A Grumpy Summer Sizzler — Yucca

July 4, 2012 | By | Comments (2)

Happy July 4, everyone! Since so many of you will be standing over hot coals today grilling out, I thought there could be no better time to continue my series on plants that love it hot and dry (just like my sister-in-law, Penny, likes her steak!). So let’s talk about yuccas.

Although yuccas are often thought of as desert plants, in fact they grow over much of North and South America. Their cold-hardiness depends on the species. For example, the one shown above, ‘Bright Edge” Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’) is cold-hardy as far north as Wisconsin. But I photographed it at the U.S. Embassy in Belize, Central America, just before I was kicked out of the country for dancing the Macarena with the ambassador’s wife. What can I say? My bad.

Kinds of Yucca

There are dozens of species, but you can divide them into two groups. The first, like Adam’s needle and curve-leaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) are stemless. They basically form a big clump. The second and larger group, including Spanish bayonet (Y. aloifolia) and twisted-leaf yucca (Y. rupicola), form trunks and grow into large shrubs or small trees.

Th_yucca_gloriosa_var2265_1_phixrVariegated mound-lily yucca (Photo courtesy of Yucca-Do)

Flowers and Foliage

Flowers and foliage are why you grow yuccas. On most species, statuesque spikes of white, bell-shaped, sometimes fragrant blooms stand up to 6 feet above the foliage in spring and summer. Flowers don’t get much showier. The long, sword-shaped leaves are also striking and may be green, blue-green, or blue-gray and striped with cream, pink, or gold. The leaves of some species, like curve-leaf yucca and mound-lily yucca (Y. gloriosa) have soft tips. The sharp tips of others, such as Spanish bayonet, are potentially lethal. The latter is a good one to plant under your daughter’s window to impale burglars and sneaky, no-good boyfriends.

How to Grow

The most important thing yuccas need is good drainage. They will rot if planted in heavy, wet soil. Yuccas prefer full sun, although I’ve found they’ll take part sun too. Because they store water in their leaves, once established yuccas need little if any water other than natural rainfall. They don’t mind humid, high-rainfall areas, though, as long as the soil is porous and fast-draining. Try to keep their foliage dry. Leaves that stay wet can develop leaf spots and other fungal diseases.

Where to Buy

Many garden centers carry yuccas. In Grumpy’s experience, the easiest ones to find are Adam’s needle (particularly ‘Bright Edge’ and ‘Color Guard’), mound-lily yucca, and curve-leaf yucca (such as ‘Banana Split’). If you can’t find them locally, however, try Yucca-Do, a mail-order nursery specializing in heat-tolerant, low-water plants. Plant Delights Nursery is another excellent mail-order source.

Next Summer Sizzler:

Purple Heart




  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I can’t give you one hard, fast rule for pruning yuccas, because they are lots of species, some with trunks and some without. It’s usually pretty easy to cut off dead leaves from the trunkless, clumping types. Sharp pruning shears will do it. The leaves of trunked yuccas are usually thicker. You might want to use loppers to cut them. You can also prune trunked yuccas to shorten then. Every trunk you cut will branch into two.

    July 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm
  2. Colin

    I have yucca plants in a couple of different locations, and they need attention. There are old brown leaves on the lower parts of the plants, and I need a good sharp pair of pruners to cut them off, because they are fairly tough, like flax, which is my excuse for letting them go for so long. Since I don’t want to commit the yucca version of crepe murder, do you have suggestions for pruning yucca so that the plants are nice and neat like the ones in your photos? thanks…

    July 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm

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