Agave (Agave spp.) is a large genus of succulents with a great deal of variety. Some plants are quite small, only growing about a foot tall and wide. And others can tower at 10 feet high or more. Most species within the genus produce thick, pointed leaves often with spines along their edges, and they grow in rosette forms. The leaves are often a blue-green, green, or gray-green color, and some species have white or other colors of markings.
Agave plants have a slow growth rate and are best planted in the spring or early fall, though houseplants typically can be started indoors year-round. If you're growing agave as a houseplant, 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.
|Common Names||Agave, century plant|
|Mature Size||1–20 ft. tall, 1–10 ft. wide (varies by species)|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Flower Color||Green, white, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||5–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America, Central America, South America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and animals|
Watch Now: How to Grow Agave Indoors
When caring for agave as a houseplant, it’s important to pick a container that has ample drainage holes. Plus, these plants thrive in warmth and sun, so you must have a bright window for them. Otherwise, agave plants largely thrive on neglect. They need very little water and food, and overwatering or overfeeding can actually kill them. They also don’t need repotting often because they are so slow-growing.
These plants don’t have any serious problems with pests or diseases. While their spiny tips act as a defense mechanism, they also can be painful to bump into. So when growing agave as a houseplant, aim to pick one of the species that lack the spines. That will make your overall plant care, especially repotting, a lot easier.
Agave plants thrive in full sun throughout the year. In very hot climates they might need a bit of shade because harsh sun can burn their foliage. However, when grown indoors they should be by your brightest window, ideally a sunny 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.
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 soil pH. When planting agave in a container, use a quality cactus or succulent potting mix.
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.
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.
Fertilize your container agave plant monthly in the spring and summer with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. No fertilization is necessary in the fall and winter.
Is Agave Toxic?
The sap of agave species is toxic both to people and animals when ingested and via skin contact. Typically there’s only a mild or moderate reaction. But if small children or pets ingest a lot of the plant, it can be serious.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Skin contact can cause pain, redness, burning, rashes, and blisters in both people and animals. Symptoms usually occur quickly after exposure, and it’s ideal to wash off the sap with soap and water right away. Ingesting can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, sores in the mouth, and kidney and liver damage. Contact a medical professional as soon as possible if you suspect poisoning.
Some popular agave species include:
- Agave americana: Sometimes called the century plant, this species has beautiful bluish leaves with prominent saw-tooth spines.
- Agave victoriae-reginae: This small agave has upright leaves tipped with black spines that only measure 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 grow about 1 to 3 feet tall and sports power blue leaves.
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 first watering the offsets.
Potting and Repotting Agave
Agave plants prefer not to be disturbed in their pots, and because they are so slow-growing they’ll typically only need repotting 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 shallow as agave grows a shallow root system. Carefully remove the agave from its old container, and replant it at the same depth in the new one with fresh potting mix. Planting it too deep can rot the stem.