Yucca elephantipes, also known as stick Yucca or spineless Yucca, is a flowering, evergreen shrub native to Mexico and Central America. Low maintenance and unfussy about things like temperature and light, it’s a superb plant for beginners. However, there are still a few things to be aware of.
In this guide, our experts explain the ideal conditions for growing Yucca elephantipes at home, while offering advice for potential problems and pests.
What Is Yucca Elephantipes?
Yucca elephantipes have a tree-like shape, with a thick stem and long, dark green, spiky leaves that grow in a rosette shape at the top of the stem.
As the plant matures, the stem can develop into a thick trunk that resembles an elephant’s foot, which is where the plant’s name comes from. The spineless Yucca can grow almost 20 feet (6 meters) tall if planted outdoors, but as an indoor plant, it usually grows to a height of 6 feet (1.8 meters).
The official botanical name for this plant is Yucca gigantea, but some historic sources also use the name Yucca guatemalensis. Eduard von Regel, a German horticulturist, was the first to call it Yucca elephantipes back in 1859. Nowadays, this is the preferred name in the horticultural trade, as well as among houseplant lovers.
Yucca elephantipes belong to the Asparagaceae family, making it a distant cousin of the edible garden asparagus. Interestingly, the flowers and fruit of this plant are also edible. The flower, called ‘izote,’ is the national flower of El Salvador, and it’s a popular ingredient in the local cuisine.
Yucca Elephantipes Flowers
Yucca flowers grow in large clusters, on an inflorescence that’s typically 3 feet (90 cm) long. They are white, with a conical shape, and produce fleshy fruit about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. Rarely, stick Yucca blooms indoors, but if you grow it in your garden, it will bloom throughout spring and summer.
In its natural habitat, Yucca elephantipes grow in a dry, arid climate, but it is highly adaptable and can also thrive as an indoor plant. A recent study also found that it helps reduce harmful microbes from the air, making it a perfect choice if you’re looking for a plant that purifies the air.
Yucca Elephantipes Care Guide
– Light Requirements
Yucca elephantipes is a sun-loving plant that needs bright, direct light to grow. Keep it in a room with southern exposure, or next to a west-facing window. If you have a room in your house where you can’t grow other plants because the sun will scorch them, it will be perfect for Yucca.
You can also grow spineless Yucca in bright, indirect light. Although this plant can adapt to lower light conditions, it’s not recommended that you grow it in shade. Too little light will stunt its growth, cause yellowing leaves, and even create favorable conditions for fungal problems.
– Temperature Requirements
Yucca elephantipes is a desert plant that has adapted to extreme temperature fluctuations. As a result, it can easily grow in the average temperature range found in most homes. Its toughness and evergreen foliage make it a perfect plant for any location, from homes and offices to gardens and urban landscaping.
– Water Requirements
Yucca elephantipes have low watering needs, and should only be watered when the top inch of the soil feels completely dry to the touch. Like all desert plants, it is tolerant to drought but deathly sensitive to overwatering or having ‘wet feet.’
Water your indoor Yucca plant using the ‘soak-and-dry’ method. Slowly and evenly pour water over the soil, to reach all the roots. When the water starts dripping through the drainage holes, let the pot drain for a few minutes, then place it back on its tray. Always use room temperature water, as the cold water will shock the roots of the plant, causing wilting.
You will need to adjust your watering schedule for Yucca elephantipes depending on the time of year, temperature, and amount of light the plant gets. During summer, you can water the stick Yucca once a week, especially on very hot days.
Plants sitting in direct sun will also need more water than those sitting in indirect light, as they lose more water through evaporation. In winter, you can reduce your watering to once every 2 weeks, depending on how dry your home is.
– Humidity Requirements
The spineless Yucca doesn’t need high humidity levels. In fact, it enjoys dry air, which is why it’s become such a popular plant in offices. The average humidity levels in most homes are more than enough for this plant.
Avoid exposing Yucca elephantipes to too much humidity, as this can cause fungal problems. You don’t need to mist Yucca plants.
