Yucca Pruning - How To Remove Dead Leaves from a Yucca Plant

Yucca Pruning - How To Remove Dead Leaves from a Yucca Plant

with Doug Ruhren

By Published October 14, 2022

Shop for Yucca at Plant Delights Nursery

Don't pull the dead yucca leaves off one by one! Learn this fast and easy way to cleanup your yucca plants. Yuccas are excellent textural plants in the garden that are easy to grow and require minimal maintenance. After a year or so, you might notice some dead foliage in and around the clumps. Those brown leaves are dry yucca crowns that died after flowering. Our Senior Horticultural Garden Supervisor Doug Ruhren shows you the quickest way to clean up those dried crowns and get your yucca plants looking fresh again.

Recommended Equipment for Pruning Yucca:

  • Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Pruning Sheers
  • Loppers
  • Pruning Saw


Video Transcript

Hello, I'm Doug Ruhren the garden supervisor here at Plant Delights Nursery Juniper Level Botanic Garden and I'm going to show a technique for cleaning up yuccas. This is a yucca, a mass of a yucca, that I've already cleaned up and we'll show you in a moment some that are not yet cleaned up and you'll notice the difference. This is a lovely hybrid that was bred and introduced here at Plant Delights Nursery called the 'Silver Anniversary' and the new foliage is this lovely sort of blue gray and when it has a bunch of old brown foliage in the display is not quite as wonderful. You know, it's something Mother Nature never bothers doing but, in our gardens, we like to take garden maintenance to a higher level. So, let's step across the driveway here and a look at a second mess of it.

You can see there's a lot of ground foliage in here and it's not a matter of health, it's just the nature of the plant. Yuccas fall into two categories; ones like this that don't develop an above ground stem, and then the other category are the ones with definite stems. Some of them are large trees like the Joshua trees in the southwest U.S. and people are often surprised to find out that there are yuccas native to the east coast. There are at least three species native to North Carolina. But these ones that don't develop an above ground stem, when one of these rosettes, you know, the whirl of foliage, one of them bloom and they're absolutely spectacular, and bloom six, eight-foot-tall spikes of creamy yellow flowers. When that rosette is done blooming, that rosette dies. The rest of the clump doesn't die just the one that has bloomed. And so, what is now brown within this clump are the rosettes that completed their life cycle.

Safety First - Yuccas Can Be Pokey!

A pair of gloves is useful doing this. This is not a very... it's a little bit pokey. If it was a bigger growing plant, I'd highly recommend a pair of safety glasses or at least sunglasses and protect your eyes. This work... you know you could do with the standard pair of pruning shears. I think the stems you often need something more substantial and either a pruning saw or a pair of loppers allows you to do a lot of the pruning work from outside the clump so, you know, less damage to your hands and forearms. I'm going to reach in here and feel where the stem... here is the old flower stalk. It's been cut back, you know, probably months ago or even last year but I can feel below there, and we'll see that when I cut it down and pull it out of the plant. I can feel right where that stem is and again it'll be much more obvious when I cut it and pull it out. But, having located it, I can take the pruning saw in there and usually without damaging any of the neighboring stems.

For Larger Yuccas, Try Using a Pruning Saw

See, that's, you know, one rosette and obviously it didn't get all of the brown because you have to cut it off close to ground level. It's removed all that foliage and the foliage on a yucca is very tough. I knew someone years ago who grew up poor out in the country and he called this tough grass, and they would use the leaves to tie up hams in the smokehouse. So, a saw is better at cutting these than something like pruning shears or the lopper.

Now we cut out a second rosette and you see a whole bunch more brown foliage has been removed from this clump and I suspect this hasn't been done in a few years so if you did this once a year removing any that have turned brown... This is one that was, oh I managed to cut while cutting the other one. If you do this on a regular basis, maybe once a year at the most, there wouldn't be quite as much to clean out as I have to clean out of the clump today.

Now what would happen if you didn't clean these out? Well, probably nothing. You know, again, this is not something that happens in nature. Nobody's coming along and cleaning this this stuff out. But, you know, in the garden I just think that the display in the garden is much more attractive when you’re not looking at this dead brown foliage, we only have the new foliage to look at.

I'm able to pull out some foliage without cutting the stem, probably because it got cut in the process of cutting up that stem. And some of these old stems are old enough that they hardly even need to be cut.

Okay, well that is close to being done. You see our pile of debris from this one clump is almost about the same volume of what we left behind, but I think what we've left behind looks so much better because we see the beautiful foliage without the brown. And again, if this was done on a yearly basis the amount that you'd have to remove would be, you know, a small fraction of what we've removed just now.

Yuccas Provide Architectural Interest

And you know, there are a lot of plants we grow in the garden that we grow just for their pretty flowers and the flowers on the yuccas are tremendously dramatic, very beautiful, but year-round we have this beautiful architectural foliage and in gardens plants with architectural forms really add a lot of beauty and interest to the garden. Because you look at something like, oh you know, asters and sunflowers are blooming this time of year. They're very beautiful, but there's no distinct form to them. And the yucca has this very shapely presence in the garden year-round so having that form all cleaned up without dead just enhances the display. So, I hope this little technique has helped you in the maintenance of your gardens. Thank you.

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