How to Plant, Grow and Care For Adam’s Needle
Are you curious about growing Adam’s needle, a large and very showy native yucca plant? Adam’s needle is a plant that’s hard to miss. It is also incredibly easy to grow and the large flower spikes provide a show-stopping display each year. In this article, gardening enthusiast Liessa Bowen will discuss the proper care and maintenance of these spectacular plants.
Adam’s needle, Yucca filamentosa, is a member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). It is native to central and eastern North America, from New England south to Florida and west to the Mississippi River. It grows wild in sandy areas, open fields, and roadsides. Adam’s needle has become a popular landscaping plant because it is large, attractive, and easy to grow.
Yucca filamentosa is a broadleaf evergreen shrub. It reaches its peak height during the flowering season when plants send up very tall flowering stalks. These flowering stalks can grow up to 8 feet tall, sometimes even more, and mature plants can reach 3 to 5 feet across.
Each plant forms a rosette of long, thin, blade-like leaves, the edges of which often display thread-like filaments that appear to peel from the edges. Spiky clusters of creamy white flowers appearing in late spring or early summer make it especially appealing.
This plant requires full sun but is not picky about soil quality. It is easy to grow and low-maintenance, multiplying slowly by new basal offsets, which can be divided and used for propagation. Adam’s needle is drought tolerant, making it a great choice for a xeriscape garden. It also attracts hummingbirds and a wide variety of pollinators, making it an excellent choice for a pollinator-friendly garden.
If you’re ready to start growing your Adam’s needle plant, let’s dig in to learn more. Is this a good plant for your yard? If so, how can you help this plant thrive in your home landscape?+
Adam’s Needle Plant Overview
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen shrub
Native Area Eastern United States
USDA Hardiness Zone 4 to 10
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Average, Well-drained
Water Dry, Medium
Plant Spacing 3+ feet
Suggested Uses Xeriscape Garden, Pollinator Garden
Plant With Plants with Low Water Needs
Bloom Season Late spring, Early summer
Flower Color White
Attracts Butterflies, Bees, Pollinators
Problems Avoid poor-drainage
Resistant To Drought, Heat, Poor soil, Herbivores
Height 8+ feet
Adam’s needle, sometimes called beargrass, is a flowering plant native to the eastern and central United States. It grows naturally in dry, sunny habitats, including old fields, roadsides, and sandy areas. Adam’s Needle is well-adapted to drought and tolerant of poor soil conditions but intolerant of soggy or saturated soils.
It prefers full sun, although it will tolerate a surprising amount of shade. Shade-grown plants generally will lean towards the sun and produce fewer flowers than sun-grown plants.
Adam’s needle is in the genus Yucca, which includes over 50 species and numerous cultivars. Yucca plants are most commonly associated with hot, arid, or tropical regions, although some varieties are found in temperate climates as far north as Canada.
Yuccas tend to have long-thin leaves densely growing up thickened central stalks or trunks. They bloom in the spring or summer and are quite noteworthy for their flowering displays. Blossoms are typically white and occur in dense masses atop tall flowering spikes or stalks. Many yuccas have fragrant flowers and will attract varying pollinators, including night-flying yucca moths.
In the home landscape, yucca plants such as Adam’s needle can fill an important role. These are large plants that are easy to grow. Due to their popularity with landscapers, they are readily available commercially. If you have an open sunny space in your yard or want a larger xeriscape plant, consider incorporating Adam’s needle into your home garden.
These native plants are easy to grow and don’t require much maintenance. If you have a sunny location with well-drained soil, you can grow this plant or one of its cultivars.
You can even grow it in partial shade, although shade will inhibit the plant’s ability to produce the best flowering display. This is an excellent plant for dry locations or naturalized areas where you are looking for interesting vertical structure and variety.
Adam’s needle is readily propagated by seed or vegetative offshoots. The easiest method is propagating by vegetative offshoots because they are large and relatively mature, ready to grow and establish quickly in a new location.
When working with yuccas, you will want to wear comfortable gardening gloves to help protect your hands from the sharp edges of the blade-like leaves.
Adam’s needle can be propagated from seed. You can easily collect seeds from mature plants after the seed capsules turn brown and dry. To get a head start on seed sprouting, soak the ripe seeds in water for 24 hours before transferring them to moist soil. Sow more seeds than you think you will want because it’s unlikely that each seed will sprout. When seedlings are a few inches tall, you can thin them to the number you wish to keep.
