How to Revive a Dying Yucca Plant


How to revive a dying yucca plant

Is your yucca plant dying? Then I can assure you that you are not alone! In my job at a garden nursery, one of the most common problems I encountered was with yuccas.

I have lots of experience growing yuccas as houseplants, and I have been fortunate enough to have spoken to commercial growers who told me all their trade secrets, tips, and tricks to save them if they are dying…

In this article, I share with you what they taught me and the tips I have gleaned from specialist growers and growing my own yuccas so that you can save your plant!

Whenever I see a dying yucca, my first instinct is to check the soil. Overwatering and poor drainage cause the leaves to wilt and turn yellow. Low humidity and indoor heating cause yucca leaf tips to turn brown, and underwatering causes the leaves to droop and turn brown with a dying appearance.

Another common problem that I see come up is the amount of light…Yucca plants prefer to grow in bright light with some direct sunlight.

I often see yucca plants turning brown, and droopy with spindly leaves if they are in too much shade, however, they can also scorch brown if they are moved from shade or less intense light to full sun without a chance to acclimatize, so you’ve gotta find that happy medium!

Yucca plants have several adaptations to tolerate drought (as they grow in relatively arid conditions) and prefer slightly dryer soil than most houseplants, which is why overwatering and damp soil are the most common causes of a dying yucca plant.

To revive a dying yucca, I recreate their preferred environmental conditions by watering when the top 2 inches of the soil are dry, locating yucca plants in bright light with some sun, and keeping indoor yucca away from sources of heat.

Some humidity is preferred in arid climates or in Winter to counteract the drying effects of indoor heating, so I recommend misting the yucca plant’s leaves regularly to avoid brown leaf tips.

Yucca plants can tolerate a wide range of indoor temperatures, but their preferred temperature range is between 65°F (18°C) and 90°F (32°C). Yucca plants can tolerate temperatures as low as 43°F (7°C) and as high as 100°F (38°C) for a short time.

Keep reading to learn how to identify the reason your yucca is dying and for my steps to save it…

Why Are My Yucca Leaves Turning Yellow?

  • Symptoms. Yellowing leaves can occur predominately at the base of the plant, or all the leaves can turn yellow. Leaves can wilt and drop off eventually.
  • Causes. The lower leaves turn yellow and then brown as the plant matures. If all leaves turn yellow, this is due to underwatering or overwatering and possibly poor drainage.

If your yucca leaves are turning yellow, the soil is too damp due to overwatering or poor drainage. Yucca plants require the top 2 inches of soil to dry out between bouts of watering. If the soil is saturated, then yucca leaves turn yellow, and the stem starts to rot with a dying appearance.

I think it’s helpful if we understand how the yucca grows in its natural environment so that we can recreate these conditions in our homes…

Yuccas are native to Mexico and South-Western USA, where they grow in relatively dry areas with well-draining soil and infrequent rainfall.

Your yuccas have several adaptations for surviving in dry climates, such as thick, fleshy roots that store water and an oily coating on their leaves to reduce water loss (transpiration).

As yuccas are well adapted to dry conditions, the most common mistake I see people make is to water yuccas too often. (I did this myself with my first yucca).

Suppose the yucca is watered too often without allowing the soil to dry slightly between each bout of watering. In that case, the excess water exudes oxygen into the soil and prevents root respiration, which interferes with the yucca root’s ability to uptake moisture and nutrients.

If the roots transport water and nutrients around the plant, what you see is the leaves turn yellow and often droop as a sign of stress.

Saturated soil also promotes the conditions for root rot and fungal disease, which also turns the yucca leaves yellow with a wilting appearance and causes the stem to rot.

However, we need to consider several factors, as I’ve seen in several cases, that it may not be overwatering, which is the direct cause of the yucca turning yellow and dying.

If your indoor yucca plant has a saucer or tray underneath (to prevent water from spilling in the home), then this causes water to pool under the base of the pot and prevents the soil from drying out sufficiently between each watering.