– Fertilizer Requirements
Yucca elephantipes is not a heavy feeder. The plant only needs fertilizer applications once every 2 months for healthy growth. You can use a slow-release organic fertilizer for this plant, or a diluted fertilizer for succulents or cactus plants. In its native habitat, Yucca thrives in poor, sandy soils, so fertilizing it isn’t always needed.
Feed your stick Yucca throughout spring and summer. The plant’s growth slows down in winter, so there is no need to use fertilizer during the colder months.
Always make sure that the soil is moist when fertilizing Yucca plants. Applying fertilizer to dry soil will burn the roots, which can permanently damage the plant. If you have accidentally overfed your Yucca, the best solution is to repot it in fresh soil and avoid feeding it for at least 3 months.
When using synthetic fertilizers, keep in mind that they can result in fertilizer salts building up in the soil. Desert plants are very sensitive to too many nutrients and salts in their potting mix, which needs to be flushed out once every 3 months. To do this, slowly run water through the soil for a few minutes, then allow the water to drain from the pot before placing it back on its tray.
– Best Soil for Yucca Elephantipes
As a desert plant, Yucca elephantipes grow in sandy soils that are poor in nutrients and retain very little water. When growing it indoors, aim for soil that is well aerated, fast-draining, and slightly alkaline, with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.5.
You can pot stick Yucca in a succulent mix, but avoid using compost or growing it in just a universal potting mix. These soils are too heavy and nutrient-rich for this plant, straining the roots and causing the plant to wilt. Always use soil amendments for Yucca plants, such as perlite, pumice, coarse sand, or even gravel. They will improve drainage and aeration, preventing the fungal problems that come with soils that are too wet.
To make your special soil for Yucca elephantipes, mix equal parts gardening soil, perlite, and coarse sand. The gardening soil will provide the plant with the nutrients it needs, while the coarse sand and perlite will greatly improve drainage.
– Repotting Yucca Elephantipes
The Yucca elephantipes growth rate is medium. When planted in the garden, it can grow at a rate of 24 inches (60 cm) per year. Yucca planted indoors grows much slower, but it still develops faster than most houseplants. Luckily, it prefers being a bit rootbound, so you will only need to repot it once every 1 or 2 years, depending on the age of the plant.
Repot your Yucca elephantipes in spring, when the plant enters its growth stage. Pick a container that’s one size larger than the previous one, or 2 inches (5 cm) wider.
The best material for Yucca elephantipes containers is clay or terracotta. This porous material wicks the moisture from the soil, preventing it from staying wet too long. It also helps improve air circulation to the roots. Clay pots also weigh more, making them ideal for mature Yucca plants, which tend to be top-heavy. Always make sure that the new pot has drainage holes, which will prevent the plant from having ‘wet feet.’
Yucca plants have leaves with very sharp edges. Therefore, it’s recommended that you wear gardening gloves when handling them, to avoid cuts or injuries.
– Pruning and Maintenance
Yucca elephantipes don’t need much pruning. Occasionally, you will need to remove brown or old, wilted leaves from the bottom of the plant. Simply trim them using a sharp pair of gardening shears, and make sure to disinfect the blades before and after each use.
If your Yucca elephantipes are growing too tall, you can control their spread by trimming the top of the plant. This is also helpful if the Yucca is growing too leggy. Use a sharp knife to cut the top of the plant, cutting the stem 4 inches (10 cm) below the bottom leaves. If the trunk is very long and bare, you can even cut it in half. Use the cuttings to propagate your Yucca.
– Is Yucca Elephantipes Toxic?
All Yucca houseplants contain toxic compounds called saponins. Although humans rarely suffer severe poisoning from saponins, the ASPCA lists Yucca as toxic to horses, cats, and dogs.
If ingested, it can cause weakness, dizziness, drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. The leaves have a bitter taste, which means that pets won’t like chewing them. However, it’s best to keep it out of reach of pets and small children.
Outdoor vs Indoor Growth: What Is Best For Yucca Elephantipes?
Yucca elephantipes can thrive as both a garden and an indoor plant. It needs a lot of sunlight, so if your home has low light or is facing north, growing it in the garden might be best.
