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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Yuccas

Yucca Filamentosa

Yucca Filamentosa

Ask the gardener: Yuccas

Bill Blackledge answers your questions on yuccas...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.  If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Joan Hayes asks...

I have dug up a large 10yr old yucca plant 4 weeks ago and re planted it in another part of the garden but the leaves are turning brown. Will it recover or have I lost it?

Bill replies...

Obviously your ten year old Yucca will be a large plant Joan and it will have been the disturbance to the roots and loss of roots when lifting will be the main cause for the leaves on your Yucca to turn brown. What you therefore need to do is to ensure that your Yucca is well watered during the summer period but if all the leaves turn brown and drop off you will need to cut the main stems back to at least two to three feet from the base to encourage new shoots to appear from base and also from the main stems however, this will only happen over a period of time.

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Sally Waters asks...

We have several yucca gloriosa varietgate in pots with rich compost. The spiked foliage have just started to turn pinkish. Is this ok and normal for the plant?

Bill replies...

Yucca Gloriosa Variegate is an excellent architectural plant Sally and the spike foliage on your plant which is now turning pinkish could be a temperature affect or a nutrition deficiency.  I would keep and eye on your plants and if the leaves continue turning pink I would just top dress one or two of your plants with a base fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 which also contains trace elements and see if this dressing elevates the pinkish foliage.

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Stephen Fields asks...

I have a yucca which outgrew the house and so I put it in the garden. It has since grown to a height of 8 feet or so, and as it is next to the house I am worried about the roots causing damage to the walls. Does a yucca have a large rootball and should I attempt to move it again?

Bill replies...

Compared to other trees such as Willows, Oak and Popular the roots of your Yucca  will be nowhere near as invasive Stephen and there are a number of factors which you can take into account before deciding to remove your Yucca.  The damage is done to house foundations during very dry summers when leaves of the large trees mentioned above lose vast amounts of water and the roots then draw reserves of water from the soil structure around the foundations of houses.  You will usually find that subsidence occurs on shrinkable clay soils and this is due to hot summers and also the roots taking water reserves from the soil but, the problem is not as great on non shrinkable soil types such as sandy and clay soils.  Therefore with regard to your Yucca plant it will not lose and require as much water even during hot summers, they do tolerate dry conditions and although I am unable to give you a defining answer as to whether the roots will damage your house structure, the decision whether to remove has got to be yours and hopefully the number of factors above will help you to make your decision.

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Dahn Schwarz asks...

My garden here has lots of nice plants, in particular a beautiful, pink magnolia and a 12 ft. tall, straight, 1-stem yucca.  When they were planted next to each other years ago I'm sure they looked great. However, now they are growing into each other.  The yucca has to go.  Is it possible to transplant a yucca that big?  How far down will I need to dig?  I understand they have rhizomes... would I just cut those off?  How big a rootball is needed?  And is it true that I could just hack off the top, spiky part and plant that?

Bill replies...

If I could start by saying that if you intend to dig up your Yucca Plant it is important that you do not do too much damage to the roots of the Magnolia when removing the Yucca.  You mention 'hacking off' the top of the Yucca and this can be done and quite often when you plant the top of the plant in the garden or in a large container they will  root and survive.  Another option is to cut hard back your Yucca and in time it will produce new shoots. If you dig the plant out in order for it to survive you are going to need to cut back the main stem.  If you decide to dig out the plant springtime is a good time and of the two options if you cut off the top of your Yucca you would be far better planting the spike into a large container in a general multi purpose compost - giving the spike a good watering in and keeping the container in a slightly sheltered spot in the garden to cut down on transpiration loss. 

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Estelle Somers asks...

I have an indoor Yucca which seemed to be doing fine until I went holiday!  We were away for 3 weeks and I did not leave the heating on whilst we were gone and so the house was quite cold when we got back - since coming back and putting the heating on again the leaves have wilted, some have gone brown on the ends and all of the others seem to be starting to go yellow - do you think this is as a result of the temperarture changes and is there anything I can do to restore good health? 

Bill replies...