I have been seeing a lot of yucca plants sold in decorative outer pots that do not have drainage holes, which prevents water from escaping from the bottom of the pot, creating boggy potting soil around the yucca’s roots which results in yellowing leaves and root rot.

However, suppose your yucca generally looks healthy, apart from some of the lower leaves turning yellow. In that case, I can attribute this to the natural process of the yucca plant, in which the lower leaves turn yellow as the plant invests more energy into growing new leaves that have more access to light as the plant grows taller.

Some lower leaves turning yellow is natural process and I can assure you that this does not mean there is anything wrong with the care or cultivation practices of your yucca plant. What I do is just snip the leaves off with a sharp pair of pruners if they droop.

My Tips for Reviving a Yucca Plant with Yellow, Drooping Leaves

  • Wait until the top 2 inches of the soil has dried out before watering again. From my conversations with professional growers, they use this frequency when they grow and prepare yuccas for sale. This creates a balance of soil moisture that replicates the typical watering conditions (deluge of rain followed by a period of drought) that yuccas experience in their native environment.
  • To establish the correct watering schedule for your yucca, what I do is feel the soil to a finger’s depth. If you can detect moisture, you should delay watering for a few days. If the soil feels as though it is drying out, this is the optimal time to water your yucca. Typically, I water every 2 weeks issuing this method, but this can vary according to time of year and size of the yucca. Read my article on how to water yucca plants to learn how often to water your yucca according to different conditions and climates and at different times of the year.
  • Replant the yucca in 1/3 horticultural grit to 2/3’s potting soil. Yucca plants grow in sandy or gritty soils that drain relatively quickly in their home range. So, we need to replicate the soil conditions of the yucca’s native environment by amending the potting soil with horticultural sand or grit. The specialist growers of yuccas use a soil mix that contains around 1/3 grit to 2/3’s ordinary potting soil or compost, as this provides the optimal balance of moisture and drainage and mitigates the risks of overwatering and root rot.
  • Plant yuccas in pots with drainage holes in the base. You can plant yucca in any pot as long as it is proportionate to the size of the plant (to avoid pot-bound roots) and has drainage holes in the base. However, as I hinted before, you need to avoid placing the yucca in a decorative outer pot that does not have drainage holes, as this causes water to pool around the pot’s base and results in root rot. My favorites are terracotta, unglazed clay, or ceramic pots, as they are porous and, therefore, allow the potting soil to dry out more evenly.
  • Ensure that there are no roots or compacted potting soil blocking your pot’s drainage holes so that excess water can flow freely from the base.
  • If you use a saucer or tray underneath the pot, empty it regularly to allow any excess water to drain freely so that the soil can dry out before bouts of watering. I know this step is easy to forget!

The yucca’s potting soil must have a chance to dry out. Once you have adjusted how often you water your yucca and replaced the soil (if it retains too much moisture), your yucca plant can revive.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of using a well-draining, gritty soil mix. In my experience, a yucca is much more forgiving about overwatering if the soil drains well, so do not underestimate this step!

What I’ve learned is that how long it takes for the yucca to recover depends heavily on how long it has suffered due to overwatering, but there should be signs of recovery over the following weeks.

What I do is remove any leaves that remain yellow (gently), which may come away easily, or I cut them back with a sterile pair of pruners to avoid potentially inflicting unnecessary damage.

Save Yucca with Severe Root Rot

If you repot the yucca or replace the potting soil, look for any roots that appear rotting with a bad, small, soft, mushy texture. You need to cut these rotting roots back to healthy growth with a sterile pair of pruners.

I must caution you to wipe the blades of your pruners with a cloth soaked in disinfectant (I use hand gel, which works great) to avoid spreading any fungal pathogens to otherwise healthy growth.

