Among the most popular of succulents for indoor growing are the many types of agave plants (Agave spp.). Agave is a large genus of plants native to the arid and semi-tropical regions of Central and South America. There is a great deal of variety within the genus, with dozens of species and hundreds of named cultivars. Agave plants are generally considered perennials, though this is somewhat inaccurate—many types are better described as multi-annuals that take several years to flower before dying. Most types are hardy in zones 8 or 9 to 11 where they are sometimes grown as garden plants, but these slow-growing specimens with an interesting appearance are even more popular as houseplants. Agaves do very well in dry indoor winter environments, though you must be able to give them plenty of sunlight.
Most agave plants have a recognizable rosette shape, with thick pointed leaves with spines along their edges. Some varieties are quite small, only growing about a foot tall and wide. And others can tower at 10 feet high or more. The leaves are often a blue-green, green, or gray-green color, and some species are variegated with white or yellow. If you're growing agave indoors, be sure to select one of the smaller species unless you have the space for a very large plant. It can take several years or even decades for agave plants to mature, and they can live for many decades overall. For the most part, agave plants only flower at the end of their lifespan.
The toxicity of agave plants varies widely by species. Some agaves have a long history of use as edible foods, but others, such as century plant (Agave americana) are notorious for causing caustic reactions when the sap contacts skin. Such species are generally labeled as having "minor toxicity" to humans, but they are not included on most lists of plants that are toxic to dogs, cats, and other animals.
|Common Name||Agave, century plant, etc.|
|Botanical Name||Agave spp.|
|Plant Type||Succulent perennial or "multi-annual"|
|Toxicity||Some species toxic to people; considered nontoxic to animals|
Watch Now: How to Grow Agave Indoors
Can You Grow Agave Inside?
Agave plants are very easy to grow indoors, provided you give them the warmth and sunlight they need. They need very little water and food, and overwatering or overfeeding can actually kill them. They also don’t need repotting very often because they are so slow-growing. When growing agave as a houseplant, try to pick one of the species that lack spines. That will make your overall plant care, especially repotting, a lot easier.
Some popular agave species include:
- Agave americana: Sometimes called century plant, this species has beautiful bluish leaves with prominent saw-tooth spines. The pure species can become very large, so choose one of the cultivars that is smaller, such as 'Marginata', which will take a decade to achieve its full 6-foot stature.
- Agave victoriae-reginae: This small agave has upright leaves tipped with black spines; it measures only about 10 inches tall.
- Agave parviflora: This species grows less than a foot tall and wide and features white markings on its leaves.
- Agave colorata: This species grows about 1 to 3 feet tall and sports power-blue leaves.
How to Grow Agave Indoors
Agave plants thrive in full sun throughout the year. In very hot climates they might need a bit of shade because the harsh sun can burn their foliage. However, when grown indoors they should be set in your brightest location, ideally a south- or west-facing window. Rotate the container every week or two to ensure that all sides of the plant receive light and grow evenly. You also can move the container outdoors in warm weather, so your agave can luxuriate in full sunlight. This is not a plant that does very well under artificial lighting.
Temperature and Humidity
Agave species are desert plants, thriving in warm temperatures and low humidity. Indoors, make sure your temperature remains between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. And protect your plant from cold drafts, such as those from an air conditioner. Typically indoor humidity isn’t an issue for agave, as it won’t reach a high enough level that can cause rot and other problems for the plant. It can, however, be a problem if you move your plants outdoors for the humid summer months.
Established agave plants have a high tolerance for drought, but young plants will need a little more soil moisture. In general, water your plant every one to two weeks in the summer when it is actively growing, waiting for the top 2 inches of soil to dry out between waterings. For the rest of the year, water the plant about once a month, making sure not to let the soil completely dry out.
Good air circulation is essential in humid environments, where agaves can be susceptible to fungal diseases. This can be especially necessary during the humid summer months. If you are moving your agaves outdoors for the summer, give them plenty of space to ensure good air circulation.
During the first couple of years, fertilize your container agave plant monthly in the spring with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. No fertilization is necessary for the fall and winter. Once mature, an agave plant generally does not need any feeding at all.
Pruning and Maintenance
Agave leaves need to be pruned off only when they die or become diseased. Remove leaves by cutting them off with sharp pruners near soil level.
Container and Size
When caring for agave as a houseplant, it’s important to pick a container that has ample drainage holes. Agaves have fairly shallow root systems, so shallow containers work well. Agaves are quite slow growing, so give your plant a container that is only slightly bigger than the plant's spread. Ceramic or clay pots work well for agaves, though plastic pots can also work.
Potting Soil and Drainage
Agave can live in any soil type that has good drainage, though it prefers sandy or rocky soil with a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH. When planting agave in a container, use a quality cactus or succulent potting mix. To mimic the desert environment that agave plants favor, you can cover the potting mix with a thin layer of small pebbles.
Potting and Repotting Agave
Agave plants prefer not to be disturbed in their pots, and because they are so slow-growing, they generally need repotting only every few years. You’ll know it’s time when a lot of the roots are popping out of the soil and the plant has become too heavy for its container to anchor it. Select one container size up, making sure it’s sturdy but still fairly shallows. Carefully remove the agave from its old container, and replant it at the same depth in the new one, using fresh potting mix. Planting it too deep can rot the stem.
Moving Agave Outdoors for the Summer
Agaves will do very well if moved outdoors from late spring to early fall. In some regions, agaves are primarily outdoor patio plants, moved indoors only for relatively brief winter protection.
Agaves that are not acclimated to bright sunlight may develop leaf burn if they are suddenly moved into bright outdoor sun. For the first weeks outdoors, give them increasingly long periods spent in full sun to acclimate.
If you live in a region with very high summer humidity and plentiful rain, agaves moved outdoors can sometimes be susceptible to fungal diseases. Here, it may be best to leave them indoors in a sunny but dehumidified environment.
When to Bring Agaves Back Inside
Agave plants should be brought back indoors at the first mild frost. A light frost doesn't harm them at all, but prolonged cold can kill an agave plant. In regions where your agave spends most of its time outdoors, the indoor environment should be relatively cool, allowing the plant to go into semi-dormancy.
How can I propagate agave plants?
Agave plants are difficult to grow from seed. Instead, it’s best to propagate them via offsets (new small plants that are often called pups) that develop around the base of a mature plant. Once the offsets have leaves that are several inches long, carefully loosen them from the soil to separate them from the main plant and keep their roots intact. Then, pot them in a separate container with fresh potting mix. Wait a few days before you water the offsets.
What pests should I watch for?
Indoor agave plants can be susceptible to several common houseplant pests, especially mealybugs and scale. Treat these pests with a cotton swab or cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol.
What about diseases?
The most common disease problems are fungal diseases and root rot, which are most problematic if the plant is overwatered or if humidity levels are too high. Yellow leaves that are easily pulled off usually indicate root rot. Milder fungal diseases can be treated with a fungicide, but a plant with root rot will need to be discarded.