Yuccas Estelle will tolerate reasonably cool temperatures during the winter months providing that the temperature does not drop below zero and if this has happened in your house whilst you were away on holiday this could quite easily be the reason why the leaves on your Yucca have started to go yellow.  And, as you have already mentioned it could also be the result of temperature change on your return home.  It is important that you do not overwater your Yucca over the winter months, they do prefer to be slightly on the dry side.  It is also worth checking the stems of your plant to see if they are still solid.  If they are soft and mushy obviously the frost has got into them.  If the stems are still solid, even though quite a number of the leaves are still yellowing, Yuccas are tough plants and I am certain that your plant will recover.  If your Yucca plant is left with just one or two leaves during the spring/early summertime you can cut the main stems back to encourage new shoots.

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Karen asks...

I have an 8' Yucca which I leave out during summer and in move during winter, however this summer the leaves were scorched quite badly at the top but the leaves at the bottom are green and healthy, the leaf growth at the very top is also healthy, I am removing the yellow/brown leaves from the main stem but it is bald in the middle - can you please advise the best course of action - should I cut back in Spring by half and repot the top half and does cut back mean literately mean 'saw in half'?

Bill replies...

Yucca plants are hardy species Karen and providing that they are not planted in a frost pocket they will survive outside over the winter period  However, all plants do suffer from wind scorch damage and badly infected leaves can be cut back to the stem.  With regard to your Yucca which is 'bald' in the middle you can cut the main stem back to just above the lower shoots and as you have mentioned the top part of your Yucca after removing the infected leaves can be transplanted into your garden.  The time to do this is late springtime and your newly planted Yucca will tend to 'look sorry for itself' for a few months but I do find that the majority do survive and will produce healthy roots.  You will however need to keep an eye on the watering over the summer months, but try to avoid over-watering, yuccas do not like very damp conditions.

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Suzanne Jenkin asks...

I have a Yucca which is approx 15 years old, with 2 shoots - the tallest one standing about 8 foot high.  I keep it outside in a large pot.  Whilst removing some of the lower leaves, I discovered a hole in the trunk of the plant which has a dark substance round it and what appears to be tiny white mites.  I washed the area with soapy water and kept my fingers crossed that now the area was open to the air it would not worsen but the hole has got bigger and seems to be moving down inside the trunk.  Small snails are now living in there!  Can you tell me what is causing this and what I need to do to save the plant.? I am also planning on repotting the plant into a half barrel and wondered when the best time of year would be to do this and what compost mixture to use.  I plan on mixing some sharp sand in with the compost but wondered whether I also have to put stones/pebbles in the bottom of the barrel?

Bill replies...

If the hole in the trunk of your Yucca Suzanne is getting larger you will need to clean the hole out, and  there is special tree plastic/bitumen filler - available from Garden Centres - which you can use to fill the hole but this needs to be carried out under dry conditions.  With regard to replanting your Yucca I would do this early springtime and I would use a mixture of a soil base compost - John Innes No2/3 - and a multi purpose compost.  You can also mix in, as you suggest, some sharp grit sand as Yuccas love a well drained compost and, I would also place a good layer of stones and pebbles at the bottom of the barrel.

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Brenda Lawrenson asks...

I have been looking after my son's Yucca whilst he is in the process of moving house. Unfortunately, the Yucca has wilted very badly and the main stem is going slightly soft. The other stem is hard at the top and very soft down the rest of it. I read an earlier reply you gave about a Yucca going soft in which you said it was badly damaged, but you did not give any information on how best to remedy the situation. I would be very grateful for your advice as my son is most upset that I have damaged his Yucca.

Bill replies...

I take it that your son's Yucca Plant is an indoor species Brenda and these need to be kept in a light warm room over the winter period.  Also they do not like to be over watered, it is far better for Yuccas to be kept slightly dry rather than too damp.  With regard to the soft stems this as I have mentioned in previous answers is not a good sign and I am sure that this is the reason why the leaves on one of the stems is beginning to wilt.  You may be better having a word with your son with regard to cutting the wilting shoot off and providing the stem is still firm it would be worthwhile repotting into a new pot/compost.  It is difficult to give you a concise answer Brenda without knowing exactly how soft the stems have become and when the softening process started.

