The yucca plant is a tough perennial shrub. There are actually many species of yucca, but while they vary in size and color, they are all able to thrive in hot, dry climates and can be cared for the same way. The plants are easiest to start from cuttings, although growing from seeds is possible. They can be grown in pots or outdoors, either directly in the garden or in a specially prepared raised bed.
Growing Yucca from Seeds
Expect the plant to take several months to sprout. Yucca seeds are slow to germinate, and many species have a low success rate sprouting at all. The seed may even take a full year after planting to sprout.
For a quicker process, take a cutting from an existing adult yucca plant. This method is described in the next section.
Start this process in winter or early spring. Yucca seeds planted indoors should be started in winter, to give them as long as possible to germinate before the next winter begins. If planting directly in garden soil instead of following this more effective method, plant in early spring instead.
Place the seeds on a moist paper towel in a plastic container. Fill a container with approximately 1/4 inch (6 mm) of water. Place a paper towel on top of the water, then place your seeds on top of the paper towel. This method increases the odds of the seeds surviving and germinating. Planting the yucca seeds directly in soil has a very low success rate.
Keep the seeds moist at 65–75ºF (18–24ºC). Keep the container at room temperature, adding a small amount of water periodically to prevent the seeds from drying out and going dormant again.
Once the seeds finally sprout, prepare a special potting mix. Some of the seeds should eventually sprout, but this can take anywhere from one month to a full year. Once the seeds have opened up and begun to sprout, prepare individual, small pots with a mixture of equal parts sand and compost. If these materials are not available, use any well-draining soil mixture, typically with 30% or more sand or small gravel.
Plant the seeds 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep and water in. Plant the sprouted seeds, sprouting side up, 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) under the soil’s surface. Cover it with soil and water the soul thoroughly.
Keep the sprouts in indirect sunlight and water occasionally. Let the first thorough watering almost dry out, then water regularly to keep the soil damp, but not soaked. You should see the sprouts emerge from the soil within a week.
Keep indoors at least two years, transferring to larger pots successively. The yucca plant may not be sturdy enough to thrive outdoors for at least two or three years. Keep it indoors during this period, or indefinitely. Transplant the yuccas to a larger pot if its roots begin to wrap around the outside of its current pot. Once the yucca plant is two or three years old, you may plant it outside in the springtime, following the instructions in the planting outside section.
When transplanting, be careful to dig deep enough to expose its entire taproot. This central, long root can be quite long in some yucca species.
Taking the Cutting
Take a cutting from a mature stem. After a couple years of growth or more, yucca plants may produce offshoots near the base that grow on their own stem. During the dormant colder season, select a stem with dark brown bark, not a young, cream-colored stem. Cut a section off of this stem. The length and thickness of the cutting do not matter much. A cutting 3–4 in. (7.5–10 cm) long should be sufficient.
Strip the lower leaves from the stem. Use a clean knife or scissors to remove the leaves nearest the base, leaving the leaves on the top. With fewer leaves, the cutting will go through less severe moisture changes, which increases the odds of it surviving the transplant until its roots can grow.
Dry out the stem. Place the cutting in a cool, shaded area. This dries the plant out slightly to encourage root growth for seeking moisture. After 4–7 days, the cutting should be ready to plant.
Fill a small pot with loose soil. Select a pot with drainage holes. Fill it with a cactus or yucca potting mix, or make your own quickly draining soil. Two parts seed-starting mix and one part sand will provide nutrients for the young plant without keeping it too wet.
Do not use beach sand, as it contains high salt content. Sand from stream banks is usually acceptable.
Push the stem into the soil. Only push the stem far enough into the soil to keep it steady and upright. Often, you’ll need to use a gentle rope or other soft line material to anchor the stem upright to another object.
Keep the plant indoors in indirect sunlight. Start the plant indoors to protect it from chilly evening temperatures and from sudden gusts of wind. Keep it near a sunny window, but not in direct sunlight while its roots and leaves are still developing.
Transfer the yucca plant to your garden after roots develop. Roots should develop fully within six weeks. You may be able to see them peeking out of the drainage holes, but if the plant appears healthy, you can assume the roots have grown.
Continue on to the next section when you are ready to transplant.
If the roots fail to develop, you may wish to try again with a cutting from a larger, more mature yucca plant.
Planting a Yucca Plant Outdoors
Make sure your yucca plant can survive your climate. The acceptable USDA Hardiness Zones for yucca range depending on species, from zones 4 through 11 (minimum winter temperatures of -30 to +25ºF or -34 to -4ºC), depending on your species. Zones 9 through 11 (17 to 25ºF, -7 to -4ºC) are typically safe even if you do not know your exact yucca species. If you live in a lower or higher zone, it’s best to consult an experienced gardener or garden nursery employee to identify your yucca species and find out what zones it will thrive in.
