Today I’m sharing all about how to care for a yucca plant, including caring for indoor and outdoor yucca cane plants, how to propagate yucca cane plants, what light and water the plant needs, and more! This plant thrives on neglect and it’s beautiful, so it’s the perfect choice for beginner plant parents!
How to Care for a Yucca Plant
This one has been on my radar for a while, so I’m happy to finally be sitting down to write this post. Yucca plants are stunning specimens that can add a tropical feel to even the most boring rooms and gardens. And because it’s so easy to care for, it has become a hugely popular houseplant and ornamental garden plant! I’ll focus specifically on caring for the yucca cane plant—also called the yucca gigantea—but let’s do a bit of yucca background first.
What is a yucca plant?
“Yucca” itself is a genus in the Asparagaceae family, subfamily Agavoideae. They are perennial shrubs and come in upwards of 50 different species. Each looks a bit different, but they all have some sort of distinct large, long, sword-shaped green leaves.
The leaves sprout from rosettes, with many different rosettes sprouting from the trunk. It can grow between 2 and upwards of 30 feet tall! I’d imagine potted varieties will likely not get much taller than 6 feet, though. I’d love to be proven wrong!
And the leaves aren’t just sword-shaped, they can be SHARP, too! Even the yucca cane—the most popular indoor variety—has razor-sharp edges that can draw blood. Always wear thick work gloves when working with your yucca. And of course long sleeves. The leaves are typically higher off the ground, though, so they aren’t a danger to children and pets if they’re out of reach.
Native to arid climates in the Americas and the Carribean, the genus can mostly be found throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States. The cool thing about these plants, though, is that they are super adaptable. While they hail form arid climates, they’ve evolved to withstand a wide range of climates from deserts to grasslands and even subtropical areas.
The yucca variety you’re likely most familiar with is the yucca cane, also called the yucca gigantea, the spineless yucca elephantipes, the spineless yucca, and the giant yucca. You can likely find yucca cane plants easily these days in big-box garden centers like Home Depot and Lowes, as well as your local nurseries. Ikea has been selling them for years, too.
Like my info about how to care for a yucca plant? You’ll love my guides on how to take care of monstera plants, the ponytail palm, snake plants, elephant ear plants, pothos plants, rubber plants, fiddle leaf figs, cape ivy, peperomia plants, succulents, and philodendron.
How much light does a yucca cane need indoors?
Yucca cane plants can survive in a variety of light conditions, which the yucca plant’s indoor care a breeze. Notice, however, that I said survive, not thrive. They can survive in even lower light conditions, but they will grow much slower. The ideal light for a yucca cane plant indoors is bright light. Near a sunny window is perfect.
I’ve read that yucca cane plants don’t tolerate direct light well, but in my experience, that isn’t true. I’ve had my large yucca cane plant outdoors two summers in a row in very bright sun for the majority of the day. Not only did the leaves not burn at all and the plant didn’t show any damage—it thrived and exploded with growth! Here are two photos of the plant taken one year apart from one another.
Wherever you put your yucca, just keep in mind that your light levels will directly affect your yucca canes growth rate. That also means you’ll need to adjust the amount of water you give your plant. Speaking of water…
How much water does a Yucca Cane Houseplant need?
We can’t talk about how to care for a yucca plant without talking about watering needs. These plants are very drought tolerant because they hoard water in their trunks. As houseplants, they need far less water because they grow more slowly. It’s best to allow the top half of your yucca cane’s soil to dry out before water, and this is definitely a plant you want to put in a pot with a drainage hole! Since it’s from arid climates, it doesn’t want its roots sitting around in water or wet soil.
During the winter when your plant isn’t actively growing, you can water it much less. We’ve brought our big potted yucca cane inside for the winter the last two years. So it lives in the basement with little light from about December to late March. I think I watered it twice last winter.
Overwatering is a big concern for yucca cane plants, especially as houseplants. If you’re watering too much, you’ll likely notice the leaves turning from a vivid green to a yellowish color. They will also begin to droop and likely die off. If you notice this, cut the leaves off and let the plant dry out completely.
The trunk (or cane) can also begin to rot with overwatering, leading the entire plant to slump. If your trunk seems to be getting soft instead of tall and stiff, be worried! If this is happening, your plant is likely beyond saving 🙁 But you can try! Let it dry out completely, or if your plant has multiple trunks and only one is beginning to rot, separate the plant to try to save the healthy trunks.
Yucca Plant Indoor Care: Temperature and Humidity
The yucca plants natural habitat is one with extreme temperature changes. Deserts can have temperatures that soar into the 100s during the day while dropping to down near freezing at night! I have left my yucca cane outdoors well into freezing temperatures here in Maryland, and it suffered no damage the first year. (The second year is another story—more on that in a bit.)
It goes without saying that yucca plants tolerate low humidity levels very well since they are from arid climates. That makes them excellent choices for houseplants since usually indoor air is very dry. However, summers here are extremely humid, and my yucca cane also does very well outside. Morale of the story? Don’t overthink humidity too much!
Soil, Fertilizer, and Pot Size for Yucca Cane Plants
Yuccas are not particular about their soil as long as it’s of the well-draining variety. Remember, since they do well with a bit of neglect and don’t like being over-watered, well-draining soil is key. A cactus or succulent soil is nice, but in bigger pots, that route can get expensive.
If you have a large yucca you need to pot or repot, you can add sand and small rocks or perlite to a regular potting mix to lighten the soil up and encourage drainage. You could also add a bid of peat moss, which is a lightweight additive that can help encourage drainage.
As with most patient houseplants that thrive on hands-off care, yuccas don’t necessarily need fertilizer. However, you can give them an occasional dose of an all-purpose houseplant food a couple times a year during the spring and summer.
