How to plant, grow and propagate agave
Agave is hardy, handsome and architecturally stunning. Easy to plant and grow, it’s also one of the lowest maintenance plants you’ll encounter. Black-thumbs will love it—it’s harder to kill than keep alive!
What you need to know about agave
Name: agave; species include fox-tail agave (Agave attenuata)
Plant type: evergreen succulent
Height: generally less than 1.5m × 1m
Foliage: large (50cm × 20cm), fleshy, bluey-green, broad, sword-like with a spineless tip.
Climate: tropical and sub-tropical, warm temperate and frost-free areas of cold temperate.
Soil: well-drained is best, but agave will tolerate anything except waterlogged situations.
Position: full sun to part shade.
Flowering: irregular flowering.
Feeding: annual with a controlled-release fertiliser.
Watering: little once established.
Appearance and characteristics of agave
Succulents are fantastic low-maintenance plants with serious textural style. There is an enormous range available, but the most popular is the agave, especially the fox-tail agave, whose name comes from the long and fluffy looking flowers the plant may bear.
Fox-tail agave has a distinctive rosette form to its soft, sappy foliage, and this, combined with the bluey-green leaf colour, makes it instantly recognisable.
Fox-tail agave is an excellent survivor, and unlike many other tough plants, it won’t go weedy. It’s not unusual to see this agave thriving in an old or neglected garden where every other plant is suffering. Its name comes from its tall flower spike, which can be as tall as 4m. It’s covered in small yellowish flowers.
Flowering is very irregular. In fact, there is great debate as to when agave typically flowers, and what triggers flowering. There can be periods of up to 10 years between flowering. Once it does flower, the rosette that the flower spike emerged from will die, and will become surrounded by new pup plants. That’s why in older gardens agave is often seen growing in large, mounded clumps.
Uses of agave
Agave is a hardy, flexible plant suited for many uses:
Feature plant positioned for architectural impact.
Perfect for low-maintenance, low water use and sustainable gardens.
Plant in hard-to-access rockeries or garden beds.
Great in planter boxes in harsh locations.
Use as specimen plants in pots.
Certain species of agave are harvested to produce biofuel, tequila or agave syrup, a natural sweetener.
How to plant and grow agave
Virtually self-maintaining, fox-tail agave is ideal for planting in difficult to reach areas or low-maintenance gardens. A full-sun location is ideal for agave, but it will tolerate some shade. In very hot, dry regions, protection from intense sun is recommended.
Free-draining soil of virtually any type, including gravelly or sandy, is best. Avoid heavy clay or wet situations, as being overly wet is one thing that may kill agave.
Agave will thrive in virtually any aspect, but it must be frost-free.
This is one of those rare plants where in virtually any soil, you can just dig a hole and pop it in! There is no need to improve the soil unless it is extremely sandy or gravelly, in which case you can add a small amount of quality compost. If the soil is very hard or compacted you will need to break it up to allow easy root penetration.
In pots, use either a quality potting mix or a specialised succulent and cacti blend.
Fox-tail agave has very brittle leaves, so it’s best planted away from areas where it may be easily damaged, such as along narrow pathways or in areas where kids play.
Caring for agave
As with all succulents and cacti, additional watering isn’t generally required. However, occasional watering, especially in hot and dry times, will keep your agave happier and healthier.
Technically, no fertilising is required, but you’ll get better performance if you feed your agave annually with a quality controlled-release fertiliser.
As leaves die or if they are badly damaged (which can happen, as they are quite brittle), trim them off close to the trunk.
How and when to prune agave
Agave requires little pruning beyond removing old or damaged leaves, and trimming back the dead shoot after flowering has finished.
Diseases and pests
Agaves are pest and disease-free.
How to propagate agave
Any pup plants that develop after flowering can be removed and planted in pots or the ground. Older plants will often form large clumps, and entire shoots can be removed, neatly trimmed, allowed to dry and then planted in pots until they are established.
If you like this then try
Dragon tree: a hardy feature plant with some serious “wow!”
Cactus: a plant that thrives in similar conditions to an agave.
Groundcovers: hardy plants that are perfect for filling space beneath your plants.
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