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How to Care for a Yucca Plant (Beginner’s Guide)

How to Care for a Yucca Plant (Beginner’s Guide)

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The Yucca plant has had a surge of interest in the past few years. Many indoor gardeners are finding tropical plants incredible for sprucing up interiors and adding a feel good vibe to their spaces.

The Yucca plant does that and more with its gorgeous green sword-like leaves that protrude in rosette shapes. A really interesting look.

How you keep them that way depends on how the plant is cared for. Surprisingly, for such a ferocious grower in the summer months, it takes very little hands-on work to care for a Yucca plant, provided that you have the initial setup right.

About the Yucca Plants Growing Conditions

The Yucca plant is part of the Agave family; a species native to arid and dry climates. As such, soil is not going to be good for them, yet they can still be planted in the ground. Not in the original ground soil though.

Ground Prep for Growing Yucca Plants Outdoors

When these are grown outdoors, they are used for xeriscaping, not landscaping. Xeriscaping is a gardening method that is engineered to use minimal water. Grass is replaced with rocks, soil and mulches to mimic desert like conditions.

When planting a Yucca in the ground, the ground needs to be prepped by removing soil, filling the ground that’ll surround the roots with plenty of gravel through the soil, then topping it up with a good few inches of gravel, grit, or pebbles so as to provide the drainage that these plants need. In soil, the roots will surely rot.

Keep in mind that Yuccas can be invasive! They ought to be planted away from buildings, sidewalks, and garden paths. Not only because the large tap roots can split even concrete, but because the leaves are sharp. You don’t want to brush your arm across these leaves when walking around your garden.

Recommended Pot Sizes for Yucca Plants

For potted Yuccas, the best size of pot will be one that is just slightly larger than the root ball. Too much space in the pot takes longer to dry. The result of soil staying wet for too long can be fatal for Yuccas.

The faster the soil dries, the better. These are extremely drought tolerant, and like with every drought tolerant plant, they are prone to root rot. The size of pot plays a role in keeping a Yucca plant healthy.

The Potting Mix to Grow Yucca Plants in

Just as important as getting the size of pot right, the soil mix you put in the container is equally important. It doesn’t need to be highly fertile soil, or enriched with any fertilizer. All the potting mix needs to do is let water drain freely through it – and fast.

The best way to accomplish that feat in a pot is to line the base of it with a few inches of gravel, rocks, or pebbles. Because of that, taller pots are ideal. Not only for adding gravel for drainage, but also for weighing the pot down.

Yuccas, once they get growing will become top-heavy. The larger varieties that can reach ceiling height indoors, and even taller outdoors, can be grown in deep pots with bricks in the base to weigh them down.

The best type of soil for fast drainage are succulent potting mixes. If you have ingredients laying around to make your own potting mix, a good combination is three parts peat moss mixed with one part sand.

Temperature Requirements of Yucca Plants

The sweet spot for Yucca plants is to maintain a steady temperature range of 650F to 85oF (180C to 29oC). They can be considered cold hardy to an extent, but they definitely cannot withstand long periods of freezing temperatures.

When a Yucca plant freezes, the soil cannot transport nutrients to the leaves. As a result, dieback happens. Even without the water in the soil completing freezing, frost alone can damage the leaves.

Some Yucca varieties are tolerant of temperatures as low as 45oF (70C). It is not sustainable though. When a long freeze is forecast, Yuccas kept outdoors needs protection from drying and freezing to protect the roots from frost damage.

This can be done with potted Yuccas kept outdoors by wrapping the pot in a horticultural blanket, or for ground planted Yucca trees and shrubs, by mulching around the base to a depth of at least six inches. Shredded bark, or a leaf mulch are ideal for insulating the roots against frost.

Cold damage is likely during a hard freeze. Outdoors, you can expect cold damage to result in leaves turning black and dying. Snow on the leaves are likely to make them brittle and prone to snapping. When the soil hardens from freezing soil, the lack of water being transported will likely lead to symptoms of dehydration.

Shrivelled brown leaves on Yucca plants are caused by a lack of water, which happens when the soil hardens when frozen.

In the peak summer months, full sun can be too intense for Yucca plants. Exposure to extreme temperatures results in sunburn, which can appear as yellow spots, white spots, or tan brown spots appearing sporadically on the leaves. They do need protection from excessive sunlight.

For potted plants that are overwintered indoors, then placed outdoors on a decking area or balcony through Spring and Summer, it is best to gradually acclimate the plant to the higher levels of sun.

Without acclimating the plant to full sun over the course of two to three weeks, it is more likely to experience blotching from exposure to more sunlight than it is used to. When moving the plants location to outdoor, do it gradually, giving it a few hours to begin with and working up to 6+ hours of full sun.

How to Water Yucca Plants

Always remember that Yucca plants are very drought resistant. Water is stored in its rhizomes, trunk, and the leaves so it can go weeks without being watered.

How much water a Yucca needs depends on the temperature it is kept in. In hotter climates, the potting mix will dry out faster, mostly from evaporation.

Wait until the top inch of soil is dry to the touch, then add a generous amount of water in equal amounts around the base of the plant. That’s to say, don’t pour all of the water into the one side of the pot.

When you do that, the watered side gets the most water, the opposite side gets the leftovers. When watering, water around the plant base so that all the roots get their equal share.

