Yucca Plant Problems: Why A Yucca Plant Has Brown Tips Or Foliage

Who could forget the timeless beauty of the yuccas that grew in grandma’s garden, with their dramatic flower spikes and pointed foliage? Gardeners across the country love the yucca for their hardiness and sense of style. Yucca plants are typically easy-care landscaping plants, but they can have occasional problems. One of the most common symptoms of a sick yucca is browning leaves. Read on to find out why this happens and get tips on caring for a browning yucca plant.

Caring for a Browning Yucca Plant

When yucca plant problems do strike, they’re usually easy to resolve, so don’t panic if you’ve got a yucca plant with brown leaves. Several minor problems can cause browning of yuccas. The first step in caring for a sick one is to determine what, exactly, is causing the problem. While you’re doing your investigation, check for these items:

  • Normal aging. Yucca plant leaves turning brown can be a normal part of their lifecycle, provided the browning leaves are the oldest and closest to the ground. If leaves higher in the plant are also browning, you’ve got a different problem.
  • Lighting. You need bright light for your yucca to really thrive. Yuccas will warn you of low lighting conditions by becoming a brighter green, then yellowing and browning if insufficient light persists. Although they need bright light, never place indoor yucca plants in a window with direct sunlight, or else you’ll have the opposite problem and cook your yuccas to death.
  • Watering. Because yuccas are desert residents, watering can be fraught with problems. It’s hard to water them too little if you’re watering at all, but watering too much is easy and quickly leads to root rot in all varieties. If your plant is small enough to dig, check the roots. They should be firm and white or cream colored, but absolutely not black or squishy. If that’s what you find, cut away the damaged roots, repot your plant in a container or garden spot with good drainage and water only when the top two inches of soil are dry.
  • Fluoride toxicity. When your yucca plant has brown tips, it’s likely due to fluoride toxicity. This issue generally starts as small brown spots on leaf margins, but soon encompasses the entire leaf tip. It’s especially bad on older leaves. There’s no serious risk with fluoride toxicity, but it does make a yucca look unsightly. Switch to watering with distilled water and the problem will clear up over time.
  • Salt toxicity. Although fluoride isn’t a huge threat to your plant’s health, salt is a serious problem. If you live where the soil has a high salinity level, or you water from a water softener, your plant may respond with stunted growth, browning tips and leaf margins or other leaf-related issue. In very salty conditions, a white crust may form at the surface of the soil. You can attempt to flush the soil with salt-free water, but unless you act quickly, your yucca may be beyond saving.
  • Fungal leaf spots. Once in a while the conditions are just right for fungal leaf spots to take hold in yucca. The fungal pathogens involved will cause spotting, often with a yellow halo, but rarely damage whole leaves. Remove damaged leaves and spray the plant with a copper fungicide as long as the weather is moist to prevent the spread of fungal spores to non-infected leaves.

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Sunday – December 21, 2008

From: Roseville, CA
Region: California
Topic: Pruning, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Trimming of dead foliage on trunks of yucca in California
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

There is a Yucca plant in the back yard. I want to know how to get the old foliage that has died off of the trunks, it looks kind of ragged. The foliage is about three feet from the green. Can you advise me on this?

ANSWER:

When we are asked a question like this, we always try to determine which species of the plant we’re dealing with, as there might be different conditions. So, we went to our Native Plant Database and searched for yuccas native to California. Of the 28 plants listed, there were three native to California, Yucca baccata (banana yucca), Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree), and Yucca schidigera (Mojave yucca). This doesn’t necessarily mean you have one of those plants, it just gives us a starting place for finding the answer to your question. Unfortunately, we found no specific instructions for trimming any of these yuccas, so we will provide you with a little generic advice from personal experience.

If you have a yucca that has developed a trunk, and that is where the dead foliage is appearing, those dead leaves eventually will peel off the trunk and drop to the ground. You’re right, they are pretty unsightly, so you can hurry the process along by cutting the blade as close to the trunk as possible with a sharp knife. Please prepare to protect yourself, first. You will need heavy long sleeves, long gloves, preferably leather, goggles to keep from getting a pointed tip in your eye, and a knife or pruner with as long a handle as possible. The yucca will defend itself, and it is well-equipped to do so. Even the dead foliage is still tough and fibrous, but it can be gotten off. Bag up the detached material in a heavy paper trash bag and clean up the surrounding area to prevent insects or diseases from harboring there. This is not material for the compost pile; the sharp edges and tips will persist for a long time.

