Friday, 13 November 2020

Yucca - how to work around them safely

Ah, the unlovely Yucca. 

OK, that's a bit unfair, the flowers are spectacular, but this is not one of my favourite garden plants: firstly because in my mind it is forever associated with Pampas Grass, with all those unfortunate 70s connotations, but secondly and mostly because every single leaf is tipped with a nasty spine, and I have a deep and abiding dislike of being stabbed, slashed, poked, ripped and generally savaged by plants in my care. 

However, many of my Clients have them (sighs heavily) so I have to find a way to manage them.

The usual problem is where an old, well established clump has become very congested: they don't look particularly nice; they usually have a large number of dead brown leaves in amongst them, which encourages pests and impedes air flow; and often the clump is then over-run with perennial weeds such as bindweed or, in this case, couch grass – mostly because the poor gardener (that's me) can't get near the darned thing to weed around it.

So what do we do?

I have developed a useful technique for working around spiky plants, it involves taking a length of stout cord about 2 yards/2m long, and looping it around the plant: you then gently tighten the loop and work it up the stem, to pull all the leaves up into a neat package. This allows you to work around them in safety, and once you have finished the weeding, you can lean in and release the cord. Easy!

Ah, but what do you do when the clump is so congested that you can't see where to put the cord?


Here's a prime example: left.

A horrible mass, not elegant, not pretty, not adding anything to the garden, and impossible to weed around.

It is not one single trunk any more, it's now a mass of untidy bits and pieces.

And it's time for a tidy-up!

 First job: pull down the sleeves, check that the eye protection is in place, get your thick gloves on, and go in, on your hands and knees at ground level, ducking carefully underneath the spine-tipped leaves, with a pair of loppers or a sharp kitchen knife to hand. 

(That would be an “old” kitchen knife, of course, not one of your best Sabatiers...) 

Grope around at soil level until you find one of the outlying “trunks”, and lop it off, fairly close to the ground. Yucca is very soft and easy to cut, thankfully! 

Work your way around the clump, cutting off all the smaller trunks, sideshoots, etc until you can see the main trunk.

Here we are, partway through the job: you can see  my big loppers lying on the ground, and I like using them, because their long handles keep me a relatively safe distance away from the spiky bits.

I continued all the way round, lopping off the outlying stems.

It gets easier, once you can see where you are!

Once I'd got rid of all that lot, I was able to do the tying-up trick: work the cord around the trunk, make a noose and gently pull it tight, pushing the loop upwards until all the leaves are held in an upright bundle. 


There, phew!

You can then easily work all the way around the main trunk until it is as clear as you want it – I usually leave just one trunk if it is a good big one, or maybe 2-3 smaller ones.

In this photo, left, you can see that now I have a clear space around the plant, which now allows me to dig up the roots of the chopped-off trunks – otherwise each one will simply re-grow. 

It also allowed me to dig out all the couch grass roots with ease.

Having disposed of the rather large pile of off-cuts, and raked up the general mess, I could then untie the fronds and voilĂ ! 


This photo - right - shows a much neater, more shapely, nicer looking Yucca, with plenty of room to spread:  no couch grass all way through it, and - best of all - it will now be easy for me to tie up the fronds next time I need to weed around it.

This technique works equally well with large clumps of ornamental grasses, by the way, so if you have some troublesome prairie planting, give it a try!


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