Yuccas are highly popular, both as potted houseplants and as ornamental garden features. They are easy to grow, resilient, and dramatic in appearance. But, their beauty can be marred by the presence of brown, dried leaves that cling to their trunks for days or weeks. Should you trim those dead leaves off your yucca plant to make it look better? We've done the research, and we have the answers for you!
Your yucca plant's dead leaves will eventually dry up and fall away on their own. However, if you prefer to remove the unsightly brown leaves sooner, you can cut them away just above the base of the leaf. This method ensures that the base of each leaf remains attached to the yucca's trunk, protecting it from insects, disease, and the elements.
You can also pull the dead leaves gently downward until they detach from the trunk, but doing so will remove the whole leaf, including the base, thus leaving the yucca's trunk exposed and vulnerable.
In the remainder of this article, we'll show you how to safely trim the dead leaves from each of the three major types of yuccas. We will also answer several common questions about pruning and shaping yuccas, how to prune your yucca so that it will branch out, whether it's safe to cut a yucca off at the top, and how to stop the ornamental yuccas in your garden from growing taller. Keep reading to learn more!
How To Safely Trim A Yucca
Yuccas are best known for their swordlike leaves and the bell-shaped white flowers they produce, densely clustered on short vertical stalks. More than 40 distinct species of yuccas fall into three broad categories: large trees, smaller ornamental trees, and bushy shrubs. Each of these types of yucca requires a different strategy for pruning its dead leaves.
A few species of yuccas, such as the Joshua Tree and Giant Yucca, grow to 30 feet or more in height. They feature tall, thick trunks with pom-pom-like bunches of sword-shaped leaves topping gnarled branches.
Large yucca trees that grow in the wild are not pruned, so they have a distinctively shaggy appearance, with the remnants of old, dead leaves clinging to their trunks in various stages of disarray. However, if you prefer a smoother look for your large yucca tree, you can cut off its dead, brown fronds just above their junction with the trunk, leaving the base of each frond attached to the trunk as a protective covering.
Small Ornamental Trees
Smaller yucca trees, ranging from 3 feet to 15 feet in height, are popular both as potted houseplants and ornamental landscape features. These yuccas have dark green or variegated leaves that grow around the sides of the trunk and branches. Flower stalks grow out of the crown of green leaves at the top of each tree.
As an ornamental yucca tree grows, the older leaves at the bottom die off, turning brown and dry. You can wait for these leaves to fall off naturally, but you may prefer to keep your yucca looking fresh and green by removing the dead leaves.
You can peel the leaves off the trunk by gently pulling them back and down; however, this method leaves the trunk exposed to pests, disease, and weather. The healthier alternative for your tree is to snip away each dead leaf about an inch above its junction with the tree's trunk so that the leaf's base remains attached to protect the trunk.
Bushy Trunkless Shrubs
A third group of yuccas popular with gardeners is the bushy, trunkless species that grow close to the ground with their spiky leaves pointing straight up. These yuccas feature dramatic clusters of white flowers on thick vertical shafts that grow up out of the center of the plant. They are most often used in the garden but can also be potted and kept indoors.
Bushy yuccas grow outward instead of up, so the dead brown leaves that you'll want to remove will typically be near the plant's center. Using a sharp knife or pruning shears, snip these leaves off about an inch above the base. Be careful not to cut into the tender central core of the plant, which sits just above the ground. Be careful: the leaves of many yucca species can be sharp and spiny, so make sure to wear heavy gardening gloves and a long-sleeved shirt as you trim.
Should I Cut Brown Leaf Tips Off My Yucca?
It's pretty common for the tips of your yucca's leaves to turn brown. This is usually a sign that you are under-watering the plant or that the humidity level in your home is too low. Snipping off the brown, dead tips of the leaves will improve the appearance of your yucca, but to address the problem, you must supply the plant with more water.
Yuccas don't tolerate consistently wet soil, so increase your watering regimen gradually. If low humidity in your home is an issue, spray your yucca's leaves once per week with a light misting of water.
How To Make A Yucca Branch Out
Whether it's a potted plant, an outdoor ornamental tree, or a bushy garden feature, you can prune your yucca plant to affect its shape. If you'd like your bushy yucca to grow wider rather than taller, prune off new growth as it emerges at the top of the plant.
To encourage your yucca tree to branch out, cut off its top, including the crown of new growth and any flowering spikes. A yucca tree pruned in this manner will grow branches out of the tops and sides of the trunk, while bushy yuccas will expand laterally and become fuller and denser.
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Can You Cut The Top Off A Yucca?
Sometimes, potted or outdoor ornamental yuccas become too large for the space they occupy. You can cut them down to a more appropriate size by simply marking the desired height on the trunk and then lopping off the top of the plant.
Yuccas are incredibly resilient: the topped-off trunk will look ragged for a short while, but it will soon sprout new leaves and flowers. In addition, there's no need to discard the top of the tree -- you can root it, plant it in a pot, and soon have another thriving yucca tree!
How To Stop Yuccas From Growing Taller
To stop a shrubby yucca from growing taller, cut off the flower stalk about 3 - 4 inches above its base before its flowers have entirely faded. Because the stalk rises to 6 feet above the tips of the leaves, cutting it dramatically reduces the visual height of the plant, and, once cut, the stalk will not regrow until the following year.
On a yucca tree, cut off all new growth as it emerges from the crown of leaves at the top of the trunk. You will need to perform this step periodically, as new growth will continue to sprout from the tip of the trunk.
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Yuccas are easy-to-care-for plants that add interest and color to your garden or as potted plants inside your home. They offer dramatic foliage, striking clusters of flowers, and a variety of sizes and shapes. You can trim, prune, and lop them to fit the available space. If you trim off the brown leaf tips and prune the dead leaves by following the tips provided above, you can keep your yucca healthy and looking great!
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