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Spanish Dagger

The fast-growing, tropical-looking yucca grows ten feet tall and eight feet wide and can form single or multiple trunks. It has sword-like foliage that originates from the center of the plant. The leaves are bluish-green with smooth margins and pointed tips, but there are also variegated forms available. The foliage bends from the middle and arches in a downward direction. The plant is noted for is showy spikes of fragrant, white flowers with purplish edges that appear in the late spring and early summer. Use it for its exotic, bold green foliage in tropical settings, or around a pool or water feature. The Spanish dagger can also be used as an accent, foundation, background, or sculptural plant. It works well in mixed borders or in rock, cactus or succulent gardens. Use it in attractive containers on patios and porches. The Spanish dagger can also be used in coastal settings. It is native to the Southeastern United States from North Carolina to northeastern Florida, where it grows in sand dunes and along coastal barrier islands.

Yucca Elephantipes (Spineless Yucca / Stick Yucca)

Yucca Care Guide

Light

The Yucca plant is one garden and houseplant which will be quite happy with as much sun as you can give it. Indoors a South facing window would be the first choice. Whatever your light situation try to provide as much as possible.

Less bright conditions will slow growth considerably (which may be an advantage) however very shady and dark spots must be avoided to maintain a healthy looking plant.

Watering

Water your Yucca liberally during warmer months of the year. Like all plants it’s impossible to give rigid watering intervals, but if conditions are exceptional (bright, warm etc) you could be looking to do this as frequently as once a week or more. The soil should dry out a little between watering’s. In Winter a lot less water is required.

Humidity

Moderate humidity will be helpful, however misting of the leaves isn’t needed.

Feeding

A feed once a month or so would be appreciated during the growing seasons.

Temperature

Your Yucca will tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but average home temperatures are best. Cooler in Winter if possible, but not lower than 7°C (45°F).

Repotting

It’s not essential, but a good rule of thumb is to repot every two years in Spring. The plants tend to become top heavy as most of the weight is centered at the top of the Yucca, planting in a deep heavy container will help prevent the plant from tipping over.

Propagation

There is a more complicated method of taking Yucca root cane cuttings, however as we haven’t done this ourselves we can’t with good faith recommend it. The easier method is to remove the offsets that are produced from the trunk and pot them up.

Chances of the offsets growing will increase if you use a rooting hormone. Water well when first potting up, and then only again when the top inch of the soil has dried out, constantly moist conditions will encourage rot. The offsets should not be fed and should be kept out of direct sunlight until established.

Speed of Growth

Yucca’s grow slowly.

Height / Spread

Generally it is a narrow plant only spreading to around 50cm / 20in, however it can reach staggering heights of up to 4.5m / 15ft after many years.

Flowers

A Yucca may produce flowers sometimes, although this is rare indoors. This plant is grown for its leaves and structural height rather than the flowers. However if conditions are good, after a number of years, similar sweet smelling white bell flowers you see on outdoor Yucca’s may appear.

Is the Yucca plant Poisonous?

The Yucca is moderately poisonous to cats, dogs and people. While it can normally protect itself through the sharp edges on the leaves and hard protective bark on it’s trunk, if persistent pets or children damage the plant enough they’ll come across the poisonous elements inside.

Anything else?

If the plant becomes too tall for the space then there is what we like to call the “leap of faith chop”. This involves literally cutting / sawing a large top section of the plant off, usually in early Spring. This results in nothing more than a fancy looking “log” or “stump” sticking out of the pot. However in a short time the plant should produce new offsets from the cut edge.

The top bit you have removed with all the leaves can be potted up in a different pot of compost as a separate plant. Make sure you firm it in well to prevent it falling or rocking itself out of the pot.

The stump needs to re sprout new leaves, the part removed needs to grow new roots, however in both instances re growth is probable but never certain.

This kind of feels like a tongue-in-cheek moment where we add in a disclaimer about not being able to take responsibility if your favorite houseplant dies. In all seriousness, once you hack your beloved Yucca to bits you can’t go back. There is a chance you will lose both “parts” of your plant so you should only go ahead if you are prepared for that. Hence the leap of faith.

Caring for Yucca Plants Summary

  1. Bright Light This houseplant always performs best if given direct sunlight for at least several hours a day.

  2. Average Watering These are hardy plants and it’s difficult to over or underwater. Aim to keep the soil moist during Summer for best results.

  3. Average Temperature If you find the temperature comfortable, your plant will too.

  4. Feeding Provide feed once a month when temperatures are warm and light levels good.

  • Avoid growing your plant in dark places

Yucca Problems

Leaf spots / Leaf disfiguration

This can be caused by Leaf Spot, remove badly affected leaves and spray with a fungicide. It can also be caused by poor air quality, particularly if the humidity is very high, or if exposed to temperatures below 7°C / 45°F these problems almost only ever occur in the Winter months.

