Yucca aloifoliaYucca aloifolia–prickly as pins. I did not walk away from the battle unscathed.

January 29th, 2008
Dueling with Spanish Bayonets

The sun came out in Austin over the weekend and so did all the gardeners. Wearing a T-shirt again felt wonderful. I decided to be an ant and focus on cutting back the yucca that graces our front fence. Well, “graces” is hyperbole. What it actually does is flop about and slither over the fence while threatening pedestrians with its needle-sharp tips. For this reason, yuccas are illegal in sidewalk plantings in Austin.
Yucca aloifolia
If you are thinking that this yucca doesn’t exactly add to my garden’s street appeal, then all has gone according to plan. I live in a neighborhood that is basically the parking lot for Palmer Auditorium, Auditorium Shores, and the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail. I got tired of cleaning up the dog poop from people who take their dogs for a run around the lake and the cigarette butts and beer cans from tired concert goers hiking back up to their cars. When a friend gave me some Yucca aloifolia (Spanish bayonet), I decided to create a security border.

I planted two plants in the front on Labor Day, 2002. What I hadn’t counted on is how quickly Spanish bayonet grows. It shoots up, becomes top-heavy and then topples over. With all the rain last year, it’s rotting out at ground level. This does not deter the plant at all. It gets on fine without roots because it stores its food supply in its trunk. After it topples, it sends up pups all along the trunk.
Yucca aloifolia
So how does one tackle this mass of needle-sharp bayonets? First, observe the enemy.
Yucca aloifolia
Notice that the top leaves point up. The middle leaves point out. The bottom leaves (often brown but still with deadly tips) point down. You can’t get your hand anywhere near the trunk. In fact, these yucca make fine hideouts for small birds and lizards (one which was very cold and grumpy when I disturbed his sleep today.)

Most importantly, make no sudden moves. Do not lean in to cut a leaf. Move only the hand with your clippers. First, cut off the needle tips at eye level–the ones waiting to poke out your eyes. (A neighbor strolling by me at my labors remarked that he wouldn’t go anywhere near Spanish bayonets without goggles.) Clear a large area of needles. Then start to cut off more of each leaf, getting closer to the trunk. Never move your body or head without first checking for additional needles that may need to be removed before you move closer.
Yucca aloifolia
Once you can reach the trunk with you hand, you can saw through it. Although the yucca stem is fibrous, a small pruning saw can go through it quite quickly as long as you cut perpendicular to the fibers. After the yucca is down, it’s short work to cut off the leaves (which are now pointing up and away from you) from the bottom.
Yucca aloifolia
I cut off all the leaves except for the new ones that are pointing up. What’s left looks like this.
Yucca aloifolia
I’ll cut off most of this stem before I replant.

Although AJM never complains, I imagine that when he sees the dishes and laundry unwashed that he wonders what I do all day. He doesn’t consider time spent in the garden “work” because, he points out, I love gardening. It’s a hobby. It’s a leisure activity. Hmmph!

Well this project was mind-numbing, tedium. Had I not been listening to JapanesePod101, I surely would have gone insane. I worked from 2:30 to 5:30 on Sunday and was back at it again at 9 this morning. I took an hour lunch break at 12:45 and then worked for another three hours. When I was finished there wasn’t much yucca left. All the largest plants had rotted away at the root. I decided just to clean out everything. I even swept the front walk and cut back the wild asters. I saved three plants to replant but cut up most of the rest for recycling (8 bags worth). I trimmed three smaller plants and left them in the front to passalong to another neighbor who walked by. I warned him that they were deadly. By 5:30, I called it quits and came in to watch the news.
Yucca aloifolia

photo: Hesperaloe parviflora red yucca
Tall spikes of small pale red flowers shoot up from a clump of red yucca.

April 28th, 2006
Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora

I like that the Texas Aggies classify red yucca as an “evergreen shrub”. Unless you garden in the American southwest, you probably think of shrubs as multi-stemmed woody perennials, such as roses, azaleas, yew, box, and lilacs. But down here in Texas, we have to use a bit of imagination. Truth be told, red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) isn’t a yucca either.

The last few years red yucca has become very popular in commercial landscapes and median plantings around Austin. They really strut their stuff in a mass planting where the pale red flowers seem to float like a cloud of butterflies above the green spikey base.

I don’t have room for a mass planting in my garden, so I found it a bit of a challenge to site a single plant among the cottage garden plants. I stuck it in a sunny spot between the ‘Penelope’ and ‘Prosperity’ roses and I don’t think it quite works. However, I’m happy that after four years, it has finally decided to bloom.

photo: Hesperaloe parviflora red yucca
A single red yucca almost disappears into the foliage of more traditional shrubbery. It works better in a starker landscape or when planted en masse.

Red yucca is reputed to attract both butterflies and hummingbirds, but I haven’t noticed either around my plants. [2008-06-13. Saw a hummingbird on the red yucca this morning.]

I think red yucca is better described as heat-tolerant, than drought-tolerant. High temperatures don’t seem to bother it, but in Austin it requires some supplemental water during the worst of summer to thrive. Just be sure that it has good drainage. (One thing to remember about so-called drought-tolerant plants…just because a plant can tolerate drought conditions doesn’t mean they perform their best. It’s more of a comparitive term. A red yucca can get buy with a lot less water than a hosta. But it doesn’t mean you can just plant a red yucca and forget about it.)

Red yucca forms clumps and you can divide them in the winter. I found it easy to start red yucca from seed, too. However, it grows very slowly. The seedlings I started two years ago are only six inches tall.
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