Yucca Flowers: Reasons Why A Yucca Plant Doesn’t Bloom
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By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Yuccas make a lovely low maintenance screen or garden accent, especially the yucca plant flower. When your yucca plant doesn’t bloom, this can be frustrating. However, knowing more about what it takes to get blooms on yucca plants can help alleviate this frustration while answering the question of, “How do I get my yucca to flower?”
Growing Yucca Flowers
Yucca plants are members of the Agave family and include over 40 different types of shrubby perennials that grow in North America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Yuccas are slow growing evergreen plants with sword-like leaves. All yucca flowers are bell-shaped and sit on top of tall stems.
Yuccas are very easy to grow and can be put in containers or planted in the ground in well-drained soil. Yuccas are drought resistant and can survive for many months without water.
They are not picky about sun or shade but do need bright light if indoors. Check your species to be sure that you are providing the right growing conditions. Not enough light can sometimes discourage blooms on yucca plants.
Regular fertilization and trimming will also help keep the plant healthy and encourage both growth and yucca flowers. Adding phosphorus-rich fertilizer or bone meal to the soil can often help encourage a yucca plant flower to form. The best time to prune yucca plants is in early October.
How Do I Get My Yucca to Flower?
If your yucca plant doesn’t bloom, it could be due to several things. Yuccas only bloom when they reach a certain age of maturity and they all bloom according to their own schedule.
Blooms on yucca plants generally appear during the warmest part of the growing season but differ slightly with each species. The same yucca may bloom at an entirely different time the following year, as yucca flowers tens to bloom sporadically.
Keep your yucca fertilized and cut the old flower head and stalk from the previous year to encourage new blooms to form.
The yucca plant flower also has an interesting relationship with a moth that pollinates the yucca and survives on its nectar. That said, the yucca plant will oftentimes not bloom unless this moth is present. In places where there are no yucca moths, the plant must be hand pollinated.
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Why Is My Yucca Plant Dying? (And How To Fix It)
A yucca plant is seen by many as a great way to bring a unique, even tropical vibe to any indoor or outdoor space. Whilst generally easy to care for, there are a number of common problems that may have you worrying if your yucca plant is dying. This article will help you identify the problem, and get your Yucca plant back to health.
Why is my Yucca plant dying? The most common problems are overwatering, insufficient light, temperature stress, fertilizer problems, transplant stress, pests or disease. You can identify the cause by examining your plant and assessing the conditions it is in. Once the problem is identified, you can take steps to fix it.
Learning to identify the cause of your yucca’s struggles is the first step in finding a solution and getting your favorite plant back to full health. Use this article as a comprehensive guide to identifying, treating, and fixing your problem!
If You Have Yucca Plants in Your Garden, Beware!
In Tucson’s vibrant desert landscape, the dramatic silhouette of the yucca plant makes it a striking addition to any drought tolerant garden. Gardeners and residents should take care however – a new Australian study has found that the razor-sharp tips of yucca plants can cause lasting ear and hearing damage.
Getting to the Point
The desert is full of plants with robust natural defenses. From the sharp spines of the organ pipe and saguaro cacti to the spiny thorns of an ocotillo or the fine, hooklike needles of a jumping cholla cactus, there are plenty of sharp ways the desert flora says “don’t touch me”.
Among this ecology, the sharp tips and edges of blade-like yucca leaves are unique in their heartiness and the damage they can do. The tips of yucca can deliver a quick and deep puncture wound to people who interact with the plant carelessly or accidentally. The spike of a yucca plant can often plunge to the level of bone and when removed leave a small, pinprick-like wound. Yucca plants are fibrous and strong, so fortunately the tip usually remains attached to the yucca blade and rarely breaks off in the skin. Unfortunately, yucca punctures can deliver some of the plant’s toxic chemicals, called “saponins” directly into the body sometimes provoking a reaction, complicating recovery and damaging red blood cells in the area.
