Tropical Punch

Yucca with snow in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Yucca in the snow (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

If, like me, you crave a touch of adventure in your garden, then yucca could be the plant for you.  For those of us in colder zones, we can’t grow many of the desert dwellers such as agaves or cactus. But yucca is a different story. Quite cold hardy, not only do they add a spiky, prickly character to an otherwise oval leafed garden, they look good all year long.  Yes, that’s right. When other cold climate plants have gone below for the winter, yucca happily stands up to whatever mother nature can dish out.

Yucca w/summer annuals in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Yucca w/summer annuals (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Native to hot, dry regions of North, South and Central America, many yuccas thrive in the badlands, yet some do well in less daunting conditions including zone 7 cultivars such as: Yucca gloriosa (North Carolina to Florida), Yucca recurvifolia (Georgia to Missouri) and Yucca whipplei (Southern California to New Mexico). But take heart my colder climate friends, Yucca filamentosa, commonly known as Adams needle, grows from New Jersey to Florida in zones 4-9.  And thanks to science and adventurous horticulturists, there are some really great selections to choose from.

Yucca 'Ivory Tower' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Yucca ‘Ivory Tower’ (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

The yucca many of us see in older Northern gardens is filamentosa ‘Ivory Tower’, a solid bluish-green clump of 3′ tall erect blades, often accompanied by a spire or two of white blossoms in the spring.  As a professed variegata-phobe, I need more visual stimulation, so the yellow and green striped filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ and ‘Bright Edge’ are my pageant winners.  The differences are subtle between the two; ‘Color Guard’  is a little shorter and stockier,up to 2′, while ‘Bright Edge’ can get a little taller, with some gentle weeping of the taller blades.  Neither blooms reliably (for me), but their form and color striations provide more than enough diversity to appease me.

Yucca 'Color Guard' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Yucca ‘Color Guard’ with its quirky hairs (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

To enjoy yucca for years, plant in full sun with well drained soil and a little room to stretch.  To show what a good sport she is, my filamentosa tolerates sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood Red’ meandering around and occasionally taking a short cut through her center.  What yucca won’t tolerate are voles, and voles love yucca roots (I learned this the hard way).  Keep yours safe by planting with a mix of coarse gravel, and check the surface periodically for signs of underground intruders.

There are other great yucca choices, so don’t let me limit you.  Check out Yucca filamentosa ‘Golden Sword’ (zone 4-9), and other alternatives hardy in zones 6 and 7 at your local nursery or:


  1. I’ve had good success with Yucca in part sun and much prefer the variegated varieties. In my old garden, the standard blue variety had taken hold in a couple of spots-one in pretty much full shade. I found it impossible to get rid of. There’s some in an old vegetable garden at my new house. I think we’re going to need to rent a backhoe :).

    • I laughed out loud at that one, Sue! There are a few ornamental grasses I thought I needed a backhoe to get rid of as well. I am surprised to hear you have success with yucca in part shade, always thought it was a full sun – and then some – lover. I agree fully about variegated, the plain ‘Ivory Tower’ was photographed in someone else’s garden, so glad I never planted it in mine. Thanks for writing and good luck in the new abode!

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