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Bernice Brady asks...

I have 8ft yucca I want to cut it down. Can I repot the top half and if so what kind of soil do I require and how do I seal the bark?

Bill replies...

I am assuming Bernice that your eight foot Yucca is an indoor species and the correct time for cutting back is late springtime.  The top half can be repotted into a large container as the shoots are reasonably easy to root.  You will however need to cover the large leaves with a clear polythene bag to cut down on transpiration loss.  With regard to sealing the cut the stems quite easily callous over but, if you are worried there is a sealing compound which you can purchase from Garden Centres.

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Bernadette Woods asks...

My yucca has sun damaged leaves - I would like to know how to prune the arm (has two other arms which are perfect) with damaged leaves in order to make it look healthy again.

Bill replies...

You will always find with Yuccas Bernadette that some of the leaves do get sun scorched damage and these leaves can be cut back to the trunk.  If after removing these leaves the damaged branch looks out of shape you can actually prune this branch back and it will shoot again but, I would not cut back the shoot until early springtime when the sap is beginning to rise.  Before pruning if you could send me a photograph of your Yucca to BBC Radio Lancashire I will be able to advise you where you need to prune.

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Tracey Withey asks...

I have read your replies to lots of questions but one of my two questions remains. I have a yucca about 6 ft high with one main trunk which divides into two halfway up. My problem is a hole that has developed in the main trunk right near the base large enough to put your finger in. Is this dangerous to my plant and should I cover it?

Bill replies...

You will need Tracey to keep an eye on the small hole in the main trunk of your Yucca plant and if it does start to become larger it is obviously becoming the nesting place for a mouse/vole.  To protect your plant you will need to fill the hole and there are special sealing compounds that you can use.  But, I would be inclined to wait until spring/early summertime for dryer conditions before using the sealing compound.  You do not want to seal moisture into the main trunk.

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Stacey asks...

I have a indoor yucca plant that has a large trunk and three stems growing from the top in varying sizes I have had this plant for approx 6 years and as been kept at the top of the landing for approx 4 of those years next to a window where it has thrived, but over the last few days all three of the stems have drooped right over and no longer stand upright do I cut them of or leave them?

Bill replies...

It seems very odd Stacey that over the past few days all three stems on your Yucca have suddenly started to droop and wilt and, this can be caused by overwatering or a soil borne pest which is damaging the roots and, it would be well worthwhile to check the soil for pests such as vine weevil grubs (these grubs are pinkish white in colour and approximately one quarter to half an inch long) but it seems highly unlikely that the grubs are the problem with your Yucca being an indoor plant.  It would also be worthwhile to check the stems.  If the stems are soft it means that the plant is badly damaged but, if they are firm your plant should survive.

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Anisa asks...

I have a large yucca plant in my front garden that is no longer vertical and is growing at a 70 degree angle and is surrounded closely by paving slabs, it is currently flowering, and has a very large trunk, as I am moving house, I would like to take it with me.
- can I take it out and plant it in a large pot until I move?
- and if so how do I do that?
- and when is the best time to remove it?
I have tried digging it out but with no joy as it is very heavy and the trunk does not even move an inch and with very little room around it due to the pavement slabs and brick wall, I have read somewhere that I can saw the trunk at the top of the soil and re-pot it is this correct? I really hope you can help as I love this plant and this site is very helpful but cannot find the answer elsewhere.

Bill replies...

The correct time to propagate your Yucca would be early springtime Ansia when you can cut the top part of the shoot where the leaves are and repot into a large pot.  Water the plant well in and if your Yucca is not too large and to cut down on transpiration loss you can cover the whole Yucca with a clear polythene bag for approximately two to three weeks as this will help to stop the leaves from wilting.  If you do cut your Yucca hard back so that the trunk is approximately one foot from the ground it will in time shoot again.  If you are moving house in the very near future (October) it is going to be difficult for your Yucca to establish over the winter months and you will probably to keep the shoot protected in a greenhouse or a cool porch.

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Claire Bush asks...

