Yucca Plant Problems: Why A Yucca Plant Has Brown Tips Or Foliage

By: Kristi Waterworth

Who could forget the timeless beauty of the yuccas that grew in grandma’s garden, with their dramatic flower spikes and pointed foliage? Gardeners across the country love the yucca for their hardiness and sense of style. Yucca plants are typically easy-care landscaping plants, but they can have occasional problems. Read on to find out why this happens and get tips on caring for a browning yucca plant.

Caring for a Browning Yucca Plant

When yucca plant problems do strike, they’re usually easy to resolve, so don’t panic if you’ve got a yucca plant with brown leaves. Several minor problems can cause browning of yuccas. The first step in caring for a sick one is to determine what, exactly, is causing the problem. While you’re doing your investigation, check for these items:

  • Normal aging. Yucca plant leaves turning brown can be a normal part of their lifecycle, provided the browning leaves are the oldest and closest to the ground. If leaves higher in the plant are also browning, you’ve got a different problem.
  • Lighting. You need bright light for your yucca to really thrive. Yuccas will warn you of low lighting conditions by becoming a brighter green, then yellowing and browning if insufficient light persists. Although they need bright light, never place indoor yucca plants in a window with direct sunlight, or else you’ll have the opposite problem and cook your yuccas to death.
  • Watering. Because yuccas are desert residents, watering can be fraught with problems. It’s hard to water them too little if you’re watering at all, but watering too much is easy and quickly leads to root rot in all varieties. If your plant is small enough to dig, check the roots. They should be firm and white or cream colored, but absolutely not black or squishy. If that’s what you find, cut away the damaged roots, repot your plant in a container or garden spot with good drainage and water only when the top two inches of soil are dry.
  • Fluoride toxicity. When your yucca plant has brown tips, it’s likely due to fluoride toxicity. This issue generally starts as small brown spots on leaf margins, but soon encompasses the entire leaf tip. It’s especially bad on older leaves. There’s no serious risk with fluoride toxicity, but it does make a yucca look unsightly. Switch to watering with distilled water and the problem will clear up over time.
  • Salt toxicity. Although fluoride isn’t a huge threat to your plant’s health, salt is a serious problem. If you live where the soil has a high salinity level, or you water from a water softener, your plant may respond with stunted growth, browning tips and leaf margins or other leaf-related issue. In very salty conditions, a white crust may form at the surface of the soil. You can attempt to flush the soil with salt-free water, but unless you act quickly, your yucca may be beyond saving.
  • Fungal leaf spots. Once in a while the conditions are just right for fungal leaf spots to take hold in yucca. The fungal pathogens involved will cause spotting, often with a yellow halo, but rarely damage whole leaves. Remove damaged leaves and spray the plant with a copper fungicide as long as the weather is moist to prevent the spread of fungal spores to non-infected leaves.

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This one has been on my radar for a while, so I’m happy to finally be sitting down to write this post. Yucca plants are stunning specimens that can add a tropical feel to even the most boring rooms and gardens. And because it’s so easy to care for, it has become a hugely popular houseplant and ornamental garden plant! I’ll focus specifically on caring for the yucca cane plant—also called the yucca gigantea—but let’s do a bit of yucca background first.

“Yucca” itself is a genus in the Asparagaceae family, subfamily Agavoideae. They are perennial shrubs and come in upwards of 50 different species. Each looks a bit different, but they all have some sort of distinct large, long, sword-shaped green leaves.

The leaves sprout from rosettes, with many different rosettes sprouting from the trunk. It can grow between 2 and upwards of 30 feet tall! I’d imagine potted varieties will likely not get much taller than 6 feet, though. I’d love to be proven wrong!

And the leaves aren’t just sword-shaped, they can be SHARP, too! Even the yucca cane—the most popular indoor variety—has razor-sharp edges that can draw blood. Always wear thick work gloves when working with your yucca. And of course long sleeves. The leaves are typically higher off the ground, though, so they aren’t a danger to children and pets if they’re out of reach.

Native to arid climates in the Americas and the Carribean, the genus can mostly be found throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States. The cool thing about these plants, though, is that they are super adaptable. While they hail form arid climates, they’ve evolved to withstand a wide range of climates from deserts to grasslands and even subtropical areas.

The yucca variety you’re likely most familiar with is the yucca cane, also called the yucca gigantea, the spineless yucca elephantipes, the spineless yucca, and the giant yucca. You can likely find yucca cane plants easily these days in big-box garden centers like Home Depot and Lowes, as well as your local nurseries. Ikea has been selling them for years, too.

Caring for Your Yucca

If you want a houseplant that will grow in most conditions and which requires minimal care, you won’t go far wrong with a yucca – in fact the plant is so hardy it is sometimes called the “No Water Plant”.

Yucca plants fare best in bright light situations. Indoor yuccas should therefore be placed near windows to take advantage of natural light.

Yuccas like sandy, well-drained soil. Use an appropriate potting mix and place a 5 cm layer of pebbles in the bottom of the pot for optimum yucca care. Do not put a catcher or plate under your yucca’s pot. Waterlogged roots are one of the most common killers of this plant.

