YUCCA ‘COLOR GUARD’

A surprisingly northern plant
with winter color


Yucca ‘Color Guard’ came to our attention several years ago as part of a contract-grow for a customer. We had some trays leftover and BAM!—they sold out immediately. Similarly the following year we grew a number of extra trays and BAM!—they sold out again. Examining its strengths more closely we discovered that indeed, this is a plant for our times.

NOT DRY BUT DROUGHT

Some plants can handle the dry spells, but dry weather is not drought. Dry plantings may not require regular watering but they do need water from time to time. This is not true of Yucca; it thrives in the same biome as cactus, with thick tubular roots that hold the plant over for a long period.

As many parts of the United States experience drought, Yucca has been adopted as the poster boy for xeriscaping projects. What surprises us is the healthy growth that occurs when normal conditions return. Yucca likes good garden soil and regular humus as well—just keep it away from bogs and heavy clay.

Infusing color into a xeriscape garden can be difficult. Standard Yucca survives there but tends to blend in blandly with other plantings. This is the great beauty of ‘Color Guard’: it stands out easily, as you can plainly see in the photo above.

‘Color Guard’s’ strength comes from the back of the leaf as well as from the front: a prominent green stripe on the front is all but replaced with a broad swipe of gold that runs almost the entire length of the leaf. Rather than pure gold, it’s littered with stains and slivers of green, but the back delivers a lot more gold flash than the front. Actually the leaf backs do most of the heavy lifting here—and that’s the real reason ‘Color Guard’ is the tent pole of the genus.

FOLIAGE AND FLOWERS

Most people grow Yucca for the foliage, but notice the blooms. Towering overhead on a thick stalk, each of these bell-like ivory flowers is the size of a ping-pong ball. Blooms appear in early to midsummer, rising up from the crown center and making ‘Color Guard’ a specimen that can be spotted from a very long distance.

Outside of the bloom season, variegated foliage is the hallmark of ‘Color Guard’. These strong stripes of contrasting yellow and green keep designing fairly easy. We like to contrast the light Yucca colors with dark Heucheras, such as ‘Plum Pudding’, or Sedums like ‘Xenox’. For another interesting contrast we interplant fuzzy Nepeta or Perovskia selections with Yucca, giving the effect of spikes or dots in between downy dashes. Remember: contrast of textures is as important as contrast of colors.

SURPRISINGLY NORTHERN WINTER COLOR

Overall, very few plants retain their color in the winter landscape, but ‘Color Guard’ keeps its green and gold right up until the heaviest snow covers the foliage. Snow? Yes, that’s right—‘Color Guard’ is hardy to zone 5 and some points of zone 4. By the time the cold sets in and frost hits, these leaves have a rosy tint cast over the top of the yellow and green. It’s a plant with an unbelievably long color season—year-round for most people.

Since temps can get extremely low in the desert, it’s not surprising to find such cold tolerance. Actually, we’re more surprised at how easily ‘Color Guard’ has become part of the garden vocabulary now—it’s just a really good garden plant.

Another surprise is ‘Color Guard’s’ entry into commercial trade. Although Yucca is a Native American, the variegated sport was found and imported from Japan by Paul Aden—known as Mr. Hosta, of all things. Actually, now that we think about it, the pattern on these Yucca leaves is very Hosta-esque.

Although we first thought of ‘Color Guard’ as that xeriscape plant, we now know differently. We see how it stands out in a standard boxwood garden. We notice how landscapers value it for its no-maintenance attitude. Let’s just say, we keep it in our tool box of plants that add drama and surprise to an otherwise staid garden.

TWO MORE CULTIVARS

Yucca ‘Bright Edges’ is a smaller reciprocal of ‘Color Guard’—the colors are inversed, with fine golden margins along very slender leaves instead of a gold stripe down the middle. This reversal has two effects: The gold outlines the shape of the leaf better, making it more visible; and, because of the golden margins, the plant looks more gilded from a distance.

That strong green stripe in the center means that ‘Bright Edges’ has more chlorophyll in general, so the plant reaches its mature size faster. Though it may not be bigger than ‘Color Guard’ it gets the job done faster—and we find that it looks more architectural as a result.

Yucca ‘Ivory Towers’ is sometimes placed under the species name variegata—it differs from the other two selections in both form and coloring. Broad white edges without the bright back make for an overall milky white appearance, a departure from the golden tone we get in differing degrees from ‘Color Guard’ and ‘Bright Edges’.

This variety holds its habit upright with a more vase-like shape; each of the other Yuccas forms a large hemisphere, with some blades occasionally laying down on the job. ’Ivory Towers’ stands at attention full time.

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