I have a Yucca Gloriosa in a pot on my patio. It is about four years old and last year produced the most magnificent bloom. When the flowers dropped and died I cut the flower stem which has now become wooden like and very thick. The plant is not doing very well now and the leaves are all turning yellow and brown and bugs (leatherjackets) seem to be nesting in the centre where it is quite rotten.  Should I have cut the stem or have I damaged the plant beyond saving?

Bill replies...

With regard to the flowering stem of your Yucca the stem can be cut back when the flowers have died and the stem has started to die back and, you will not have damaged the plant Claire by cutting the stem back.  Regarding the yellowing of the leaves this does happen quite frequently and naturally with the bottom leaves and you say that in the centre of your Yucca that quite a number of bugs are nesting.  I do not think that these are Leatherjackets which are usually found under turf but you will need to clear any debris and the brown bugs from the centre of your plant.

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Carole asks...

Two weeks ago I purchased an outdoor Yucca which is approx 3ft tall and I have kept it in its original large pot, it is in a sunny position and on purchase looked very healthy, however it has now started to develop dark brownish blotches which penetrate to the undersides of the leaves. Is this a form of black spot, and have you any suggestions how I can treat the plant?

Bill replies...

Some species of Yucca Carole do suffer from Yucca Leaf Spot (Coniothyrium Concentricum) and, the symptoms are chocolate coloured brown spots which can spread quite quickly onto other leaves and badly infested leaves are far better removed and destroyed.  I am not aware of any fungicide which will control the disease but, you could try spraying with a general contact fungicide - such as Dithane - which may give some control.

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Bob Mccoll asks...

I have a Yucca plant that was perfectly healthy but over the winter months developed yellow leaves at the base. I put it outside on a very nice weekend but it unfortunately frosted overnight. Since bringing this inside the leaves at the top have gone white and as they dry have gone very yellow and brittle. Does this mean the plant is dead or is there hope for a revival? The middle section of the leaves are all very green and in great condition. I have had conflicting advice on the best course of action. Please help!

Bill replies...

If your plant is an indoor Yucca Bob it is obvious that it is the frost which has caused the damage and whether your plant will survive will depend on how far the frost has penetrated into the main trunk.  If you press the main trunk and it is still firm there is a good chance that your Yucca will survive.  The damaged leaves will not recover but you can cut back the main trunk and providing it is still healthy new shoots will appear during the spring/summer months.

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John Whiting asks...

We got a yucca (a B&Q special) it has 3 trunks and stands about 4 ft high we bought it as a conservatory plant but the wife now thinks it's too big. I don't know what variety it is but was wondering if it can go outside? To give you a clue each trunk has between four and six lots of leaves coming out at the top, with green leaves up to 16 inches in length narrowing to a sharp needle tip. Here's hoping...

Bill replies...

If your Yucca plant was purchased as an indoor houseplant from B & Q the variety will probably be Yucca Elephantipes and although it can be placed outdoors during the summer months it is not 100 per cent hardy variety.  However, what you can do is to cut back the three main trunks to approximately eighteen inches and they will start to shoot again.  I feel that this method will overcome your problem.

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Peter Hardy asks...

What a great site, you have converted me from an tv gardener to a physical gardener! I have had a yucca outside for about 10 years, bought as a 2 foot plant. It is now 6 foot and loves its place. However this year I have noticed that its leaves have split ends any suggestions?

Bill replies...

Many thanks for the kind words Pete and if our paths ever cross I will buy you a drink! On the question of your Yucca I would not worry too much about the splitting of the leaf ends this, could have quite easily been caused by the adverse winter weather and you usually find that the new leaves are fine.

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Lynn Lawrence asks...

I have a yucca plant with three trunks all the stems have died off and I have new shoots coming through the compost. Should I take away the trunks or leave them?

Bill replies...

If the trunks on your Yucca Plant have completely died off Lynn you will need to cut these off at base level and if you have new shoots coming through these should be fine. I cannot understand how these trunks have died off - it could be the very hard frost that we had during the winter months but if there are now new shoots coming through the plant should thrive. It will be worthwhile giving your plant a feed with a general base fertiliser - such a Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Grow More.

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Sheila asks...

