Agave – Century Plant

Care and Irrigation

 

Star-Tip 1077

Gardening Tips for successful and beautiful Landscapes and Gardens

 

The century plant, or Agave family, is an incredibly diverse group of perennials. Agave are available to suit almost every climate zone in the U.S. with cold hardy forms that can withstand single-digit temperatures. Many people look at Agave at something only appropriate for the Desert, but this view is expanding as this hardy succulent is being found in landscape designs nearly everywhere.

 

Variety

Agave Spines

Drought Tolerant

Caring for Agaves

Agaves in Containers

Fertilizing in Pots

Pests

Agave’s role in Landscape Design

 

 

 

 

 

Agave gentryi

Agave gypsophila

Agave felipe otero

 

Variety

Agaves come in a huge variety of colors and shapes. Far from being a boring accent to a landscape, these plants can create a unique style, especially when mixed with contrasting greenery and groundcovers.  (top)

 

 

Agave Spines

A misconception is that all Agave are sharply spined and a problem to work with. While it may be true that most Agave are spined, one of the most dramatic and easily grown species, A. attenuata, is soft-leaved and not really difficult to work with at all. Agave americana has a large, blue-gray rosette foliage with sharp spines. It thrives in a wide range of climates across the southern half of the United States. The variegated form of this plant is less cold hardy, but broadly banded with creamy yellow stripes. Most Agaves are monocarpic; they produce a massive flower spike only once with hundreds or sometimes thousands of flower petals and then they die. This does not suggest that they live for only a season or two, in fact it is usually a dozen years or more before one flowers. By this time there will be many “pups” that the plant will have put out. If these are transplanted they can later be relocated to the area where the mother plant was located.

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Drought Tolerant

If you are looking to create a western look or other Southwest scene, you can’t beat the rugged almost prehistoric look of an Agave. Agave are increasingly popular among plant collectors, home gardeners, and professional landscapers for a number of reasons. With water restrictions in place in many areas across the country there is an increasing demand for plants that are appropriate for xeriscaping, or landscaping to promote water conservation. Many Agave are particularly well adapted to withstand climatic extremes, from drought to high heat, strong winds, and frost.

The variety of forms and landscape uses for Agave is huge. These include: ground covers, bedding plants, and beautiful garden centerpieces. Agave also make excellent container plants that don’t require frequent watering. Homeowners love these because they stand up to neglect. Agave provide visual interest in the form of bold textures and colorful foliage.

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Caring for Agaves

In order to grow Agave, you may want to provide a separate irrigation zone for them. They do not need to be watered very often, but if the ground where they are planted is kept moist the likelihood for an infestation of grubs is significant. Agave have soft roots and combine this with a moist fertile environment, and the beetles that bring grubs have an open invitation. Soil chemical treatment is available to assure that grubs do not infest your Agave, but normally dry soil is the best medicine. During the summer months weekly or bi-weekly soaking of your Agave will be adequate. During the spring and fall monthly watering is optimum and during the winter it is actually best to avoid watering outdoor specimens. As they partially desiccate the loss of internal water makes lessens any damage they might receive from frost. Many Agave tend to go dormant during the shorter days and cooler temperatures of winter. This is the time when they are most prone to fungal pathogens that cause rot.

 

As an Agave will produce numerous offshoots or pups, it may be desirable to remove or transplant these on an annual basis. The resulting thick patch of multiple Agaves all clustered together is very difficult to keep clean of debris and losses it’s attractiveness.

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Agaves in Containers

For container plants a well-aerated and freely draining medium is critical. Commercial cactus and succulent mixes usually consist of equal parts coarse sand, perlite, and peat or fine bark. Black Gold Cactus Mix is specially formulated for this purpose. If you want to make your own, try mixing one part potting soil with one part coarse sand and one part peat moss.

 

Many varieties of Agave get very large and ultimately would require a very big pot or container. Give this consideration before selecting the variety or the pot. It is possible to remove the mother plant when it gets too large and utilize the “pups” it will have put off as replacement.  (top)

 

 

Fertilizing in Pots

Mixing a time-released fertilizer in the media will ensure a constant supply of nutrients. Agave should  always be allowed to dry between waterings. Under-potting (or more pot than is needed) is a good way to ensure that the roots don't become oversaturated. To produce rapid growth and the best form and color, Agave should be grown in lots of direct sunshine. Plants that are grown in full sun and warm temperatures will respond more favorably to additional water and fertilizer inputs. Watch what material you select for potting your Agave. Where intense afternoon sun is applied to glazed or thin plastic pots the soil inside the pot can reach temperatures in excess of 140 degrees F. This will damage or kill the roots, even though the leaves have no problem with the radiation.

To keep container Agave actively growing during the winter months, make sure to move them indoors and consider placing them in a sunny location or giving them supplemental florescent UV lighting. Maintaining a lower than normal relative humidity and excellent air circulation will reduce the likelihood of disease and insect pests.

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Pests

Agave are generally free from insect pests and diseases and are less prone to nutrient deficiencies. They are also amazingly tolerant of poor and shallow soils. Their single most virulent challenger is the grub.

 

As you can see during different seasons grubs will be found at varying depths of soil. Most often it is not at the surface where you can easily find them.

 

Another vital consideration in dealing with grubs is that the Agave plant holds so much of it’s nutrients in it’s leaves that by the time you’ll notice that something is wrong, the root system will have been completely devoured. This in conjunction with the difficulty in spotting grubs with the roots of an Agave makes preventative treatment a common option. By applying an insecticide that is listed for grubs, like Sevin or Bayer Tree and Shrub on an annual basis it is very unlikely that you will lose your beautiful specimen to this pest.

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Agave’s role in Landscape Design

In general, Agave has previously played a minor role in landscaping, but with increasing water restrictions and consumers looking for the easiest way to get the maximum effect for their gardening efforts, you may want to brush up on your knowledge of Agave and other succulent-like plant.

In addition, there are many native forms found throughout the United States and these plants can also give you an ecological identity. Water-wise!

 

If you're looking to diversify your landscape and set yourself apart from the rest of the pack, perhaps you should consider growing Agave and related succulents. These are plants that are adapted to withstand drought by storing water in specialized cells in their leaves, stems and roots. The term succulent does not refer to a plant family per se, but to a water-storing adaptation that is found in many different plant families. Cacti are probably the best known family of succulent plants, but there are many other types of succulents in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. The Agave is a succulent, but they are not a Cacti.

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