Plant your yucca during the late spring. Yucca plants thrive during the warm summer months. Planting the yucca at the beginning of the warm weather season gives it the longest growing season possible.
Choose a location that receives full sun. Yucca plants need a hot, dry environment, so give your plant access to direct sunlight. Certain yucca species can thrive in colder or shadier locations, but these are in the minority, and typically still do well in full sunlight.
If the plant was kept in a shady location, consider moving the pot to an area of indirect sunlight for a week before moving it into full sun. This gives it time to adjust, reducing the chance of burning or withering.
Prepare a bed of stones and gravel (optional). Yucca can send out roots and sprout all over your garden, so if you wish to keep it controlled, you’ll need to dig a large hole and fill it with stones. Pour gravel over the top of the stones until the hole is filled. This has the added benefit of draining water to keep the yucca roots dry, preventing rot, and is recommended for areas with a season of heavy rains.
The hole should be roughly 1 ft (30 cm) deep, and significantly wider than the yucca plant.
Form a raised bed over the stones (optional). If you built a stone bed, build a wooden wall around the location the yucca will be planted in to hold in the soil that will form a raised bed above the stones. Nail four . by . (1 m by 30 cm) boards into a square frame to place around the stone bed. You may wish to tilt the bed facing toward a sunny direction. (Tilt south in the northern hemisphere, north in the southern hemisphere.)
Alternatively, tightly pack one or two dozen large stones that measure about . (30.5 cm) in height around the stone bed to form a wall. This is more labor-intensive, but may provide additional drainage.
Prepare the soil. Yucca needs a fast-draining soil to prevent root rot. Use a special yucca or cactus potting mix, or mix your own with three parts lightweight clay, four parts sand, and one part ordinary soil. If you prepared a raised bed, this soil is placed within the boards or stone wall. Otherwise, simply have this soil ready for later.
Dig a hole for the yucca. The hole should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the yucca’s root ball. Slightly larger than the current pot the yucca is kept in should be enough if you are not sure how big the root ball is.
Place the yucca in the hole with the prepared soil around it. Gently pry the yucca out of its pot. Turn the pot on its side. Grab the yucca at the base of the stem and slowly “wiggle” it out, soil, roots, and all. Place the yucca into the newly dug hole. Fill the rest of the hole with your soil mix and pack the soil around the base of the stem to hold the plant in place. The roots should not show above ground.
Top the soil with 2 inches (5 cm) of granite chippings. The chippings keep the root dry at the neck by preventing water from splashing onto it accidentally.
Fertilize rarely. Use a water soluble, potassium rich fertilizer, diluted to a ratio of about one part fertilizer to four parts water. Apply it once a month during the summer months, during the morning. Fertilize yucca zero to two times during the entire cool season (autumn through winter). Only fertilize more quickly if your yucca is a fast-growing species. Most yucca species are slow-growing and can be harmed by excess fertilizer.
Water sparingly. Many yucca plants can get by without any supplementary watering, relying solely on rainwater to survive. Once foliage starts to develop in the warm months, however, you can water it weekly, giving the plant just enough water to slightly moisten the soil without making it wet to the touch.
Reduce the frequency of watering if your yucca plant develops brown tips with yellow rings around them. This is a sign of over-watering.
Check your plant for pests. Not many pests are drawn to yucca, but snails and slugs will attack new growth. Use a standard pesticide or organic pesticide to get rid of them. Small, green aphids can be washed off with soapy water.
Monitor the plant for signs of fungal disease. Rust and mildew are the most common diseases. Spraying a fungicide may help rid the plant of disease, especially if it is only mildew, but a fungicide may or may not work against rust.
Prune the plant when necessary. Some yucca grow in a rosette shape, and produce a long, central flower stalk. After it dies, this stalk should be cut back all the way to the base to prevent rot. Other yucca varieties are tall and tree-like. These may be pruned to direct growth, but always wear gloves and safety goggles, as yucca can send sharp splinters flying when cut. In either type, cut off dead or withered leaves from the base of the plant whenever you see them.
Add a layer of mulch over the bed each winter. Yucca plants can be damaged if exposed directly to frost. Spreading a thick layer of mulch can go a long way in keeping the plant warm and dry. However, keep mulch away from the lowest leaves to prevent rot.
You can also protect the plant by placing a solid sheet of glass or plexiglass over the bed instead of mulch.
Plant the yucca with other plants that thrive in dry conditions. Butterfly weed, yarrow, and tall-bearded iris are good options to consider.
Things You’ll Need
Sharp knife or scissors
Large stones or wooden boards (optional)
Loose, dry soil
Sources and Citations
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