Thursday, October 9, 2008

Yucca yucca yucca

This one's not going to be pretty--no photos of charming European cities filled with charming European flowers. I'm back in my own backyard, doing one of the things I enjoy most--dividing crowded perennials and deciding where to put the new plants.

So one of the things I've put off too long (as you will see in a minute) is dividing my Yucca filimentosa. I was raised a desert rat--in Glendale, Arizona--and although I've lived in and loved Virginia for most of my life, my family ties are in the West and I try to fill my house and yard with reminders of it. And besides being a little echo of my own past, this plant has a past of its own. It comes from my old house, which was a heavily wooded lot of about an acre. When I first moved in many many years ago, I wanted to plant herbs, and there was only one small area with full sun. The previous owners had filled it with low growing juniper and a yucca plant--and in my garden naivete (this was my first house), I pulled them up and tossed them back in the woods (I've learned my lesson. . .)

I'm so glad I didn't toss them in the trash--because several years later, when something drew me back into the woods, there was the yucca plant, flourishing in leaf mold and in the shade. I brought it back to its place in the sun--and when I moved, it was one of the plants I brought with with me.

Yucca isn't a plant one normally associates with Virginia. By all accounts, it likes sandy soil and dry conditions, and it's prolific in desert states. Nevertheless, it's a native plant in the Eastern U.S., and it's almost as popular in VA as it is in AZ, despite our heavy clay and humidity. And it's a very low maintenance plant (as mine's tenacity in its woodland exile shows).

Of course, in my gardens anyway, the low maintenance plants suffer from benign neglect, and I noticed when the yucca was sending up its 6-foot stems of white flowers this summer that it needed dividing--so when the weather cooled down a bit, I resolved to give it some attention.

(And talk about lack of attention--although I started taking pictures for this blog in late May, this is the only one I have of the yucca plant, right before it bloomed--the photo's not great to begin with, and the stalk is barely visible on the left side of the photo, at the far end of the white garden).

Here's a more recent close-up. Yucca can be propagated from seed, from cuttings, or from the offsets that grow up on the sides of the parent plant. It grows from a very dense rhizome, so division isn't especially easy--but this plant clearly needs dividing.

Before division

Here's one baby:

Here's a baby

And another:

Another baby yucca

The offsets don't just pop out--I had to dig up the whole plant just to see how many there actually were and to be sure that I got sufficient root on the new plants. Here's a photo of three offsets just on one side:

Yucca root

When I could cut out a piece of rhizome, I did--but in some of the denser parts, I had to cut the root by inserting two shovels back-to-back and prying it apart. The root on this offset maybe gives a sense of the size of the mass I was dividing.

Yucca Root
I ended up with many more babies than I anticipated--I thought I'd be taking out about three, but I ended up with nine.

New plants laid out

I transplanted three of them into other parts of the garden, and I added a little bit of hummous around the parent when I replanted it (but not a lot--they don't need rich soil). I potted up the rest of the babies and nestled the pots against the parent--it's thriving there, so I figure the light is right. Yucca is hardy to Zone 4, so the pots should be fine in our 7b climate until I find new spots (or new homes) for them in the spring.

Baby yucca repotted
The little orange pots have little pieces of rhizome in them that chipped off when I was separating the offsets--we'll see what comes up. The plant grows in 3x3' clumps and sends up magnificant 6' flower stalks in summer; it's almost maintenance free and incredibly drought resistant; the deer don't bother it . . . I think I can find a spot for these little ones.
P.S. on time, posts, and desert plants: I started this posting a couple of weeks ago, and it's maybe a little ironic that I'm actually finishing it in Arizona, where the yucca is still in full bloom. When I left Virginia 2 days ago, 8 of the 9 transplants looked great--maybe I'll design a yucca allee or something. And I'll be posting on my trip to Arizona soon--but not until I provide a little more evidence that I actually do occasionally work in my garden!


Rose said...

I had seen these growing in neighborhood gardens for years before I finally realized they were yuccas. Somehow I always associated them with the Southwest; it's amazing to me that they are hardy to zone 4. It's obvious you have been working in your garden--the division of these plants looks like a lot of work.
Hope you are enjoying your stay in Arizona.Say "hi" to my daughter if you see her--she lives in Scottsdale:) (I'm hoping to get out there in early December.)

tina said...

