Increasingly popular planted in low-maintenance landscapes, yucca (Yucca spp.) are highly adaptable as landscape plants, thriving in harsh urban conditions. Native varieties are found in both tropical and high-altitude temperate climates. They make excellent container plants, especially due to their low requirement for water.
A succulent with thick, stiff leaves, yucca forms a rosette of its spear-shaped leaves, complete with sharp teeth and a terminal spine. Varieties range in size from low-growing ground covers to those that are over 12 feet with an equal width. Yellow, rose or white tubular flowers develop on branched spikes that grow on stems 6 to 40 feet above the plant. Flowering is slow to occur in yuccas and it often takes years of growth before it occurs. Most other desert plant varieties have similar characteristics: thick, fleshy leaves armed with spikes or thorns and infrequent blooming.
Yucca and other desert plants thrive in hot, dry, windy areas in full sun with poor soil and very little rainfall. Adequate drainage is crucial as yucca and other desert plants can develop root rot if their roots remain waterlogged, especially during winter. Do not plant these plants in improved garden soil; they will be much happier growing in unimproved sand that is perpetually dry.
Care and Cultivation
Agave and other desert plants require watering occasionally during their first year of life while becoming established in your garden. Thereafter they will grow and thrive with only natural rainfall. Weak doses of fertilizer can be given to small plants but established specimens do not require supplemental fertilization. They will, however, benefit from the application of an organic mulch which will add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
New plants sometimes spontaneously grow alongside the mother yucca plants. They technically develop from rhizomes underground and can be dug up and planted individually. The best results are achieved when these "pups" are allowed to grow larger and develop a more extensive root system prior to replanting. They can also be propagated from root or stem cuttings.
Pests and Diseases
Few pests and diseases bother yucca and other desert plants. The agave snout weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus) is its most common pest. Although the weevil attacks all species of agave, the largest, broad-leafed varieties are the most susceptible. Control of this pest is difficult and the University of Florida Extension recommends destroying infested plants. Other insect pests include the yucca plant bug, mealybugs, scale or eriophyid mites.