These tough plants are rock stars in a full-sun garden and can stand up to some serious drought. Grown primarily for their showy evergreen foliage, some yuccas put on candelabra-like blossoms. Not only do these plants work well in a dry garden as an architectural accent, but they also make a prized container plant. But do be careful, if planted in anything other than well-drained soil, yuccas can develop root rot. Avoid planting them near walkways because of their thorny tips.
The foliage of the yucca is the main draw of growing these architectural plants. The leaves come in a wide variety of colors, most often a silvery green. You can also find them in variegated varieties with gold, green, cream, blue, and, in the right season, pink. Some yuccas have thread-like filaments that curl off the edge of foliage for a unique addition to the evergreen leaves. The texture of the foliage can vary from thin, almost grass-like leaves to thick, wide leaves. These flowers develop on extremely tall stalks in masses of white and cream, and sometimes blush pink.
The yucca plant has co-evolved alongside several species of moths; their symbiotic relationship benefits both plants and moths. The yucca emits a fragrance at night to attract the moths to pollinate them. As the moths begin to mate, the female finds a freshly opened bloom and works her way down to the ovary of the flower. Once there, she makes a small hole in the ovary and lays her eggs. On her way out, she pollinates the flowers and marks them with a pheromone indicating to other moths that that flower has been taken. As the eggs mature and grow, they feed on the growing seeds of the yucca flower but leave enough remaining seeds for the plant to reproduce.
Yucca Care Must-Knows
Because many species of yuccas are native to the driest and most arid areas of the United States, these plants make great rugged garden companions. Yuccas require well-drained soil or they will quickly rot and die. When planting along with other perennials, make sure to avoid pairing with plants that will need continuous water as this is not an ideal environment for yuccas. While yuccas are tolerant of different soil conditions, including sand and clay, it is important they remain dry. Yuccas make a great container plant that will continue to thrive even if you forget about them. The more tropical species can then be brought indoors for the winter.
Their native growth in wide-open areas with little overhead competition also means these plants perform best in the garden in full sun which provides the most intense colorations of the variegated varieties, as well as the most prolific flowers. While yuccas can survive in part sun, plants will often become sparse and leaves will be more narrow and leggy. Part sun also increases the likelihood of rot, as soil is more likely to stay wet.
More Varieties of Yucca
This variety, Yucca filamentosa, makes a substantial clump of rigid, spiny-tipped variegated leaves about 2 1/2-feet long, edged with curly threads. The leaves are broadly banded with creamy yellow. Imposing 8- to 10-foot-tall spires of white flowers appear in mid- to late summer. It is hardy in Zones 4-11.
Yucca flaccida has beautiful foliage streaked with bright gold down the center, and looks stunning year round. Stalks of white blooms as tall as 6 feet may appear in spring. It is hardy in Zones 4-10.
This type of Yucca elephantipes is a variety often grown as a houseplant. This yucca lacks the needle-like spines and can reach staggering heights of up to 30 feet. It is hardy in Zones 9-10.
Yucca Companion Plants
One of the longest bloomers in the garden, coreopsis produces (usually) sunny yellow daisylike flowers that attract butterflies. Coreopsis, depending on the variety, also bears golden-yellow, pale yellow, pink, or bicolor flowers. It will bloom from early to midsummer or longer as long as it's deadheaded.
A favorite of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, hens-and-chicks are popular once again with gardeners looking for drought-tolerant, easy care plants. Darlings of today's xeriscape gardens, trough gardens, and rooftop gardens, these plants are appreciated for their easy care and tolerance for extremely dry conditions. The neat rosettes multiply freely by runners that form dense colonies. Flowering rosettes die after bloom time, but are quickly replaced. They are excellent between pavers on patios and walkways.
There are hundreds of different types of salvias, commonly called sage, but they all tend to share beautiful, tall flower spikes and attractive, often gray-green leaves. Countless sages (including the herb used in cooking) are available to decorate ornamental gardens, and new selections appear annually. They are valued for their very long season of bloom, right up until frost. Not all not hardy in cold climates, but they are easy to grow as annuals. On square stems, clothed with often-aromatic leaves, sages carry dense or loose spires of tubular flowers in bright blues, violets, yellow, pinks, and red that mix well with other perennials in beds and borders. Provide full sun or very light shade, in well-drained average soil.