Though yuccas are almost set-and-forget houseplants, they will benefit from a dose of fertiliser two or three times a year.

Watering Your Yucca

The single most important element of good yucca care is watering. Yucca’s like to be reasonably dry and suffer badly from over watering. Water about once every ten days. You can tell when it’s time to water by checking the soil – it should be dry down to a depth of about 2.5 cm.

Indications of poor yucca care due to watering are:

  • Leaves show brown tips surrounded by a yellow halo – too much water.
  • Leaves turn yellow or brown all over – too little water.


Happily, yuccas are resistant to most pests. Probably the worst thing you’ll find is an infestation of scale or mealy bug. If this occurs, just spray the plant with a solution of dishwashing liquid and water. If that doesn’t do the trick use a commercial insecticide like Neem Oil.


Generally, yucca care doesn’t involve pruning the leaves of your yucca plant, but you may want to prune in two other ways.

The flower stalk: this may be pruned away from the plant after (or even before) the flower has finished blooming. Use pruning shears to cut it about 10 cm above the stalk-base.

The plant itself: yuccas can grow quite tall and in a houseplant this may present a problem for the average homeowner. The solution is simple, but drastic:

  1. Remove the yucca from its pot.
  2. Use a saw to cut the plant in half – the cut should be made mid-way between the start of the trunk and the first leaf cluster.
  3. Re-pot the bottom half of the trunk (the root end) and water well.
  4. Place the re-potted trunk in a well-lit position.

Though it might feel like you’ve just killed your yucca, the plant will actually recover and begin to sprout new leaves.

A New Plant Free

You can grow yourself a whole new plant for nothing after the above pruning process. Just take the discarded leaf end of the trunk, saw off the top of the trunk just below where the leaves begin and pot with the old leaf end pointed upwards.

Yucca aloifolia is native to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States from southern Virginia south to Florida and west to the Texas Gulf Coast, to Mexico along the Yucatán coast, and to Bermuda, and parts of the Caribbean. Normally Yucca aloifolia is grown in USDA zones 8 through 11. Yucca aloifolia is a popular landscape plant in beach areas along the lower East Coast from Virginia to Florida.

Yucca aloifolia has become naturalized in Bahamas, Argentina, Uruguay, Italy, Pakistan, South Africa, Queensland, New South Wales, and Mauritania. It is common in gardens and parks of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). [7]

Yucca aloifolia has an erect trunk, 3–5 in (7.6–12.7 cm) in diameter, reaching up to 5–20 ft (1.5–6.1 m) tall before it becomes top heavy and topples over. When this occurs, the tip turns upward and keeps on growing. The trunk is armed with sharp pointed straplike leaves with fine-toothed edges, each about 2 ft (0.61 m) long. The young leaves near the growing tip stand erect older ones are reflexed downward, and the oldest wither and turn brown, hanging around the lower trunk like a Hawaiian skirt. Eventually the tip of the trunk develops a 2 ft (0.61 m) long spike of white, purplish-tinged flowers, each blossom about 4 in (12.7 cm) across. After flowering, the trunk stops growing, but one or more lateral buds are soon formed, and the uppermost becomes a new terminal shoot. Yucca aloifolia also produces new buds, or offshoots, near the base of the trunk, forming the typical thicket often observed in dry sandy and scrub beach areas of the southeastern United States. [6] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Yucca aloifolia flowers are white and showy, sometimes tinged purplish, so that the plant is popular as an ornamental. Fruits are elongated, fleshy, up to 5 cm long. It is widely planted in hot climates and arid environments. [6] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

The fruit is eaten by both birds and humans, and the flowers can be eaten cooked or raw. [18]

Yucca aloifolia ' s roots can be used as soap and shampoo. [19]

Why are the tips of my Yucca Cane browning?

Your Yucca Cane doesn’t like to be kept consistently moist, but be sure you’re not underwatering your plant. Keep a consistent watering schedule–water when the top 50% of the soil is dry.

If you accidentally let your Yucca’s soil dry out completely, or stay dry for too long, you may see leaves go limp, droop, and possibly start to fold up. If the soil is extremely dry all the way through the pot, a good soak is in order.

Here’s how to soak-water your plant:

  1. Place your plant in your sink or tub without the saucer. Fill your basin up with about 3-4″ of water. Make sure the water isn’t hot!
  2. Allow your plant to soak up water through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot for at least 45 min.
  3. Feel the top of the soil after your plant has been soaking–has the water reached the top 2-3” of soil?
  4. If not all the soil feels saturated, water your Yucca slightly from the top of the soil to help speed up the saturation.
  5. When your plant’s soil is evenly damp, drain the sink/tub and allow the plant to rest while it drains thoroughly. Place the plant back on its saucer and back in its proper spot.

Keep in mind that when the soil goes from bone-dry to saturated, it can cause stress for your plant and may cause leaves to drop. Give it some time to adjust.


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