Can I put a very large yucca plant outside during summer months? It also has brown on the tips of the leaves. It has been in the same pot for years.

Bill replies...

There is no reason at all why you can't put your plant outside Sheila - in fact a breath of fresh air will do your Yucca a world of good. It will however need to be placed in a sunny but sheltered spot. The browning of the leaf edges will have most probably been caused by dry atmosphere in the winter months caused by central heating - this happens to quite a number of foliage house plants. Mist spraying the leaves with tepid water approximately once a day will help to alleviate this problem by increasing humidity. Your Yucca plant will need regular watering during the summer months and a liquid feed with a balanced fertiliser will be beneficial. Over the winter months try to avoid over-watering your plant - they prefer to be slightly dry over this period.

If you feel that your Yucca plant needs re-potting I would wait until early Springtime.

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Val Jackulis asks...

Please can you tell me about yucca plants. I want to put one outside in my garden to grow into a tree - but I have been told that there are indoor and outdoor types - some that are on sale do not state which? Can you advise please?

Bill replies...

The Yucca plant that you require for your garden Val is called Yucca Gloriosa. The plant grows to a height of approximately six feet and, during the summer months it produces a beautiful spike of creamy white flowers. Yucca plants need to be situated in a sunny position and planted in a well drained soil. If you require a smaller variety I would suggest Yucca Filimontosa which grows to approximately two feet Both varieties recommended are very hardy and will tolerate the British weather.

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Maureen asks...

Do I cut the dead leaves off my outdoor yucca plants?

Bill replies...

The dead leaves can be cut from your Yucca plant Maureen using a sharp knife and the leaves should be cut off flush to the main trunk. Yucca Plants love to be situated in a sunny position and in a well drained soil.

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Malcolm Chisholm asks...

My yucca is about 5 ft high and has split into 3 sections at the top. All sections have grown the big, glorious flower spikes. It is growing at about 30 degrees off vertical, following the light source before my neighbour removed the light-blocking leylandii trees last year. Will it straighten itself or should I help it? If so, what is the best way to re-plant it, in the same position, without harming it; It is about 15 years old and in a light sandy soil.; Also, is it possible to divide it into three separate plants?

Bill replies...

I feel in time your Yucca Plant will straighten itself out Malcolm - as you will probably be aware all plants will grow towards the light. Your Yucca Plant will love your well drained soil and should produce the glorious flower spikes every year - providing we have reasonable summers.

Your question regarding propagation - it is possible to propagate Yucca Plants which have no roots; by inserting the shoot in a well drained sandy compost - which you have.; I would suggest that you should try with one shoot - which needs to about 12-18 inches high and, if you plant this as suggested above; there is a possibility that your plant will root and start to grow.; You will need to keep the plant well watered and I would spray the leaves in very hot weather to keep the humidity up.; You could try one this time of year but I feel it would be far better in early Spring.

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Alison Burgess asks...

I have a large yucca type plant, doing very well in the garden. However it's doing so well it has got rather wide! It seems to be two plants rather than one, on close inspection. My question is, is it possible to split this without harming the plant and when is the best time to try. Thank you.

Bill replies...

If you have two separate shoots coming from your plant below soil level it will be possible to split your Yucca - using a sharp spade - and, if you can remove one of these shoots with a reasonable amount of roots you may get away with transplanting the new plant. If your main concern is just to decrease the width of your plant by removing one shoot you could just cut off one of the shoots using a sharp saw at base level. Cutting off the shoot with a saw can be done this time of year but, it is rather late to try and split your Yucca and, I suggest if this is the method you wish to use the time to transplant is end March/early April.

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Brenda Mills asks...

Whilst moving the pot containing a healthy Yucca of approx. 2 feet in height, I have accidentally snapped the plant off at the base Firstly, will the plant re-grow and secondly, is there anything I can do to save the snapped off piece?

Bill replies...

There is a good chance that your Yucca will shoot again Brenda but this may not happen until next spring/summer time. The shoot which you have snapped off is worth saving and what you need to do is to re-pot the shoot in a 10-12 inch pot in a mixture of a peat based multipurpose compost and a John Innes compost and, if possible add to mixture about 10% of sharp grit sand which will ensure a free draining compost and there is a very good chance that it will root next year.