A Real Earful
A yucca injury can happen fast. Often people miss seeing a sharp blade as they turn their head. In Melbourne, yucca is used frequently as a non-native accent plant, well adapted to Australia’s climate. However, the popularity of the plant may be responsible for the frequency of yucca-related bodily injuries.
Over a five-year period, 28 patients were admitted to the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne for ear injuries involving yucca blades. While the pointed tips of yucca often make people cautious to keep the plant clear from their eyes, they are less conscientious when it came to the plant tips near the sides of their heads.
The damage yucca points can do can be serious, painful and sometimes permanent. Straight, sharp yucca blades at the right angle can stab into the ear canal and perforate the eardrum. While punctures sustained by the eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane) are painful, with time and care it is possible for the perforation to heal. Yucca spines can penetrate deeper than the eardrum, however. Once a spine is has crossed through the tympanic membrane, the tiny and delicate bones of the middle ear can be reached and broken. These fragile bones, the ear’s ossicles, are necessary for full and proper hearing. Their size and precision though make it extremely difficult for the bones to mend correctly if damaged. Often, injuries to the ossicles leave a lasting impairment to a person’s hearing.
Yucca punctures that don’t harm the middle ear can still leave a mark. Saponins in yucca spines can often cause sensitivity and swelling in the area around a puncture. Often a yucca injury with be tender for a week or longer as the body recovers.
Even the Best-Laid Plants
What should you do to avoid yucca injuries? If you garden or landscape with yucca plants, take the time to trim off the spiked tips which could damage eyes and ears. Spikes that splay out at forehead level and below should be blunted to help minimize injuries. Cutting low tips off the plants helps protect children and pets from accidents.
You can also try gardening with less injurious alternatives. Some of the Arizona desert’s most striking colors come from thornless shrubs like the beautiful scarlet sprays of the chuparosa plant or the Baja fairy duster bush. The yellow bird of paradise shrub is a native plant that offers vivid color and blossoms that are reminiscent of the stacked form of yucca flowers.
If you are a full-time desert dweller or just an occasional dry lands visitor, remember to watch out for our flora and fauna! Give sharp plants a wide berth and make sure you aren’t in harms way before turning or lifting your head.
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Why Won’t My Yucca Bloom?
Common yucca (Yucca filamentosa): a beautiful but somewhat reluctant bloomer.
Why won’t my yucca bloom? I get that question all the time from frustrated gardeners wondering what they did wrong, because their yuccas have beautiful leaves and seem to be thriving, but either don’t bloom or don’t bloom very often. Why?
Some Yuccas May Never Bloom
First of all, there are some 60 species of Yucca, some of them very reluctant bloomers.
Most treelike or shrublike yuccas, like this Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), are unlikely to bloom in gardens outside of arid climates.
This is especially the case of the shrub yuccas and tree yuccas (think of the Joshua tree as an example). Even in the wild, they need to reach maturity before they bloom and that can take 50 years or more! In gardens, these yuccas may be even less likely to bloom than in their native territory, as, unless you live in Mexico or the southwestern US, your garden conditions rarely match their natural ones. Especially, gardeners tend to try growing these treelike species in zones where they are barely hardy, thus decreasing even further their chance of blooming.
Yuccas grown as houseplants, like this spineless yucca (Yucca gigantea), are unlikely to ever bloom.
Things are even worse when you consider yuccas grown as houseplants, like spineless yucca (Yucca gigantea, usually sold as Y. elephantipes). They simply aren’t getting enough light to ever bloom.
You should grow all tree and shrub yuccas, plus houseplant versions, for their foliage and form only. Flowering is unlikely.
Yuccas That Will Bloom
Common yucca will bloom in most gardens… eventually. Photo: www.perennialresource.com
For most temperate climate gardeners, the two species most likely to bloom and also the two that are the most widely available are common yucca or Adam’s needle (Y. filamentosa) and weak-leaf yucca (Y. flaccida). The latter is considered by many authorities to be a subspecies of common yucca (think of it as a Y. filamentosa with floppier leaves) and from here on in this text, I’ll therefore use the name “common yucca” for both.
