Grow Guide: Why Yucca Stops Blooming and Flushing Soil

Sometimes it takes a new plant a while to get adjusted to its site enough to settle down into flowering.

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Yucca is a stunning plant with or without blossoms, and is edible too.

Yucca is a stunning plant with or without blossoms, and is edible too.

Yucca blossoms are stunning – and edible.

QUESTION: I have a yucca growing and it stopped blooming for the last two years…what could make it do that?

ANSWER: Yuccas, which are native to all parts of our country, are among my favorite “texture” plants. And their great spikes of off-white flowers — which are edible, by the way — are fantastic bonuses. But there are lots of different species, and each blooms on its own schedule — or not.

Yuccas won’t bloom until they mature, which can be slower for some species than others. And they all do best with lots of sunshine and warm weather. Sometimes it takes a new plant awhile to get adjusted to its site enough to settle down into flowering. And while container-grown yuccas need some water and fertilizer, too much can over-stimulate green growth over flowers with these famously low-maintenance, drought-hardy, poor-soil loving plants.

Lastly, individual yucca rosettes die after flowering. Remove the dead part, and give the small new rosettes that form around the base time to mature enough to flower themselves.

So give yours a little time. Back off on the care, watering and worries. Enjoy its foliage for its own sake. And keep your fingers crossed!

Great Frustrations

On a related topic, plants not blooming like they are supposed to is a common garden problem, and a garden expert’s nightmare with so many variables to consider. We end up waffling because, without actually examining the plant and seeing how it is growing, even the best of us can only make educated guesses!

In many cases, the plant is not being grown in the environmental conditions it naturally needs to flower. Both light and temperature (night and day) can influence a plant‘s ability to set flower buds.

Too little light, especially for sun-loving plants grown in the shade, or indoors where windows don’t provide direct sunlight, is one of the most common problems. Some plants, like poinsettias and chrysanthemums, start flowering when days are shorter than nights; others, including Easter lilies, flower when the days start to get longer. Without the right amount of light, they simply won’t set flower buds. And some plants, including tomatoes, either won’t form flowers, or drop them, when temperatures get too high or stay too low.

Cultural conditions are another big possibility. Too little or no fertilizer at all will cause plants to perform poorly. Excess nitrogen fertilizer (indicated by the first number on the fertilizer label) can cause a big flush of green growth and shut down flower production.

Also, too little or too much water can affect plants from roots all the way up. Make sure your plant is not staying too wet or too dry between soakings.

Lastly, many plants, especially spring blooming shrubs and many fruit plants, flower on the previous year’s growth. Pruning in late summer, fall or winter can remove all the flower buds for the following spring. Just something else to consider.

You Are Not Alone

Between the right amount of light, water, fertilizer… or a combination of two or more of these conditions, it can be really confusing for plants and gardeners alike. But for what it‘s worth, even the best experts have problems with some plants not flowering right (or at all), and we usually just blame it on bad weather. As we say, “better next year!”

QUESTION: I read recently that my potted plants need to have their soil “flushed” to keep them healthy. What’s the big deal?

Periodically flushing fertilizer build-up from your containers is essential.

Periodically flushing fertilizer build-up from your containers is essential.

When watering plants, saturate them to dissolve and wash away excess fertilizers.

ANSWER: This is true, especially with folks who fertilize potted plants a lot, or who don’t thoroughly saturate their plants when watering.

Fertilizer residues, called “salts,” can build up in potting soil and cause several different problems that affect plant roots’ ability to absorb more nutrients. Without getting into pH and osmosis and all that, let’s just say that unused fertilizer salts can get so concentrated they may actually kill roots.

But there is a simple solution, called leaching. All this means is watering your plants really well until the potting soil is saturated and old fertilizer salts are dissolved, then water two or three more times within a few minutes to flush out the dissolved excess fertilizer.

As an alert reader pointed out in a recent post, “basically you’re flooding the plant (like a rainstorm) to rinse out all the bad deposits.”

Sometimes I put my tropical potted plants in the shower and give them both a good leaching and dusting at the same time!

By the way, this can happen in flower and vegetable beds as well, where fertilizer is used too often or the beds are not watered thoroughly from time to time.

Growing expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.

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