White Film on the leaves

This problem keeps coming up in the comments below as well in direct emails. The photo below shows a good example.

In almost all cases it’s going to be caused by one of the following.

  • Fungal Infections like Powdery mildew can affect indoor plants. But this is the least likely explanation because the Fungal spores are unlikely to exist in homes, so unless you keep your plants outside during the Summer move on.
  • Pests like Scale and Aphids will secrete sticky waste products that will eventually attract bacteria and this can present as a white film. However the pests have to be present. If all you have is the white film – pests are probably not the cause.
  • Finally the white marks could be natural growth. If you look carefully over the leaves on indoor and outdoor plants there is often a fine, at times, almost invisible, white powder on many leaves, especially newer ones. You can easily rub the film off with a finger and if you rub your finger and thumb together it will feel chalky rather than sticky. Additionally the markings will always exist as long streaks and not isolated blotches or spots.

So what’s wrong with the plant in the photo above? The owner shared several photos, some clearly showed the natural white marks, so parts of the plant were fine and didn’t need any treatment.

However if you look closely you can see the white film is in spots and individual blotches. There are also black and brown dots in the creases of the leaves where they meet the stem, which isn’t normal. So in this instance the Yucca has a pest infestation that needs to be treated accordingly.

Yucca leaves bending over / Wilting

This is one of the hardest problems to identity and resolve because it could caused by any number of things. Firstly some Yuccas will have this trait naturally (see gallery photos), if it comes on suddenly it could be caused by; poor watering techniques (over or under watering). Shock, after moving or repotting the plant. Too much fertiliser. Adjust accordingly.

Even if you restore conditions to what they were previously it may not be enough. Yucca’s are often very difficult to bring back to health once they start to go downhill, so if it does succumb it might make you feel better to know you are in good company.

Completely yellow or brown leaves

If you are pretty good with houseplants this will be rare, however these symptoms are usually caused by underwatering.

Tatty looking plant

Yucca’s have fairly long and thick leaves, so if any of the leaves are looking dead, brown or messy it can create a real eyesore as well as making it look like a problem exists when there isn’t one.

The leaves are thick and tough and even when they die they don’t fall off the plant nicely, instead they sort of hang there like the plant in the photo here. To restore things to it’s formal attractive appearance you will need to get in there and gently but firmly pull the dead leaves downwards towards the floor. They should “rip” off the trunk / stem with no visible damage. It’s very simple but really effective and will transform the look of your plant.

If you’re having problems removing any of the leaves then simply cut them off as close to the trunk and stem as possible.

Brown Tips with yellow rings or halos

Usually a sign of constant overwatering. Ensure the soil dries out some before you water, and drain out any excess liquid left in the pot after half an hour.

Brown Tips

Very low humidity is the typical cause, however it can also be a symptom of the previous problem.

About the Author

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

Credit for the Shower picture in gallery – Prada Panda
Credit for the recently potted up Yucca offset in the article – In My Plants
Credit for the tall Yucca touching the ceiling in the article / gallery – Robin Berthier

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Yucca Houseplant Care: Tips For Growing Yucca In Containers

Growing a yucca plant indoors adds a focal point to a room or works as part of an attractive, indoor display. Growing yucca in containers is a great way to bring the outdoors inside in a large way, although some potted yucca plants are small in size.

Growing Yucca Plant Indoors

More than 20 species of yucca exist. Coloration on yucca plants range from green to bluish with variegations of cream, yellow and white, depending on the cultivar. Yucca plants grow on canes, or large, woody stems.

Once placed in a sunny to partly shaded location indoors, yucca houseplant care is easy. When growing the yucca plant indoors, try to locate it in a partially shaded area of bright, but indirect light for better leaf color. Potted yucca plants may grow in full sun and flourish, but will often have browning tips or white, necrotic spots on the leaves.

How to Care for a Yucca Houseplant

Both yucca plants indoors and outside have low water requirements and are even somewhat drought tolerant.

Light fertilization can help establish the plant when growing yucca in containers, but is not needed for established plants.

Soil may be poor quality, but should be heavy enough to hold the plant upright. It must also be well-draining. For best performance of potted yucca plants, the soil should retain some of the water and nutrients. A three to one mixture of sand and peat is a good medium for growing yucca in containers.

Division from the offsets, called pups, provides you with more potted yucca plants. Remove the plant from its container (preferably outside) and remove the pup with a clean, sharp cut. Rooting compound may be applied to encourage root development on the baby, but is not necessary in most situations.

