By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Agave is a long-leaved succulent plant that naturally forms a rosette shape and produces a flower spire of attractive cup shaped blooms. The plant is drought tolerant and perennial, making it ideal for the mature arid garden. Many agave plants are native to North America and are adaptable to colder climates in the Pacific Northwest and even Canada.
Almost every climate is capable of growing agave, as some are hardy down to single digits for short periods of time and with shelter. Agave is in the Agavaceae family of succulents which include dracaena, yucca and ponytail palms.
The century plant (Agave americana) is one of the most notorious landscape agaves. It produces a lovely inflorescence (flower) and then the main plant dies, leaving behind pups or offsets. The American agave or American aloe, as it is also called, has a white stripe running down the center of the leaves. It is a warm season agave only.
There are many other types of agave, which makes it easy to find and garden with this stunning plant. Some of these include:
Agave have a large tap root and do not transplant well, so choose an appropriate site when planting agave. The majority of the roots are surface roots and do not require a deep hole if planted when young.
Check your soil for drainage, or if planting in heavy clay soils amend the soil with sand or grit. Mix in enough sand to make the soil halfway comprised of grit.
Water the plant diligently for the first week and then cut it to half the second week. Taper off even more until you are only watering once every week or two.
Growing agave is easy if you plant the right variety in the right location. Agaves need full sun and gritty soil that percolates easily. They can even do quite well when potted but use an unglazed clay pot that will allow evaporation of excess moisture.
Water needs are moderate to light depending upon the heat of the season but the plants should be allowed to dry out before irrigation.
In spring they benefit from the application of a granulated time release fertilizer that will provide nutrient needs for the season.
Many varieties of agave will die after blooming and then produce pups or offshoots from their base to replace themselves. On varieties where the parent plant doesn’t die after flowering, it is a good idea to get long handled pruners and remove the spent bloom.
After establishment, neglect is actually how to grow agave and produce happy plants.
Agave that are grown in pots require even more grit in the soil and can actually be planted in a cactus mix. The addition of small rocks or pebbles to the soil increases the drainage capabilities of the container.
Agave plants in containers will require more water than those in the ground and will need to be re-potted every year or so to replenish soil and root prune the plant. Agave plant care for container grown plants is otherwise the same and it affords you the ability to bring sensitive forms indoors when temperatures plummet.
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Giving a solid facelift or overhauling the landscape in your home garden entirely might seem like a great deal of effort. But that wouldn’t be so if you went for a succulent such as the Blue Glow plant which remains robust and full of vigor all through the seasons.
It’s a perfect plant for bordering and brings a striking contrast especially if you’re looking to grow it alongside other outdoor plants. Follow through this guide so you can grasp all it takes to grow and nurture this Agave variety.
To keep blue agave plants (or any agave) indoors in the winter, you should locate a sunny window that provides at least six hours of direct light exposure daily.
If you do not have a window with that much sun exposure, choose your best window and add artificial light to supplement.
Blue agave and other large species (Agave americana aka century plant) can do very well as potted plants and container plants while they are small. Root crowding is not a problem for agave.
As long as you provide a good, free-draining planting medium, your agave will be happy. Use either a prepared cactus or succulent mix or make your own.
Remember that you will not need to water much during the cold months. Even if your plant is warm and cozy indoors, you don’t need to encourage growth, so just water sparingly whenever the top half of the potting medium is dry.
Some sources recommend providing a diluted fertilizer treatment every couple of months during the winter, but this is not necessary.
With a good potting medium, your plant should not need extra supplementation. Again, your goal in the winter is not to encourage growth, and you certainly don’t want to encourage flowering.
Other interesting Agave species Include:
Century Plant (Agave) is a hardy survivor plant that can tolerate extreme heat and drought. This desert jewel has gray-blue leaves with long, recurring spines that grow into a basal rosette. Each of the leaves ends in a backbone of an inch or more, giving this plant much protection against strange animal predators. Native to North America, this giant Agave plant can be found in the southwestern United States and Mexico.
Giant Agave is a monocarpic plant. This plant gives a high flowering stem, similar to asparagus after 10 years or more, mostly at the end of its life. The stem may reach up to 30 feet straight up. The plant normally dies after flowering leaving an offset or “pupa” on the bottom, that starts a new life for the plant.
The plant of the century is propagated by disconnecting and transplanting the puppies well rooted from the base, or three seedlings formed on the flower peak.
Scientific name: Agave Americana
More than 17 species of Century Plants are found all over the world, but some of the species are commonly grown for their uses and benefits. We have listed some varieties of Century Plant.
The American Century Plant Agave or Maguey in Mexico is usually called Agave Americana. This plant has very attractive blue-green leaves with conspicuous toothed spines.
Agave Americana mediopicta on pot
The common variety is the solid bluish color. There are many variegated forms, such as the American Marginata Amave. Both grow quite large and make good specimen plants in an open environment. On another side, there is another variegated variety of Agave Americana mediopicta with a central yellow stripe and green margins on the leaves.
The agave Attenuata is also known as Dragon Tree or Foxtail agave. The Agave attenuata plant grows to a height of four or five feet and wide with a curved inflorescence which holds yellow-green flowers on the spike gained from the common name, attenuata fox agave.
It is a spineless variety with soft, attractive, legible, and threat-free green leaves. When this plant is young, it makes an attractive home plant easy to care for.
Tequila agave is also known as Weber’s Blue Agave, or simply the blue agave plant is called Tequilana Azul. It is the plant used to make tequila. It is also a good landscaping plant for high altitude gardeners.
