Agave plants (Agave spp.) generally are succulents with large leaves that end in spiny tips. There's a lot of variety in the agave genus. There are the large, stiff specimens that can grow to 10 feet or more in height and width. And there are the small dish-sized agaves, as well as a few agave species with soft leaves and no spines. Agave foliage tends toward a blue-green in hardier varieties and a gray-green in warm-climate varieties. There are also some that are variegated with gold or white markings.
It's typically best to plant this slow-growing succulent in the spring or early fall. When agave matures after several years or even several decades, a tall flower stalk often grows out of the plant’s center. The flowers are bell-shaped and long-lasting in shades of white, yellow, and green. For most agave species, once the flowers produce berry seed pods, the plant dies.
|Common Name||Agave, century plant|
|Plant Type||Perennial succulent|
|Mature Size||Different varieties average 1 to 20 feet tall and 1 to 10 feet wide.|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy or rocky, dry, well-draining|
|Soil pH||6.6 to 6.8|
|Bloom Time||Most plants only bloom once in their lifetime.|
|Flower Color||Green, white, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||5 to 11|
|Native Area||Hot, arid regions of the Americas; also some tropical areas|
How to Grow Agave
Agaves are grown for their dramatic foliage, not their flowers. One large agave is all you need to make a sculptural focal point in the garden. Just make sure there is plenty of room to walk around it, so no one accidentally brushes against the spiny tips. Agaves also can make a nice border grouping and are a textural contrast with other plants. Pairing them with ornamental grasses softens their hard edges. Plus, small agave species are excellent for containers, indoors or outside.
Agaves thrive on neglect. The key is to make sure they have well-draining soil and ample sunlight. When grown in an environment they like, they need very little supplemental care from you.
Agave plants prefer a spot with full sun, but they can tolerate a little shade. The hotter the climate is, the more shade they can handle.
Agave plants will tolerate any well-draining soil, but their preference is rocky or sandy soil. Poor soil drainage can lead to root rot, which can kill a plant.
Mature agave plants are very drought tolerant. You generally only need to water them if you've had a long stretch without rainfall and the soil is completely dry. However, when you are first establishing a plant, water it every four or five days for the first month. Then, water once a week, gradually spacing watering to every other week, depending on rainfall.
Temperature and Humidity
The majority of agave plants can't tolerate frost and only can grow as far north as USDA growing zones 8 or 9. But there are some, such as Agave parryi, that are reliably perennial to zone 5. Moreover, most agaves prefer a climate with low humidity. High humidity can lead to crown rot on a plant.
Feeding typically isn't necessary for agave plants. In fact, feeding encourages flowering, which you don’t want to happen too soon because most agave plants die after flowering.
Growing Agave in Containers
As with many succulent plants, agaves have shallow roots. So you can grow them in a shallow container because they don’t need much soil. Just make sure the container can anchor the weight of the plant. Use a well-draining potting mix made for succulents. Water the container about once a week in the summer and monthly in the winter. Wait until the surface of the soil is dry before watering.
Plan to repot your agave plant every couple of years with new soil. If the pot is overcrowded with roots, go ahead and cut the roots back. Then, give the plant a week or so to adjust before you water it again.
Common Pests and Diseases
Agaves generally have very few problems with pests and diseases. However, the agave snout weevil can burrow into a plant’s center to lay its eggs, causing the plant to collapse. Unfortunately, you probably won’t notice this until it’s too late to save the plant. So instead remove the plant to avoid the pests spreading to any other agaves you might have.
Varieties of Agave
There are many agave species that range in size and appearance, including:
- Agave attenuata: This is a popular spineless variety, also known as the foxtail or dragon-tree agave. It grows around 4 to 5 feet tall and a bit wider.
- Agave parviflora: Its leaves have white markings and curling filaments that give it a hairy look. It only gets about 6 inches tall and blooms in six to eight years with green flowers.
- Agave tequilana azul: Weber's blue agave is used to make tequila, but it is also a very attractive garden plant, reaching upward of 6 feet tall and flowering in six to eight years with yellow blooms.
- Agave victoria-reginae: As this plant matures its broad leaves cup inward, forming a dome. It reaches a height of about a foot, and cream flowers appear in 20 to 30 years.