I then clean the pot out with disinfectant or hot, soapy water and repot with new soil to give my yucca the best chance of recovering. Place your yucca in an area of bright indirect light or morning sun followed by afternoon shade whilst the yucca recovers.

If the yucca does have severe root rot, it can often be very difficult to revive the plant, which is why I have found that it is always better to err on the side of underwatering yucca (as they are drought-resistant) rather than overwatering.

(Read my article, why are my yucca plant leaves turning yellow?)

Why are the Leaves and Leaf Tips Turning Brown?

  • Symptoms. Yucca plant leaves or leaf tips turning brown.
  • Causes. Low indoor humidity due to central heating or forced air causes brown leaf tips. Not watering often enough or too lightly causes yucca leaves to turn brown. Placing yucca in full sun or moving from shade to sun can cause yucca leaves to turn brown. Lower leaves can turn brown naturally as the plant matures.

My own indoor yucca leaf tips turned brown because of the low humidity in my house. This is because my indoor heating in the Winter sapped all the moisture from the air. However, I discovered that all the yucca leaves turn brown because of drought stress due to underwatering.

As we discussed, yucca plants are well adapted to dry conditions as they are native to Mexico and Southwestern USA.

Your yucca can acclimate well to indoor environments, however, they can suffer brown leaf tips due to a sudden contrast in humidity.

Brown leaf tips on yucca leaves, most commonly occur in Winter when the indoor heating is turned on. Heat from radiators or forced air dries out the air and lowers the humidity almost instantly.

This sudden contrast in humidity causes the yucca plant’s leaves to lose lots of moisture quickly, which results in brown leaf tips, which indicate drought stress.

However, when I lived in Southern California, the humidity used to get very low in the long, hot Summers, and I found that my yucca leaf tips turned brown as I had to have the air con on all the time.

If the entire leaf starts to turn brown and perhaps droop, then this is a sign of underwatering from:

  • Not watering the yucca plant often enough or…
  • Water the yucca plant too lightly.

We must remember yuccas require the top 2.5 inches of the potting soil to dry between bouts of watering as this replicates the typical rainfall followed by a drought cycle in their native environment.

Usually, this means watering the yucca plant every 2 weeks (although this can depend on climate).

However, if weeks go by and you forget to water the yucca, it reacts with brown wilting leaves as a sign of not being watered often enough.

A very common mistake I see people make is watering the potting soil too lightly. People misinterpret the advice that “Yucca does not need much water” to mean that they do not need a great quantity of water, whereas in reality, they need a good soak; it’s just that they do not need to be watered as often as most other houseplants.

If only the top inch or so of soil is moistened, then the roots (which are actually quite deep) cannot access the moisture in the soil. The yucca’s leaves turn brown and droop due to drought stress.

Another cause we need to be aware of is that your leaves can also turn brown due to sunburn.

Yucca plants can tolerate direct sunlight, but I discovered that if they are moved from a relatively shady area to a sunny area without any time to acclimate, the leaves can burn and turn brown. This happened to me when I worked at a garden nursery when I moved the yuccas outdoors in the Sunmmner.

Your yucca typically grows best in the morning sun, followed by shade or partial light in the afternoon when the sun is at its strongest.

We also need to be aware of the fact that the lower leaves of yucca plants also turn brown as the plant matures, in which case brown leaves may not necessarily be a sign that anything is wrong with care and cultivation of your yucca plant and the plant should continue to grow.