The common yucca is indeed the yucca you’re most likely to see in gardens, at least, in gardens outside of the arid Southwest US. It has fairly broad, spearlike leaves with characteristic curly white filaments along the edges (that is why it is called Y. filamentosa).
Although most gardeners consider common yucca to be a perennial, it is in fact a shrub with short, partly underground woody stems, but they are well hidden by foliage, so the plant looks like a perennial. And behaves much like one too, slowly spreading from offsets rather than growing in height.
Its branching flower spike is impressive: it can reach 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.5 m) in height, even 12 feet (3.5 m) in warmer climates, and is covered in ivory white bell-shaped flowers. They droop during the day, but rise up again at night when they give off an enchanting scent. Seeds are not produced in many areas, because only one type of insect, the yucca moth, can ensure pollination and it isn’t present everywhere. After flowering, therefore, most people cut the flower stalk off. If left intact, it will sometimes remain it place for 2 or 3 years.
In colder climates (here in the Montreal Botanical Garden), common yucca often suffers a fair bit of die-back in the winter, but as long as a few rosettes are alive, it will recuperate.
Common yucca is hardy to USDA zone 5 (AgCan zone 6), but is often grown in colder climates, to USDA zone 3 (AgCan zone 4) where it suffers various degrees of winter damage. Sometimes people tie the outer leaves together over the central bud of the plant over the winter to protect it from the cold. In the spring, there is often a lot of cleaning up to do, removing leaves that died over the winter, but as long as the center of the rosette is still green, the plant will recover.
Each Rosette Only Blooms Once
There are several variegated forms of common yucca, including ‘Bright Edge’. They are even slower to bloom than the species.
What must be understood about yuccas is that each rosette flowers only once, and then slowly dies. (Don’t worry, the plant will produce one or more other rosettes long before the first is gone.) Plus, it can take years to reach its flowering size.
Common yucca is a fairly fast grower for the genus and produces offsets quite rapidly. Under very favorable conditions (when the plant grows in full sun in well drained soil), its main rosette can bloom in as little as 2 or 3 years. When conditions are less favorable – when the plant grows in shade or partial shade, for example, or in moister soil – it can take 5 or 6 years to bloom, sometimes even more. If you add to this the fact that the rosette may be damaged by the cold, causing the flower bud to abort, you will understand that flowering can be considerably delayed.
Most common yuccas you buy are fairly mature and should bloom the second or third year after you plant them, maybe even the first year if you picked one with signs of a flower stalk starting to appear. But after that, no flowers will normally appear the following year or the year after that, as the secondary rosettes are still too immature. But as the plant grows, it will produce more and more rosettes (and will take up more and more space in the garden). So, over time, when there are many rosettes of different ages, flowering will start to be more frequent. Often large specimens 10 to 15 years old are able to bloom every year, even producing more than one spike at a time if several rosettes mature the same season.
Patience, Patience, Patience
If you want to see yucca in your garden the first year, buy a new plant that is already budding up. Then buy a new one every year, but leave the older plants in place. As they mature, they’ll flower again, plus they’ll produce more and more rosettes, eventually resulting in plants that do bloom annually. But your hair may well turn gray before that happens!
The Hardiest Yucca
Soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca) is the hardiest species, but very slow to bloom.
Living as I do on the northernmost edge of where you can garden, I’m always looking for hardier-than-average plants. That would be the soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca), so called because soap can be made from its roots. It can take my USDA zone 3 (AgCan zone 4) climate with no damage.