These plants prefer rich and well-drained sandy soils. Plants grow quite large and can last several years.
Agave Parryi (Artichoke Agave) wonderfully beautiful plant, has black specks sharpened at the ends of broad, gray-green-green leaves. Grow on rocky and dry slopes. A sun-loving plant makes a beautiful specimen in a pot.
Agave Blue Glow is a small, slow-growing moist agave hybrid. Blue Glow grows a height of one or two feet with a spread of two or three feet and creates a dense rosette of lush green leaves.
Blue Glow is a cross between Agave Attenuate and Agave Ocahui and was developed by Kelly Griffin Horticulture at Rancho Soledad Nurseries in Rancho Santa Fe, California.
Century plant flower
Choose a portion in your yard that is large enough to accommodate to plant, and where it will not affect with structures or walkways. Plants of the century can grow over 12 feet and can be 6 feet wide. Plant the century plants where children can’t reach due to their acute spines.
Dig a hole enough to hold the root ball of the plant, but no deeper than the original plant. Place century plant into the hole and cover with soil. Water the plant a century after sowing. Continue to water once every two weeks.
Growing potted agave plants is a pleasure. Any species of Agave can be grown in a container, but the smaller varieties are the most popular. Agave plants love to tied to the roots, so if grown in pots, these plants are excellent candidates for houseplants. All agave plants need soil grown in a container that dries slowly but drains quickly.
For external containers, you can get a right soil mix by mixing compost in equal parts, potting soil or garden soil, gravel, and pumice or coarse sand. Don’t use peat moss, which is undesirable for growing agave plants.
For indoor Agave, be sure to use a sterilized dough combined with gravel, pumice, or coarse sand. When you plant Agave, don’t bury the plant too deep in the soil. Make sure that the top of the plant is overhead the soil line to prevent crown rot, a disease that is harmful to agave plants.
Grow plants in areas that receive full sunlight. Tolerant to some shade, aged plants will grow better in high light conditions.
The century plant grows outdoors as well as indoors, so there are some tips listed below to take care of century plants.
Century plant has different uses from herbal remedy to medicinal purposes. Some of the uses of its are listed below:
As more people become interested in brewing their own spirits, the blue agave has grown in popularity among those who want to make agave plant tequila. Others just want to add the succulent to their home or garden. No matter the reason, a blue agave plant is relatively easy to take care of with the right light and soil.
The blue agave plant grows best in areas like the American Southwest and Mexico. They like full sunlight, although some shade is okay, too, and soil that’s sandy, rocky and free-draining. If you’re growing a blue agave plant outdoors in that climate, you’re in luck. All you need to do is plant it and give it water every few weeks, especially if it’s been dryer than usual.
If you’re growing a blue agave as an indoor houseplant, especially in an area that doesn’t get much sun, the plant will require a little more work. Still, this is a hardy succulent that doesn’t require nearly as much care as fussier houseplants, so it’s great for anyone who hasn’t quite honed their green thumb.
Pot your agave plant in a soil mix that’s rocky and well-draining. You don’t have to fret too much about pot size. While some plants need room for roots to grow long, blue agaves are succulents that take a while to outgrow their home. You likely can wait two to three years between repottings.
Make sure the agave gets plenty of sunlight each day. Many people love putting them on windowsills or screened in porches to help them soak up all the sun that they crave. The plant wants more sun than water. Exactly how much water your blue agave takes will depend on its size, location and the climate, but you can typically water it anywhere from every week to every month. When you find the soil beneath the plant completely dry, give it about an inch or two of water and make sure it drains well.
With the right sunlight and a little love, the blue agave plant can be a fixture in your home for years to come.
In Mexico, there are many different varieties of the agave plant, and they are used to produce all manner of goods. The strong, fibrous tissues sourced from the leaves of some varieties are used to make:
There are some types that produce a natural “needle & thread” combination because the strong, sharp point of the leaf can be removed with a tough length of fiber still attached. [source]
In addition to fabrication uses, some kinds of Agave provide an important food source for many people. It can be harvested at any time, but just before the plant flowers, the stem is rich in carbohydrates. The flowers, leaves and stalk are also edible. [source]
When the leaves are removed, a thick stem remains. This may be chopped up and used as a raw or cooked vegetable or ground up and shaped into patties, which can be dried and saved for later. Sweet agave nectar and mescal alcohols are also sourced from the stem.
In this video, agave is harvested to make nectar. Notice that the harvesters slice the thorns off the leaves quickly and efficiently before harvesting. This might be an excellent technique to use on fronds you intend to prune off your plants!
Agave Harvest in Central Mexico
Agave hearts are used to make mescal. The process involves roasting or pressure cooking the hearts to extract the sap, which is then fermented and distilled. There are several types of agave used for this purpose. Many people are familiar with the blue agave plant, which is used exclusively for tequila production. There is another Mexican alcohol known as pulque, but differs from tequila in that it is made using the sap from the flower stalk, not the heart.
Harvesting Blue Agave Plant in Mexico To Make Tequila
Agave nectar finds use as a natural sugar substitute, but it is not much more natural than cane sugar. This product is not a true nectar (extracted from flowers) instead, it is more like maple syrup and made of the sap of the agave heart. Once extracted the sap is filtered and heated to create a syrup. This syrup has a low glycemic index but contains large amounts of fructose, which is detrimental. [source] The plants most often used for this purpose are the century plant and the blue agave.
If you plan to use agave for consumption, be advised that the raw sap of agave is usually poisonous. [source] You must process the sap thoroughly before consuming it. Be sure to consult a good cookbook and follow instructions exactly.