When the plant needs to be watered, the leaves begin to wrinkle. As these can handle periods of drought, it is safe to wait until some of the leaves begin to shrivel slightly. When that happens, you should notice that the top inch of the soil is dry to the touch.

In terms of the texture to feel for, you want the soil to moist but not wet. Wet soil leads to root rot, yet dry soil that remains dry for extended periods of time can damage the root system. For that reason, it’s best practice to only let the top inch or so of soil dry, then water to moisten the soil without completely saturating it.

For outdoor Yucca trees or shrubs, water around the base until the soil feels moist to a depth of two to three inches. For potted Yuccas kept indoors, watering is simpler. Add enough until a little starts to pour out of the drainage hole, then stop.

The most problematic issue that the Yucca plant has is water related diseases. Primarily, rot!

Moist but never wet is the rule to remember for the soil.

Do Yucca Plants Need High Humidity?

Yucca plants thrive with low to moderate humidity levels. Unlike other tropical plants that require misting to prevent the leaves from wilting, this is not one of those.

You can leave it in a room with air as dry as 10% humidity and it will do fine. Yucca plants are very used to dry conditions and dry air is when it thrives.

Fertilizer Requirements for Yucca Plants

Nearly all plants grow better when fed a quality fertilizer. The same holds true for Yuccas, yet they can grow fine without any fertilizing. Still, slow though in the winter, so the best time to feed fertilizer is at the beginning of spring when the plant begins actively growing.

With fertilizer, leaf growth is profuse in the spring and summer. Growth stagnates in the winter so fertilizing should be stopped by early fall.

Fertilizers for succulents and cacti are what to feed a Yucca plant.

The important part is the ingredients in the fertilizer. The main thing to look for on the label is a low nitrogen content. Pertinent is having the macros that Yuccas need, which are more essential for this plant.

The Micros to Look for on Fertilizer Labels

Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Magnesium (Mg), Manganese (Mn), Sulfur, and Zinc (Zn).

Different brands use different formulas, however, in all cases with the Yucca plant, whatever the label on the fertilizer bottle lists as instructions to dilute the feed to, use half the recommended dilution ratio with Yucca plants. They are sensitive to chemicals and are prone to discoloration caused from over feeding on fertilizer.

The reason care needs taken with fertilizers is that high chemical concentrations leave an excessive build up of salt in the potting mix and that leads to fertilizer burn.

Pruning Yucca Plants for Maintenance, Cosmetics, or Taming its Height

Pruning may be required on occasion to keep your Yucca plant tamed. They can grow quite large if they aren’t maintained in a container. How these are pruned depends on how you want your plant to look.

If you want to prune to keep the trunk of a Yucca tree small enough for a pot, the lower leaves would be pruned and the lower part of the trunk shortened to lower the height of the plant.

Another way to prune is to remove what’s referred to as the Yucca skirt. The more mature these plants become, the more of a tree appearance they develop.

The top half of the plant has upright leaves, but from the middle of the plant, the leaves droop down forming a skirt around the trunk. If you would rather see the trunk on the lower half, you can totally remove every drooping leaf on the plant, keeping only the top half of upright leaves.

Pruning for Cosmetics

As the plant matures, the lower leaves are the first to lose their greenery. They go pale, then yellow, then the lowest-most leaves drop. It’s fine to prune away the occasional discolored leaf.

In fact, it’s better because the sooner it’s gone, the sooner new growth can emerge.

Pruning for Height

Potted Yucca plants will outgrow their pots. When they do, you have to make a choice, provided you have the option of letting it grow taller.

Indoor Yuccas at ceiling height will need to be shortened. At that point, you can make multiple plants from the one. It’s called propagation and there’s nothing difficult about it. All you do is cut the Yucca and replant it.

Remove the leaves, cut the trunk to the desired height, then repot it in a fresh potting mix. Preferably, the same mix the parent plant was grown in.

This is best done in the spring, on a dry day because it is best to leave the cuttings in the sun for two to three hours to let it air before transplanting it in a new potting mix.

It doesn’t take much to cut through the trunk of a Yucca plant. A sharp bladed handsaw or serrated knife using moderate force will slice through it without much exertion.

The new pot ought to be tall and wide to support the plant. If using a lightweight material like a plastic pot, concrete blocks or bricks can be inserted first to add weight to the pot. Other options are to use a clay or cement planter.

To repot, insert a gravel/grit, or pebbles to support drainage, top the pot up to around 1/3rd of the pot with potting mix, insert the root ball in the center of the planter, then backfill the pot with your potting mix, making sure to tamp it down for slight compaction so as to prevent the trunk from sloping off to the side.

How to Repot a Yucca Plant

Keep in mind that the pot size is pertinent to keeping a Yucca Plant healthy. As it grows, the roots will become bound to the pot at some stage. It usually takes indoor grown Yucca plants a couple of years for the roots to fill out the pot. Once that happens, repot it.

Generally, every other year, Yucca plants need to be repotted to prevent them from becoming root bound. At that stage, it is simply a case of removing the plant from its current container, trimming excessive roots, pruning for cosmetics, and then settling the plant into it’s new container with the same ingredients for the potting mix that it’s used to.

Once transplanted, make sure to give it a good watering in, then plenty of sunlight exposure.

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