My Tips for Reviving Yucca Plants With Brown Leaves and Brown Leaf Tips…

  • For yucca plants with brown leaf tips, what I do is increase the humidity by misting the leaves every day or so. To combat the dry air, create a humid micro-climate around your yucca plant by spraying the leaves every day or so whenever you start to turn the heating on regularly or observe the leaf tips starting to turn brown. This should help to counteract the dry air and slow the rate of water loss from the leaves. I mist mine every 2 days in Winter (when the heating is on), and the leaf tips stay green.
  • Move yucca plants out of the direct path of air currents and sources of heat. I had to move my yucca across the room from any source of heat, as this saps moisture from the leaves and dries out the potting soil too quickly. Yucca often tolerates the temperature of a heated room once they have had time to acclimatize, but it is best practice to keep the plant away from any direct source of heat.
  • Water yucca plants when the top 2.5 inches of the soil feel somewhat dry. Typically, I water my yucca plants once every 2 weeks, but this advice can vary according to climate and time of year. My favorite method to tell when my yucca needs watering is to test the soil to a finger’s depth and assess it. If the soil is damp, I delay watering it for a few days. When the soil feels as though it is just drying out, this is the best time to water your yucca plant to avoid the leaves turning brown. I use my finger rather than use moisture meters as I find it is way more accurate.
  • Water the yucca’s potting soil with a generous soak each time you water. What I do is soak the soil so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base of the pot, as this ensures that the water has infiltrated the soil and reached the roots where it is required. This soil should be evenly moist after watering to ensure that the roots can access the water they require.
  • Avoid moving yucca leaves into full sun immediately and expose the yucca to brighter light gradually. Suddenly moving yucca plants from a relatively shady area to a sunny one causes sunburn. I have learned that the correct method is to gradually expose the yucca to stronger light by moving it to a sunnier location over the course of 2 weeks so that the leaves can acclimatize to more light and avoid turning brown due to sunburn. Place the yucca in the sunnier spot for 20 minutes or more each day for around 2 weeks.

At this point, I cut away (with a sharp pair of pruners) any brown leaves that had dried out and turned crispy.

If the leaves have dried out, they generally do not recover, but cutting back can help stimulate new growth.

Yucca plants can tolerate drought well, so I find they recover in around 3 weeks after a really good soak of water and regular misting.

With a few watering cycles (wait until the top 2.5 inches are dry between bouts of watering), my yucca revived.

Why Are My Yucca Plant Leaves Wilting And Leaves Dropping?

  • Symptoms. Leaves wilting or drooping in appearance.
  • Causes. There is not enough light, underwatering, overwatering, or poor drainage.

Wilting leaves usually occur because of not watering often enough or not enough direct sunlight. Yuccas plants prefer bright light and even some direct sunlight. If the yucca is in the shade, the growth is spindly and begins to wilt. I usually find it is a combination of a lack of both underwatering and not enough light.

Of course, our yuccas grow well indoors due to their adaptability and ability to tolerate drought, but the leaves tend to grow weak, spindly, and wilting if they are in too much shade.

In low light, the leaves do not have enough energy to grow and droop or wilt as a sign of stress.

Yuccas prefer to grow in brighter light or with some direct sunlight, which helps to prevent a wilting appearance. (I must caution against moving a yucca from shade immediately to full sun, or the yucca leaves can burn and turn brown).

Yuccas cannot survive with a light watering occasionally.

Wilting is your first sign of stress that the yucca plant is not getting enough water.

I know this is confusing, but yuccas can also wilt and eventually turn yellow or brown if they are watered too often so that the soil is consistently saturated or the pot or potting soil does not allow excess water to drain away efficiently after watering.

For this reason, yucca plants should always be grown in pots with drainage holes in the base.

Also, it is important to empty saucers and trays often to ensure that excess water does not pool around the bottom of the pot, which keeps the soil too damp for the yucca’s roots to tolerate.

Too much water in the potting soil exudes oxygen which is required for root respiration. If the yucca’s roots cannot respire, they cannot transport moisture and nutrients from the soil around the plant, which is why the leaves are wilting.

