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Mr. Smarty Plants - Winter pruning for yucca in Michigan

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Monday - November 10, 2008

From: Waterford, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Pruning, Seasonal Tasks
Title: Winter pruning for yucca in Michigan
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in SE Michigan and have an outdoor yucca plant that has grown quite large. My father tells me that I can literally cut it down to the ground in the fall and that it will grow back the following season. I have small kids and little time to garden and prune. So to me, this idea of just cutting it down to the ground vs. pruning is appealing. Please tell me if I will kill the plant by doing this.

ANSWER:

The only yucca that has naturalized into areas as far north as Michigan is Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle). It is actually a native of the southeast and eastern parts of the U.S., but has moved into Michigan. Living as we do in near-desert Central Texas, with yuccas all around, we still find it hard to believe that there is a yucca that perseveres in snow and cold. Yucca does not ordinarily need any pruning, except perhaps to take out any dead or broken blades. You need to have this plant where you want it to be, because trying to dig out the root will (a)  not work, they are HUGE and (b) cause a whole lot of new little plants (commonly called "pups") to begin to grow around the area. The same thing will happen if you cut the plant off at the base-it will just guarantee its survival by sending out more little plants. And cutting it off at the base would be a real challenge, requiring something along the lines of a chainsaw and a suit of armor. The only pruning that is needed is of the bloom stalk, which should be cut down as close to the bottom as possible, in order to keep the plant tidy, as soon as it finishes blooming in late summer. 

Unless you have a whole lot of room to be filled up in your garden, don't try to cut off or dig up anything on your yucca except the bloom stalk. When you were told that the yucca would come back if you cut it off at the base, you probably didn't realize that several would come back at the cut-off base, and then, next year, when you cut those off at the base... and so on and so on.  How do you feel about a yucca forest in your garden?

Pictures of Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle)

 

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