You can guess it will be hardier than common yucca by looking at the natural distribution of the two species. Common yucca is native to the southeastern US, from Florida and Louisiana to Virginia, so growing it in most temperate gardens means pushing it beyond its normal limits, but soapweed yucca is from the Great Plains and lower Rockies, from Texas and New Mexico right up into Alberta and Saskatchewan, where winters are bitterly cold. As a result it will grow in USDA zone 2 (AgCan zone 3), even on windy, snowless sites… although it certainly doesn’t mind a covering of snow. Its leaves are tough and stiff, much narrower than those of the common yucca, with tips as sharp as a bayonet. Watch your eyes!
Unfortunately, its bloom is even scarcer than that of the common yucca: it can take 10 years to flower for the first time! I suggest growing it for its original appearance (it looks rather like a round green hedgehog) and its ease of cultivation (no winter protection is necessary), not its flowers. Then when it does bloom, and it will, you can just count the flowers as icing on the cake.
Top 10 Questions About Yucca
Yuccas are simply astounding looking plants that are easy to grow and maintain. Their relatively slow growth makes them excellent either in the ground or in containers. Many of our readers here at Gardening Know How are devotees of these amazing plants and have some interesting questions about disease, insects and general care. Here are 10 of the most asked questions about yucca and some quick, easy-to-navigate answers.
One of the many wonderful things about yucca is the ease with which it reproduces. Plants develop pups at the base of a mature plant, which are easy to divide away from the mother and utilize as brand new specimens. To remove the yucca pups, wait until they are green and mature. Then dig around the pup and remove it with a sharp knife. Make sure to have some of the mother plant’s root attached to the young plant. Pot up the pup and water it in. Place in a sunny, warm location and let it develop a vigorous root system before planting outdoors or repotting it.
Yuccas are very easy plants to grow either indoors or out. One of the biggest requirements for this plant is well-draining soil, especially an indoor yucca. The plant is not particularly fussy about fertility, but soil must percolate well to keep roots and lower leaves from sitting in excess moisture. Situate plants in a sunny location with some protection from midday rays. Yuccas need little fertilization. Feed an average houseplant food or balanced outdoor fertilizer once per year in early spring. Plants go dormant in winter and require half the water as in summer. When pups appear, divide them away from the mother and repot them alone. Move indoor plants outside in summer and back inside for winter.
Yuccas are remarkably winter hardy plants. Many are reliably hardy into USDA zones 6 down to 4. However, they do not perform well in areas with high humidity and rainfall, and while outdoor plants can handle a bit of snow, heavy snowfalls can damage leaves. To prevent freeze or snow damage, construct a teepee over the plant and cover it with clear plastic. Remove the plastic daily to release excess moisture and then cover them again at night or when temperatures dip below freezing. Provide light moisture to keep the soil warmer and prevent root damage. If you live in a zone where damage is likely to occur, grow yucca in a container that can be moved indoors to overwinter.
Yuccas can grow into huge plants and they bear formidable sharp spines on the tips of their leaves. Moving a yucca successfully starts with the time of transplant. Early spring or fall, when the plant is entering its dormant phase, is the best time for such a move. Excavate carefully around the root zone of the plant. It is important to disturb roots as little as possible and preserve as much root as you can. After you have dug out the root ball, wrap it in burlap that has been lightly moistened to keep it from drying out. Install the plant at the same depth at which it was growing in the previous location. Some transplant shock may occur, but keep the yucca lightly moist and wait. Usually, after a couple of weeks the plant will adjust and regain its health.
Foliar yellowing can stem from any number of causes but the most common are cultural. Yucca need well draining soil and periods of drying out. That means allowing the soil to become dry almost to the bottom of the container. Too little moisture can cause problems but too much in a yucca plant can be a death sentence. Make sure the soil is gritty and percolates well and any drainage holes are fully exposed. Look at the soil and observe if any mold is growing. If there is a musty smell or the presence of mold, repot the plant immediately. Keep it away from drafts, high noon sun and heat sources such as fireplaces or furnaces.