Suckers will sometimes appear on canes of potted yucca plants and may also be used for growing yucca in containers. The underground rhizome from which the plant grows can be divided as well.

Yucca houseplant care can include moving the plant outdoors when temperatures have warmed in spring or summer. Frost or freeze can damage the yucca houseplant. When moving growing yucca in containers outside, you should place them in an area with gentle morning sun and afternoon shade.

Now that you’ve learned how to care for a yucca houseplant, add one to a sunny, indoor room. The right yucca houseplant care will make your plant long-lived and help it produce more pups.

Yucca Plant

Botanical Name: Yucca elephantipes

Gaining in popularity, the yucca plant makes a beautiful floor accent year-round. Many cultivars are available to choose from. ‘Variegata’ leaves are broadly edged in white… and ‘Silver Star’ has silvery gray-green leaves.

Yuccas are available as either stemless leaf rosettes or as stout, cane-like trees with one or two leaf rosettes at the top. Young plants are stemless rosettes of long, sword-shaped leaves with pointed tips. As they mature, yucca plants develop thick, woody trunks with several arching leaf rosettes at the top. The edges of these leaves are spineless, and not as sharp as others in this genus, giving Y. elephantipes the common name Spineless Yucca.

Place a young plant on a pedestal plant stand to show it off. Older plants make a bold architectural statement in any room, so put one in a spot where it will get the attention it deserves. Those pointed leaves punctuating the air are something to admire.

This plant is extremely easy to grow and is tolerant of changing conditions throughout the year, such as light, humidity and temperature.

You can move your yucca plant on the patio for the summer months where it will get some direct sun every day. Outdoors, it may produce tall spikes of fragrant, white flowers.

One thing it doesn’t tolerate is soggy soil. Stem and leaf rot may be caused by overwatering or by cool, damp air. Keep this desert native on the dry side, especially in winter.

Repot in spring when the plant becomes root-bound. Use a heavy container to prevent toppling, because older plants are top-heavy. Older plants can be top-dressed instead by replacing the top 2-3 in (2.5-5 cm) of soil with fresh soil.

Yucca Plant Care Tips

Origin: Mexico

Height: Up to 5 ft (1.5 m)

Light: Prefers bright light to full sun, although it will tolerate low light.

Water: Keep soil moist in spring through fall. In winter, water just enough to keep soil from drying out. Be careful not to overwater, especially in winter. Use a container with drainage holes to prevent soggy soil, which can cause root rot.

Humidity: Average to dry room humidity.

Temperature: Average room temperatures. If you scoot your plant outdoors for the summer, it can take the heat, but bring it inside when temps drop to 50°F/10°C.

Soil: Soil-based potting mix.

Fertilizer: Feed with a balanced liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.

Propagation: Cane cuttings and offsets root easily. Pot them in potting mix and keep barely moist.

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Yucca Propagation Methods

The yucca plant species encompasses up to 50 different shrubs, perennials, and trees in the agave family of plants. Yuccas are notable for their rosettes of very green, sword like leaves, and large cluster of white flowers. They are widely grown as ornamental plants in gardens and can even contain edible berries, seeds, and fruits.

There are several different methods for propagating the Yucca plant. Because of the ease of starting and growing the plant, the Yucca is a favorite from Canada to South America. Here are a few of the most basic methods for propagating Yucca plants.

1. Propagation by Seed

Getting your Yucca started from seed is a very popular and successful method. To propagate with seeds place them in a small flat dish and cover with some cactus-friendly soil. Water in moderation and make sure they do not get too wet. The seeds will germinate within three weeks, but will take five months to grow full leaves.

2. Propagation by Transplanting

The best time to do any transplanting of the Yucca is when the seeds are still young. At one to two years the root system is established to it makes the moving more stressful on the plant. After a few months of growing from seeds, it is safe to transplant to a different pot or to the ground. However, frequent transplants into larger pots will induce fast and steady growth.

3. Propagation by Offshoots

Once the Yucca is established in the ground, or in a large pot, it will begin to develop offshoots or smaller buds. Propagating offshoots is a very simple process that requires simply removing the offshoot and planting in soil. Offshoots can be removed at any time from the parent plant by carefully cutting, or digging, around it. Remove the pups and plant in their own soil.

4. Propagation by Cutting

Using stem cuttings to propagate your Yucca plants is another very easy and popular method. These cuttings should be taken during the growing season and set immediately into a soil mixture for roots to develop. You can also take the stem cuttings with or without leaves. For the best results remove the bottom leaves of the stem before planting. This method is most successful in humid areas because the plant will have a hard time in drier areas. It usually takes two to three months for the root formation to be completed. Keep the soil moist during this time, but not too saturated.