I just love yuccas! I had no idea they would need dividing. You got a haul! I have some a friend who hates them so she told me to dig all I wanted. I did and they are doing fine in my garden, but guess what? They are still growing in her garden much to her chagrin. The yucca revenge-they just can't be stopped! Which is a really good thing in my book. Glad yours thrived in the woods and you brought it with you. It is ironic you are in Arizona when finishing this post. I have never been there but bet it is great. Have a safe trip.

Rose, I hope you can get out there to see your daughter in December.

Defining Your Home said...

This is very informative and helpful. I have seen some great yucca vignettes in my travels, but have only 1 in my garden. I look forward to "the rest of the story" when you get back home and place your baby yuccas. Cameron

Phillip said...

I have one and it needs to be moved to a better spot. It has never bloomed for me but that is probably because it is not getting enough sun.

Roses and Lilacs said...

People seem to have love/hate relationships with yucca. I've heard reports that even nuclear holocaust won't get rid of it.

When I lived in Alabama, it grew wild in many places. Really spectacular when it bloomed in some out of the way spot.

Les, Zone 8a said...

I'd call this "some plants look better in other people's yards".

Gail said...

Hi, when I divided mine..I planted a large grouping...not all survived but enough. it grows in the glades, so it can take extremes in weather. Have a good time in AZ!


Bek said...

I love yuccas! My parents always had some in their garden in Austria. So I also had to have one in mine:) It seems they are also growing wild in our area here. I actually recently noticed one still blooming. I have to go take a picture of it tomorrow:)

Jamie and Randy said...

You got a lot of babies! I wish we could do more things like that. The one thing Jamie and I did not take into consideration when making our garden is storage for potted plants, The only place we have to keep them is on the end of the Patio and those black pots are so distracting. We could make some place now, but something would have to come out of the ground. :-)

Cosmo said...

Rose--There's no better time to be in Arizona than December--especially if you're coming from the cold--you might even see a yucca in bloom then if the fall is mild (in AZ terms, that is).

Tina--Yeah, I think they're pretty vigorous plants, and you probably know from digging them up that the roots are deep and pretty massive. I'm hoping some of the little root fragments come up for me as well. (And AZ IS great--it's been a wonderful trip).

Cameron--The cool thing about yucca is that you can have only one for years, and then you look at it and realize it's actually four or five--and the deer don't go near them (or the rabbits or the squirrels or the voles or the Japanese beetles . . . )

Cosmo said...

Phillip--They do need sun to bloom (in my experience, anyway)--but I like the spikey form the best anyway.

Marnie and Les--In Arizona, they blend in with the rest of the desert plants. In the East, they really call attention to themselves--I like them because they're so different from the woods so they help the garden stand out a bit. I've never had one come back in the same place I dug it up--I think you just have to be sure to get all the root.

Cosmo said...

Gail--I'd love to see a photo of your grouping--I bet it's really spectacular when they're in bloom. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with mine, though I have plenty of space to fill. Arizona's been great--thanks.

Bek--It's funny that they remind me of home, too--a sign of how many different places they grow! And you saw one blooming in Virginia--wow--I guess that's how hot and dry our summer has been.

Randy--Pots over the winter are a problem for me, too, despite the amount of land we have, since most potted plants need some shelter during our winters. We have a deck I'm going to set some under (following Tina's advice)--but I agree, the black pots everywhere can sort of ruin your design (and your design is SO lovely . . .)

Viooltje said...

I absolutely love yuccas. I have inherited a whole colony of Yuccas from my nan and every now and then (read: hardly ever) in a sudden fit of diligence, I divide the youngsters from their mummies. Through the years I have grown totally mesmerized by how hardy and toughish these wonderful plants are, thus no wonder that natives used to called them 'Tree of Life'. One of my vintage Yuccas (gloriosa) was struck by lightning and was, what some people thought, killed off 'cos it was split in two. So they disposed of it on the heap of compost where I discovered it a month later, and planted it's crippled leftovers back to my garden (it had no body, never mind the root system, just the crown). Today it's one of my loveliest and dearest plants. Thank you so much for this wonderful post, and for bringing Yuccas back from the world of oblivion, where they are so often castaway.

P.S. If you need any more photos of Ithaca or any other thing in connection, I'd be glad to help you anytime.