Yuccas don’t bloom until they are 6 or more years old. Even then, they don’t bloom every year and often skip several years. Removing the spent flower stem can help promote the next year’s flowering. Add a balanced or phosphorus rich fertilizer to encourage overall plant health and yucca blooming. Some yuccas have a symbiotic relationship with the yucca moth, which almost exclusively fertilizes that species. In areas without the moth, hand pollination will need to take place. Also, ensure that the plant is in a warm, sunny location. Some plants may thrive just fine in low light but they won’t flower.
Outdoor yucca plants that have been exposed to freezing temperatures will develop brown leaf tips in response to the cold. Additionally, it is normal for the plant to replace some leaves every year and the first sign that one is going is browning tips and leaves. Container grown plants may brown due to salt build up in soil or high fluoride in the irrigation water. This can be amended by flushing the soil to remove built up toxins. Avoid overhead watering of plants when leaves cannot dry before the high heat of the day. The droplets on the leaves act like conductors and increase the heat from the sun, burning leaf tips.
Leaf spotting on yucca generally starts to appear in spring and early summer when fungal spores are most active. Avoid overhead watering which can exacerbate the problem. Spraying with neem oil can help combat most fungal issues or you can use a copper fungicide. In some cases, spotting is caused by sucking insects. If you see any signs of pests, such as scale or mealybugs, wipe down leaves with a 1 to 2 alcohol to water solution or apply horticultural oil (neem oil can also help for this too). If spotting is bad enough that the leaf is dying, carefully cut it away from the rest of the plant using a sterilized knife.
Yuccas are tenacious plants once they are established. If a yucca needs to be removed and is considered a nuisance, the first thing to do is cut away the foliage to make it easier to dig out and manage. Once the crown is exposed, dig at least 12 inches out from the base to find all the roots. Once you have dug around the plant to a depth of at least 8 inches, begin to dig in, lifting with the shovel as you go to loosen roots. Try to ensure all the roots are removed, as the yucca may come back again from just a bit left behind. Some gardeners will ensure the plant’s demise by drilling holes in the crown and pouring in some glyphosate or stump remover. This method can take up to a month to kill the plant before removing the remains.
If you want to have some fun, harvest seeds from the seed pod to grow another yucca. The seed germinates readily if it is scarred first, although some growers swear by soaking the seed as well. Yucca can take years to reach a specimen size if propagated by seed, which is why most gardeners simply divide the pups around the mother’s base. But seed allows you to watch the plant unfold. Plant the seed ½ inch in a flat filled with half sand and half peat or in a purchased cactus mix. Moisten the mixture thoroughly and place the flat in a sunny, warm location. Germination can be expected in 1 or 2 weeks. Alternatively, simply cut the whole flower stalk off the yucca and discard it.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.
Not all species of yucca bloom with similar regularity or visual prominence. As these plants are slow-growing, some take considerable time to mature to an age that produces flowers. Once a plant does bloom, expect blooms to return again the subsequent years at the same time of year.
Although there are several species in the genus Yucca, the most common yucca in yards is Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa). Its sword-shaped leaves are evergreen, generally with blue overtones, and distinguished by many long, curly, fibrous threads that gradually peel loose from the leaf margins. Yuccas flower once each year, generally from the middle of summer to early fall, depending on the variety. Once a yucca is mature and blooms, it generally re-blooms at the same time each year. All types of yuccas develop similar inflorescences on tall spikes, but some varieties, such as aloe yucca (Yucca aloifolia) have flowers that completely cover the spikes, making a particularly impressive display. They tolerate soil of any pH and will grow in compacted or poor soil, making yuccas excellent choices for urban environments.
Things You Don’t Know about Yucca Uses
As far as I know, there are ornamental plants available. There are different types of yucca that have edible parts, including stems, leaves and fruits. In addition, yucca uses are different it is mostly added to shampoos for Native America rituals. Its leaves are used in fires started through fiction due to their low ignition temperature. Filamentosa type is regarded to be a ‘meat hunger’, because its tough fibrous leaves and sharp spiny tips are commonly used in puncturing meat for forming a loop hung in smoking houses.