Start seeds inside in winter to give them plenty of time to germinate and grow before transferring them outside. It can take a month or more for seeds to germinate, so have patience during this process.
After soaking the seeds, sow them ⅛ inch deep in moist potting soil. Keep the soil warm and moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout. Seedlings will have thin leaves and look very grass-like.
You can also directly sow seeds outside in the garden and let them start naturally. Sow seeds outside in the late fall or winter and allow them to cold-stratify naturally. Cover the seeds with a light dusting of soil no more than ¼ inch deep and water them well. Ensure the soil stays moist but not muddy throughout winter for the best germination rates.
The seeds will begin to sprout when the weather has warmed in the spring. Allow the seedlings to grow for a while, then thin them when you know which plants are the healthiest and growing in your desired locations.
Many plants develop offsets or ‘pups’ that can be removed and propagated to start new plants. If your ‘mother’ plant has developed one or more side shoots, these can be carefully removed to start a new plant. Because these offshoots are part of the mother plant, they will be genetic clones, unlike starting new plants from seed, which will have some genetic variation.
To propagate offshoots:
- Identify where the offshoot connects to the plant’s main stem.
- Use a sharp knife or a clean, sharp spade to cut off the offshoot carefully.
- Preserving any roots that may be connected to the offshoot.
- Do not cut into the ‘mother’ stem, which will damage the parent plant.
- After removing the pup from the parent, put it in a large pot with fresh potting soil to help it establish itself.
- Alternatively, transfer it directly to a new garden site.
- Either way, keep the soil moist around the pup for the first few months.
- You will know the pup has started growing independently when you see fresh new growth.
You do not have to start with seeds to grow your Adam’s needle plant. You can find these plants at many garden centers and nurseries. When selecting a plant from among those available, you will want to look for the healthiest option you can find:
- The leaves should appear fresh, sturdy, and undamaged.
- The central stalk should appear straight and firm, not bent or mushy.
- Do not purchase plants that appear rotten or soft or show obvious signs of insect infestations.
When you bring your new plant (or plants) home, you can keep them in their nursery pots until you are ready to transplant them in your garden. Once you are ready to transplant them, follow the directions below for planting your new additions in your chosen garden plot.
The best time of year to plant or transplant perennials is early spring or late fall. Choose a cool, overcast day to do your work because this will greatly help reduce transplanting stress and increase your chances of success.
Prepare your planting site before you start moving plants around. Adam’s needle requires full sun and well-drained soil. Do you have a site with full sun? Is your soil well-drained? You can add some sand to help loosen the soil, but the entire area should be well-drained, or else you can end up with a sandy pit surrounded by water-holding clay, and your plant will still be sitting in wet soil.
When your site is prepared, dig a hole large enough for the entire root ball and transfer your potted plant into the new hole. Gently fill the gaps around the roots with fresh, loose soil, and tamp down the soil around the plant. Give your new transplant a thorough watering to help it adjust to its new home. Keep the soil moist, not wet, for a few weeks to help the plant establish in its new location.
How to Grow
Growing this striking native is surprisingly easy when you match its native habitat as much as possible.
Adam’s needle does best in full sun, with at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. You can easily grow this plant in a fully exposed area; it is well-adapted to full, direct sun exposure. It will tolerate partial shade, but shaded plants tend to lean towards the sun and may not flower as well.
These drought-tolerant native plants appreciate dry to medium-moisture soil. Once your plant is established in its permanent location, you should not need to do any supplemental watering.
The soil should be of average fertility and well-drained. Sandy and poor quality, gritty soils are just fine. The most important aspect of soil quality is that it has excellent drainage.
Climate and Temperature
Adam’s needle grows well in USDA climate zones 4 through 10. These plants are both frost-tolerant and heat-tolerant. They can withstand a wide range of temperatures and will do well in both humid and arid climates.
It is unlikely that you will ever need to fertilize this yucca plant. They do well with average local soil conditions as long as it is well-drained. If your soil quality is poor and you are concerned that your plants are a few years old but not blooming, consider working in some organic compost around the base of the plant and see if that helps encourage flowering.
Adam’s needle is a very low-maintenance plant. There isn’t any regular maintenance you will need to do, but optional pruning can help improve the appearance of these plants.
After flowering, you can enjoy the ornamental seed pods that linger on the stalks. Once these fall off, however, the stalks may continue to stand tall and look a bit ragged. Use a sharp hand pruner tool to cut and remove the spent flowering stalk at its base. Wear gloves to prevent scratches from the blade-like foliage that surrounds the stalk.