My Tips for Reviving Yucca Plants with Wilting Leaves…

  • Locate yucca in an area of bright indirect, with a few hours of sun. I moved mine to morning sun followed by afternoon shade, and I found this works best, but I acknowledge that this is not always possible indoors, so either bright indirect light or a few hours of sunlight should be sufficient. Avoid any areas of significant shade, as the yucca does not have the energy to grow properly without bright light.
  • Expose the yucca to more light gradually to avoid sunburn. Moving a yucca plant from an area of shade to several hours of direct sunlight can cause the leaves to turn brown and exacerbate the wilting appearance. Move the yucca to direct sunlight for around 20 minutes more each day over the course of 2 weeks or so. This gives the yucca’s leaves a chance to acclimate to a sunnier location which prevents the leaves from burning and turning brown.
  • Water the yucca plant thoroughly (If the soil feels dry). To alleviate drought stress and revive wilting leaves it is important to water yucca plants with a generous soak so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base of the pot. This ensures the water has reached the yucca’s roots where it is required.
  • When the top 2.5 inches of potting soil water, yucca plants feel somewhat dry. Water with this schedule to replicate the typical pattern -rainfall followed by drought- that Yuccas are adapted to in their native environment. This ensures you have the correct balance of moisture (to prevent wilting leaves) and prevent problems associated with underwatering or overwatering.
  • Always plant yuccas in pots with drainage holes in the base to prevent wilting. It is essential that excess water can escape freely from the base of the pot to prevent the yucca leaves from wilting or drooping due to the effects of overwatering. Empty saucers and trays of excess water regularly from the soil do not remain boggy at the bottom of the pot.
  • Keep yucca plants in their preferred temperature range of 65°F (18°C) and 90°F (32°C) to reduce any additional stress on the plant to help it recover.

Pro Tip: When I lived in my apartment in New York, I found my yucca didn’t get enough light in the Winter (partly because of the angle of the window), so I used a grow light to supplement the natural light and my yucca recovered from its wilting appearance.

If the cause of your yucca wilting is due to damp soil (from overwatering pots without drainage or saucers and trays causing water to pool around the base of the pot), the yucca should start to recover once the soil has had a chance to dry somewhat.

If you have addressed the problem early, then there is a good chance the yucca should start to recover over the following weeks.

Underwatered, wilting yucca plants tend to recover well after a thorough watering. Within 2 or 3 cycles of watering, the yucca should start looking much healthier and revived.

If the yucca plant is given time to acclimatize to an area of more sun and potentially higher temperatures, then the leaves should start to recover from a drooping appearance.

In my experience, how long it takes to recover depends on how long it has been in a shady area, but with enough time, the yucca can start to look healthy and grow new leaves when in a sunnier location.

Key Takeaways:

  • Usually, the reasons for a dying yucca plant are overwatering and poor drainage. Yucca plants are drought-resistant plants that do not like consistently damp, boggy soil. If the soil is too damp, the yucca plant’s leaves turn yellow with a wilting, dying appearance due to root rot.
  • Yucca plant leaves turn yellow and droop due to root rot caused by overwatering. Suppose the yucca plant’s potting soil is saturated. In that case, the excess water excludes oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration and causes the yucca leaves to turn yellow with a drooping appearance.
  • Yucca plant leaves turn brown due to underwatering and sunburn and because the yucca plant’s lower leaves naturally turn brown as the plant matures. Yucca plant leaves can scorch brown if they are moved from an area of shade to full sun without a chance to acclimatize to more intense light.
  • Because of underwatering, low humidity, and indoor heating, Yucca leaf tips turn brown. If the yucca is next to a source of heat indoors, the sudden temperature increase can sap moisture from the leaves and dry out the soil too quickly. The sudden decrease in humidity and lack of moisture results in brown leaf tips.
  • Yucca plant leaves wilt because of underwatering, lack of sunlight, or lack of drainage. Yuccas need watering with a good soak when the top 2.5 inches of the soil dries out. If the soil is too damp or excessively dry, the leaves wilt or droop as the first sign of stress.
  • The most common reason yucca plants lose leaves is a lack of light. Yucca plants require either bright indirect light or partial sun. If the yucca plant is shaded, the leaves grow long, spindly, and drop off. Lower leaves drop off as the plant matures.

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