Much like snake plants (which are also very low maintenance!), yucca cane plants like to be root or pot bound. Since they aren’t super fast growers, they won’t need to be repotting super often. After one summer outdoors, I did need to repot my yucca plant. However, I don’t think I’ll have to repot it again until next year. And that will mostly be to give it some fresh soil.
Even then, however, I probably won’t take it completely out of its pot. These plants can get incredibly top heavy and difficult to manage. Especially with their sharp leaves! So I’ll likely just dig out the top few inches of soil and refresh it with some fresh new good stuff.
Does a yucca cane plant flower?
Yes! Though mine never has. And indoor yucca cane plants will likely not flower. The plant’s white flowers are called izotes—and they are actually the national flower of El Salvador. The flowers grow from stalks that the plant shoots out, typically on more mature plants.
If your plant does flower, make sure to cut the stalk down to the base after the flower dies off. You might not even want your yucca to flower since the real draw to this plant is the foliage. If you don’t like the flowers, you can just cut off the flower stalks before they bloom.
How to prune a yucca cane plant
Yucca plants do require some tidying to keep them looking their best. While a lot of yellow, brown, or bent leaves is likely a sign of a problem, it’s normal for the bottom leaves to wilt and die off. You can simply trim any dead, dying, or otherwise unsightly leaves with clean shears. Make sure to wear protective gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. The leaves are SHARP!
If your plant is getting too large, you might want to discourage growth by cutting it back a bit. To stop your yucca cane plant from getting any bigger, you can cut off the top portion of the trunk. Eventually new offshoots should sprout from this area. This won’t look amazing for a while, though, as it will be bare. And, well, look like a plant that has had its head chopped off. So chop wisely. You can try to replant the part you cut off, too. Yay, more yuccas! Speaking of more yucca plants…
How do you propagate a yucca cane plant?
Propagating yucca plants is apparently very easy. I’ll be trying my hand at it for the first time at the end of this summer (I read it’s best to propagate it in the fall). I will report back. But there are two ways to propagate a yucca plant—by dividing it, or through yucca pups (so cute). This is very similar to snake plant propagation, as they are both rhizome plants.
A rhizome is how this plant produces new “babies.” Rhizomes are horizontal underground plant stems that create offshoots of the plant. This ultimately creates new plants that are capable of surviving on their own once removed from the mother plant.
To divide a yucca plant, remove it from its pot and use a pair of clean gardening shears to cut the yucca plant into two at the rhizome. Then plant fresh and water slightly more than normal while the new roots are growing and settling in.
You can also remove yucca pups and suckers from the mother plant and plant them separately so they can become their own plant. Wait until the leaves are green. Then use clean garden shears to slice off the pup or sucker. Plant in well-draining soil and keep moist until it can establish a root system. (Make sure to keep the air well-circulated to prevent mold growth on the soil’s surface.)
Since my plant suffer a bit of damage outside last winter, I’ve been slowly pruning it back to life this summer. I started by cutting the branches off of the smallest stump completely about a month ago. (There are three stumps, so I’m going to do this slowly.)
A few weeks after cutting them off and after doing absolutely nothing else to the plant, I noticed new yucca pups sprouting! I am so excited to get this plant going with some totally healthy growth again. Check it out. I’ll update this post in the future to talk about the growth rate.
Yucca Plant Toxicity
Yucca plants are not the same as yuca plants. Yuca plants—also known as cassava or manioc plants—are unrelated, if similarly named. That pesky extra “c” confuses people. Yuca plants have edible tubers that are often used to make different types of flours. Yucca roots, however, are not edible.
Yucca plants are slightly poisonous to animals and humans. However, the plant protects itself well. The poisonous spots are difficult to reach through dense bundles of sharp foliage. I’m fine having this plant around my kid and pets, but as always, use your best judgment.
Yucca Plants and Pest Problems
Yucca plants are hardy in many ways, and their resistance to pest infestations is one of them! Spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale are some of the things you don’t often find on yucca plants. If you do encounter issues with mealybugs or scale, simply wipe them off with a cloth soaked in alcohol or spray down with neem oil.
How to Care for a Yucca Plant Outside
Remember that yucca plants are from the desert, where temperatures can plummet at night to near freezing. So, despite its exotic and tropical look, the yucca cane plant is surprisingly forgiving of temperature swings. I’ve researched it and read online that yucca varieties can grow in USDA zones 3 through 10. (See what your growing zone in the United States is here.)
So here’s what I think about this…I’m in growing zone 7a in Maryland, and we have all four seasons. I wouldn’t leave my yucca cane outdoors all winter. However, I do leave it out until the first snow, typically in December, and put it back outside in late March. Two years ago, we had a freakishly early snowfall, and the plant was covered. It showed no signs of damage.
However, last year, in early December we had some bitterly cold temperatures. The plant was fine with the temperatures, actually. But since the plant is so top heavy, it blew over one night. The next morning, all of the areas that were touching the ground looked “burned.” Here are a few pics—they were bright white. I think I found the line for my yucca cane!
These leaves eventually began to die off, so I cut them off about a month later inside. I expect the plant to rebound really nicely outdoors this spring. I’m planning to keep my large yucca in this pot this year. And I keep it in an area with direct sun all day long—it grows BEAUTIFULLY!
Keep in mind that if you’re planning to plant your yucca cane in the ground, the root systems can become very intense and difficult to remove completely. Even after digging up the plants, you could have more sprout. Also keep in mind that the underground root structures of mature yucca plants can become large and powerful enough to crack foundations!
When planting a yucca cane directly in the ground, dig a hole twice as large as the plant’s roots and mix fresh soil in with sand to help mimic the desert environment. Set the plant in and fill up the rest of the hole with your dirt/sand mixture, patting it down in the ground to hold the plant’s base upright.