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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - October 18, 2010

From: Georgetown, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Dead leaves on yucca in Georgetown TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have 2 6ft and 3 smaller soft leaf yuccas out back in a kidney shaped area with a wax myrtle and a mountain laurel. The yuccas have done great but now two of them have a large number of dead leaves - both about 50%. They are really tough to prune without getting stabbed. Are these goners?? I don't water that area that much or they'd have drowned long ago.

ANSWER:

Are these dead leaves on the lower part of the yucca? That is normal die-back; as they brown and dry up, they can be pulled out, or cut off at the base with a knife. Think heavy leather gloves and a looong knife.

Beyond that, we are having a little trouble identifying your yucca. We found a variety of yuccas called Yucca recurvifolia, which had the common names of Soft Leaf Yucca or Pendulous Yucca. However, nothing under this scientific name occurs in our Native Plant Database, which means it hasn't made it there yet. According to this USDA Plant Profile map, the Yucca recurvifolia occurs naturally in the southeastern states. We then found a source which said it is believed that the Yucca recurvifolia is a natural hybrid betweenYucca flaccida (Weak-leaf yucca) (native to Mississippi) and Yucca aloifolia (Aloe yucca) (native to the southeastern states). This would explain why it is not in our plant database as we deal only with native, non-hybridized plants. It also makes it very difficult for us to diagnose or analyze a problem with it, since it has divergent parents.

So, one possibility is that it is not happy with the soils and climate of Central Texas, and that could be causing the browning leaves. Yuccas ordinarily do not need watering more than once or twice a month, and should be protected from overhead sprinklers. From the Master Gardeners of University of Arizona Pima County, here is an article on Yucca recurvifolia, Pendulous Yucca.

We can't say these plants are goners; the yucca is a very tough plant, used to surviving in difficult environments. We would suggest removing any browning leaves, looking for insects in the plant, cutting down on the amount of water it receives, and patience.

Pictures of Yucca recurvifolia from Google.

 

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