Outdoor Growing Tips
You can grow spineless Yucca outdoors if you live in USDA zones 9–11. Although it is a desert plant, it can tolerate temperatures as low as 30 °F (-1 °C), so a light frost won’t damage it. During summer, Yucca can grow in temperatures as high as 90 °F (32 °C).
When growing Yucca elephantipes in your garden, always make sure that the soil is well-draining. Most garden soils are too thick for this plant, so you will need to use amendments such as gravel, sand, and insoluble grit.
Yucca plants grown outdoors can grow to a height of around 20 feet (6 meters), and develop numerous side trunks. They also have a better chance of flowering and producing edible fruit. On the flip side, Yucca elephantipes grown outdoors are more susceptible to pests, especially weevils and moth borers.
Yucca Elephantipes Propagation
The easiest and most efficient way to propagate Yucca elephantipes is through stem cuttings. You can propagate the plant in spring and summer, or when you prune it. Avoid propagating Yucca in winter, during the plant’s dormancy stage, as the cuttings will take a very long time to develop roots.
Yucca elephantipes propagation depends on the size, age, and shape of the plant. If your Yucca has new growth at the top, you can simply trim off the young stems to propagate them. For Yucca with a long, bare stem, you can cut 4 inches (10 cm) below the bottom leaves, and use that to propagate the plant.
Here’s our step-by-step guide for propagating Yucca elephantipes:
- Use a sharp, sterilized pair of pruning shears and cut the stems;
- Remove any yellowing or brown leaves from the bottom;
- Keep the cuttings in a cool, dry room for a day or so, until the bottom of the cutting develops a hardened callus;
- If you want the cuttings to grow roots faster, you can dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone, after the callus has formed;
- Plant the cutting in a mix of vermiculite, perlite, and some universal houseplant soil;
- Water gently, and keep the pot in bright, indirect light;
- The roots should start developing after 3 to 4 weeks;
- After 2 months, the roots should be sufficiently developed for the plant to be moved in a larger pot with a more substantial potting mix.
Common Pests and Problems
Yucca elephantipes has very few problems with pests, and it’s rarely affected by any diseases.
The most common pests affecting it indoors are spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. These pests suck the sap from the stems and leaves, gradually weakening the plant.
To remove mealybugs and spider mites from Yucca elephantipes, spray the plant with a solution of 1 part isopropyl alcohol and 4 parts water. For scale, you can use a solution of neem oil, dish soap, and water.
Stick Yucca growing outdoors can be susceptible to aphids, moth borers, and Yucca weevils. The best way to get rid of them is by spraying the plants with a horticultural soap solution. You may also notice signs of leaf spot, which can be caused by various fungi, bacteria, and even viruses. Depending on the case, you will need specialized foliar sprays to get rid of leaf spots.
The most common problems for Yucca elephantipes grown indoors are caused by incorrect watering, not enough light, or overfeeding. Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms.
It is normal for your Yucca plant to develop brown leaves at the bottom of the crown. This is usually a sign of normal aging. However, if your plant has too many brown leaves, especially new growth, that could indicate that the plant isn’t getting enough light, it has been given too much fertilizer, or there’s a build-up of salts and minerals in the soil.
Yellow leaves on Yucca elephantipes indicate that the plant is overwatered. This plant is very sensitive to sitting in damp soils, which can also cause root rot, and create an optimum environment for pests such as fungus gnats.
Yellowing leaves can also be a symptom of too little sun, which causes the leaves to produce less chlorophyll and lose their vivid green color.
If your Yucca elephantipes is growing a long, thin, and bare trunk, this is often the result of insufficient light. This plant grows best in a bright room, with plenty of sun exposure. To fix leggy growth, move the plant to a sunnier location, and trim the stem to encourage branching.
Yucca elephantipes is a great houseplant for beginners, plus it will thrive in almost any room! Just be sure to follow this guide, and you can’t go wrong.
Let’s go over the basics:
- Yucca elephantipes loves the sunshine, and will enjoy direct sunlight far more than most houseplants;
- It’s not too fussy about temperature either, making it perfect for both indoor and outdoor locations;
- The few things it is sensitive to are overwatering and over-fertilizing — less is more with Yucca elephantipes.
So now you know the secrets to success, why not try growing your first Yucca elephantipes?
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