enough, but not grow as quickly. If you notice your potted yucca is having issues, try moving it to a sunny window. It may perk right up!
Conversely, plants that are moved from inside to harsh sunlight outdoors may suffer sunburn. Monitor your plant when moving it to an outdoor location, especially when the weather is particularly hot. Sunburn manifests as yellow and white blotches, and this is a sign that your plant needs more shade.
What’s the Best Soil for a Yucca?
The yucca is not too picky about soil. If it is well-drained, yucca doesn’t care what type of soil it lives in. Low pH or high pH, sand or clay, your plant will be healthy regardless.
Yuccas grown in a container will appreciate a three-to-one mixture of sand and peat combined with potting soil. Use only clean, horticultural-grade sand, since sand from a local beach, for example, contains salt and other nutrients your yucca does not need.
Alternatively, use one part sand, one part perlite or lava gravel, and a third part natural yard or household compost. Lava gravel is a rough decorative stone that allows for adequate drainage in plant beds and in landscaping designs, developed specifically for gardening.
Perlite is another substance with volcanic origins. It is a volcanic glass that lightens up the soil by creating gaps for water and air to move through. This lightweight material is a non-reactive rock type that creates ideal conditions for water drainage.
How to Fertilize Yucca Plants
Because yucca plants experience slow growth throughout the year, you might think your plant needs help getting growing. But this isn’t usually the case. While yucca plants don’t necessarily need fertilizer, there are a number of applications for the plant food.
A balanced, low-nitrogen fertilizer can help potted plants, or nutritionally starved ones, to grow and thrive. Young plants or those that were previously improperly planted will show the most improvement with the addition of fertilizer or plant food.
Secondary and trace nutrients in fertilizers developed for cacti will benefit your succulents best. Granular and water-soluble fertilizers are also safe bets, depending on your plant’s needs. Granular fertilizers slowly dissolve, while water-soluble ones immediately deliver nutrients to the plant’s roots.
Light fertilization can help establish the plant when growing yucca in containers but isn’t vital for established plants. Also, fertilizing an unhealthy plant is not recommended, since fertilizer will not address the underlying cause of the plant’s distress.
Also, too much fertilizer may hurt or even kill your yucca. Fertilizer burn, much like sunburn, is caused by overexposure to the nutrient elements in the formula. Leaves will appear burnt, brown, or dead. There is no way to reverse the damage caused by fertilizer burn, so be careful when applying it to your plant.
How and When Should You Prune a Yucca?
Pruning yucca typically isn’t much of a chore, since lower leaves will naturally die and turn brown on their own. Trimming these away is simple and healthy for your plant, and doesn’t take much effort.
Some species develop a ‘skirt’ of old leaves, much like a palm tree does. These can be trimmed away or even left in place if you prefer a skirted yucca. There are no drawbacks to leaving the dry material attached to your plant.
Trimming off sunburned, frozen, or other damaged leaves may also help restore your plant to its previous healthy state. If proactive measures to help your yucca perk up have failed, trimming leaves is the last resort for improving its overall appearance.
If your yucca has overgrown past the confines of its container or designated garden plot, pruning will reduce its footprint without harming the plant. However, if you want to split the plant and grow its babies elsewhere, yucca lends itself to this type of pruning as well.
Once your yucca gets too tall, you can cut the trunk, or cane, to a better height in early spring before the growing season as seen in the above YouTube video. The hardy plant will re-sprout from the cut point and continue to grow.