This might not be the right plant for you if you have a small garden space. But this plant is an excellent choice if you have a larger area and want a dramatic centerpiece. You will need enough space for your yucca to grow tall and wide as the spread on these plants, once they reach maturity and start to develop offshoots, can be as much as 5 feet across.
Grow Adam’s needle in a xeriscape garden because it is drought-tolerant, and after about a year to become established, you won’t need to worry about supplemental watering. For that first year, water it lightly once a week.
You can plant this yucca in a landscaped area among ornamental shrubs or include it as part of a sunny hedgerow. The flowers attract pollinators, so they may be incorporated into your pollinator garden with other butterfly-friendly garden plants.
Just be aware that this plant can grow large and eventually needs plenty of space to spread out. If you plant small plants around it, they could eventually get shaded out.
Fortunately, this species grows fairly slowly, so your smaller plants should have plenty of time to grow into the sunnier areas around this plant. Place your taller plants near the back of the landscape and place shorter plants near the front so you can see all your plants simultaneously.
Adam’s needle blooms during the late spring into early summer. During this time, it produces copious flowers, attracting hummingbirds and a multitude of insect pollinators. It is a larval host plant for yucca moths and some butterflies, including the yucca giant-skipper butterfly and the Cofaqui giant-skipper butterfly.
Deer and rabbits do not bother this plant. Some birds may remove the thin threadlike filaments from the edges of the leaves and use these as nesting materials. Small animals may use the protected space under larger plants as shade and temporary shelter.
Fortunately, this native plant is not prone to many pests or diseases. These plants should be fairly trouble-free. The biggest concern may be wet conditions that can lead to bacterial and fungal diseases.
Root and crown rot: These plants require excellent soil drainage. If they are sitting in poorly drained conditions, they are very susceptible to root and crown rot. Rot will cause your plant to get mushy, fall over, and die. Root rot is easily prevented by growing your plants in well-drained soil. Do not allow them to sit in saturated soil for prolonged periods.
Leaf spot: A bacterial or fungal infection can cause a variety of different types of leaf spot. It is rare for yuccas to develop leaf spot, but it is possible if your plant is experiencing very wet conditions. Leaf spot will appear as dark brown, dead-looking spots on any part of the leaf surface. Mild cases may cause only minor damage, and you can cut off and remove any dead leaves. Extreme cases indicate that your plant should be moved to a drier location.
My Adam’s needle is bending over – what should I do?
If your plant is bending over or fell over entirely, there are several possible causes. If a new plant fell over shortly after planting, simply re-plant it and offer it some physical support until the roots become better established. If you have just transplanted an Adam’s needle, it may wilt for a few days but should quickly straighten out again.
If your mature plant is bending or leaning over, this may be a physical sign of root rot. If the base of the plant feels soft and mushy, it has likely been sitting in too wet soil and started to rot. You can try to salvage any healthy part of the plant and move the healthy parts to a different location with better soil drainage.
How long will it take for my Adam’s needle to bloom?
An Adam’s needle plant grown from seed may take up to 5 years until its first bloom. When starting with a nursery-bought plant or an offshoot division, your plant may not bloom in the first year, but it is entirely possible it will bloom in the second year after transplanting.
If your plant has been around a while and is still not blooming, it may need more sunlight or a little supplemental water to encourage flowering. If your plant is growing in full sun conditions, it should bloom regularly. Plants grown in shade may bloom infrequently, inadequately, or not at all.
Why are the leaves of my yucca plant turning yellow?
Leaves don’t live forever. When leaves get old and die, they first turn yellow, then brown, then shrivel and eventually fall off. On yucca plants, including Adam’s needle, the older leaves will be the ones on the lowest level under all the other leaves.
If the leaves are turning yellow prematurely, or many leaves are yellowing all at once, this may be a sign that your plant is being overwatered. Don’t add any extra water, and make sure the plant is growing in well-drained soil, not sitting in soggy conditions.
This is a great plant if you have a sunny, well-drained location with plenty of space. You can give your yard a little desert look with a dramatic yucca plant. You can also attract butterflies, bees, and birds with beautiful flowers. Grow this plant as a showy accent in your xeriscape or pollinator garden, or grow it as part of a shrub-centered landscape design or in a sunny hedgerow. These plants are long-lived, hardy, and very easy to grow, so what are you waiting for?