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Joan Frost asks...

I have a yucca filamentosa Golden Sword which has flowered. Do I cut the flower back to its beginning when it has wilted or leave it to die back itself?

Bill replies...

It has been a very good for Yuccas Joan - they 'love' the hot conditions and there has certainly been some wonderful spikes this year. When the spike on your Yucca has finished flowering and has started to die back you can then cut the flower spike down to base level.

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Elaine Greenhalgh asks...

I have just acquired a large indoor yucca (I think it's a yucca - fine shaggy leaves 6ft tall) how much water and what type of compost does it require to keep it looking good?

Bill replies...

Yucca Plants are quite an easy plant to grow and during the summer months you will need to water frequently and I would also suggest liquid feeding with a general fertiliser.; During the winter months it is important not to over-water your Yucca plant - they will not tolerate wet conditions which will cause the leaves to yellow and, again in the winter months it is important that your Yucca plant is situated in a very light room in a cool temperature.; The most important factor is do not over-water your plant.
On compost requirements if your plant needs re-potting I would do this early Spring time and would use John Innes No3 Compost with the addition of a 10% sharp grit to improve the drainage of the soil.

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Lisa asks...

I brought a yucca plant just over a month a go. The leaves have gone yellow and have wilted and some leaves have fallen off over over the last couple of weeks. I am getting conflicting advice about watering so I don't know if I have over-watered it or not enough. Please could you help me? Thank you.

Bill replies...

If your Yucca is the outdoors species they love to be grown in a very sunny position and the soil must also be well drained Lisa and, the wilting and yellowing of the leaves on your Yucca could quite easily have been caused by over-watering.; If your Yucca is an indoor variety through the winter months it will need to be kept slightly on the dry side and also in a very light position in the house.

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Michele Lindsay asks...

I have two yucca plants, planted in two separate areas of my yard.; Both plants are loaded with pin-sized bugs! What can I use organically to kill the bugs?

Bill replies...

The main pests which attack Yuccas Michele are Black Aphids which are usually seen on the flower spikes but I am not sure whether the Black Aphids are the pin sized bugs you are having problems with. You mention controlling the bugs organically and the method I would use is to spray the bugs with a fatty soapy liquid and one of the most popular products is Savona Soap which can be purchased from Horticultural Suppliers/Garden Centres.

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Celia asks...

We have removed 2 yucca plants and new yuccas continue to grow in the same spots. How do I get rid of them and do the poison the soil or cause other plants planted in their spots not to grow? All the plants I have planted in those spots seem to either not be doing well or dying.

Bill replies...

You will need to try and dig the Yucca's fleshy roots out Celia to ensure no more shoots appear and you will need to dig down at least two feet. Your Yucca plants will have taken quite a lot of the nutrients out of your soil and therefore before replanting you will need to work in plenty of well rotted manure to improve the soil texture and you will also need to give a liberal dressing of a general base slow release fertiliser - such as GrowMore - John Innes base fertiliser or VitaxQ4.

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Imran Akhtar asks...

I have an indoor yucca which is now getting too tall for the room. Is there any way of reducing its height, noting that the bottom half has no leaves?

Bill replies...

You can cut your Yucca back Imran into the bottom half of the trunk where there are no leaves and it will produce a new shoot and now is a good time to cut your Yucca back - when the sap is rising and and the plant is actively growing. It usually takes approximately four weeks for the new shoot to appear. The shoot usually appears just below where you have cut the trunk ie if you have the trunk three feet from the bottom the new shoot usually appears just below the three foot mark.

e australis which at the moment it has three flower heads in bud. My question is when can I prune the brown leaves that surround the base of both of the heads that are making the tree look extremely tatty and what is the best method of doing this? Many thanks

Bill replies...

The best method I have found Marie for pruning the dead leaves is to use a sharp pair of garden shears and cut back as close to the main trunk as possible.  Do not try and pull the leaves off the tree as this could easily damage the main trunk and also the flower heads.

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last updated: 13/05/2008 at 14:26
created: 07/03/2007

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