5. Propagation by Bulbils

Bulbils are quite similar to baby pups of the plant. They form on the axillary buds between the stem and leaves. They can be removed at any time prior to them falling on the ground so you get the best chance of developing a root system. Place the bulbil in a sandy mixture and keep it moist. These will set roots quite quickly and can be ready for planting in pots within eight weeks. After they have been transplanted into pots they will continue to grow very quickly, doubling in size within a short period of time.

Separating And Repotting Yucca Offshoot Pups

Yucca plants are a popular plant to grow as both an indoor houseplant and an outdoor garden plant. This is with good reason as yucca plants are hardy and tolerant of a wide variety of conditions. Yucca is a word that is used to describe a wide variety of species in the yucca family. While yucca owners may have different varieties of yucca, one thing will be consistent and that is how to best propagate the yucca.

Separating and Repotting Yucca Offshoot Pups

While yuccas do produce seeds, they are normally propagated through the division of offshoots or “pups.” Yucca pups are the small but fully formed plants that grow at the base of your yucca plant. These pups can be removed in order to produce new, self contained plants.

These pups do not need to be removed from the parent plant but, if the pups are not removed from the parent plant, they will eventually grow up on their own where they are and you will have a clump of yucca.

If you do decide to remove the pups, the first thing you will need to do is wait until the pup is mature enough to survive without the parent. This is very simple to determine. If the pup is pale and whitish, it is still too young to remove from the parent. But if the pup is green, it has the chlorophyll manufacturing capacity needed to live on its own.

The timing of when you will be repotting your yucca pups is important as well. Yucca pups should be repotted in the fall. Repotting the pups in the fall will do the least amount of damage to the parent plant, which will be in a slow growth period in the fall.

To remove the pup from the yucca, remove as much of the dirt from around the base of the pup you wish to transplant. Then take a sharp knife or spade and cut down between the parent plant and the pup. Make sure to take a chunk of the parent plant’s root (which is what the pup will be attached to). This root piece from the parent plant will form the new root system for the pup.

Take the separated pup and replant it where you would like it to grow or place in a pot to use as a houseplant or to give to friends. Water thoroughly and fertilize lightly.

Then you are done. Your yucca offshoot pup should have no trouble establishing itself in its new home and growing into a new and beautiful yucca plant.

Yucca elephantipes, more commonly called the spineless or soft-tipped yucca, is a fast growing member of the agave family. In fact, it can quickly outgrow its original position in the garden, as seen in our segment.

Don showed how to prune the yucca without ruining its architectural shape. He then used some of the pruned pieces to strike cuttings for other parts of the garden or as potted specimens.

Plant details:

Yucca elephantipes is a small evergreen tree reaching around 9 metres (30′) in the wild, but it is usually smaller in cultivation. It develops a thick, branching trunk which is reminiscent of an elephant’s foot at the base. From summer to autumn it produces white, bell-shaped flowers in large panicles. The spineless yucca is adaptable to a wide range of climates and conditions and is drought, salt and frost tolerant. It can be grown indoors as an architectural pot plant, or outdoors as a landscaping plant. It is suitable for modern, Santa Fe or Mediterranean style houses and landscapes.

Taking your cutting:

In the warmer parts of Australia, yucca cuttings can be taken almost anytime of the year. In the cooler zones like Victoria, take cuttings from December to May.

First, tidy up the clump by stripping the lower leaves off the stems. Stripping the leaves will also prevent the cutting from losing its moisture before the roots grow.

Take your cutting from a mature stem, with brown bark underneath the stripped section. If the bark is cream-coloured, rotting may occur.

The cutting can be taken from any part of the stem. The thickness and length of the stem doesn’t matter.

The foliage at the tip of the cutting does not need pruning.

Allow the stem to dry out for a few days to a week in a shady spot.

After drying out, put the cane in an appropriate-sized pot filled with a free-draining mix. (Don used two parts seed-raising mix to one part river sand.) No hormone powder is necessary.

Keep the pot moist and store in a shady spot with plenty of light. (Tip: make sure you tie the cutting to something after it is potted, as it may fall over in the wind.)

Roots should form in about four weeks. Do not re-pot until you see roots in the drainage holes of the pots.

Further information

Yuccas are readily available at nurseries Australia-wide. Expect to pay from $35 for a 200mm (8″) pot to around $250 for a 2m tall plant.

A 30 litre bag of seed-raising mix costs around $12.
A 25 kg bag of river sand costs about $5.

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