Plant of the century

August 17, 2013

You need not wait a century to enjoy growing agave.

Commonly called century plants, agaves make dramatic accents in the garden while also demanding very little water or maintenance. These native Texas plants are easy to grow, thrive in dry locations and add a natural Southwestern flair to landscapes.

Agaves are evergreen shrubs unlike any others you may cultivate. These architectural succulents grow 2’-5’ tall depending upon species. They sport stiff, sword-like fleshy leaves arranged in symmetrical rosettes. Leaves are mostly green or blue colored. Most agaves have toothed margins and a sharp terminal spine.

When an agave blooms (mid-summer), it produces one giant flower stalk from the center of the rosette. Depending upon the agave type, white or yellow flowers are held in clusters on side branches or packed along the center stalk.

Although agaves are called century plants because they are slow to bloom, it does not take 100 years before the first bloom appears. However, a single agave may not bloom for 10-40 years! After flowering, the central rosette “mother plant” dies leaving behind numerous suckers that form new plants, commonly referred to as “pups.” These offshoots may take the place of the mother plant or they may be dug and relocated.

Agaves make excellent plants for water-efficient gardens. Once they are established, agaves typically survive on rainwater alone.

Some agaves suffer when subjected to extreme prolonged drought.

Their leaves may shrivel from lack of water, but the plants have the ability to re-establish themselves once rainfall occurs. Using caution to avoid the sharp spines, gardeners may trim away any shriveled foliage. Avoid letting the plant’s sap touch skin as it may cause a severe rash.

Grow agaves in full sun in an area with well-drained soil. Rocky soil is okay. Avoid planting agaves where children, guests or pets may injure themselves. Although they are succulents, agaves are very tough, tolerating extreme heat and brief periods of very cold temperatures (10 – 20 degrees). Agaves mix well with other Texas natives that have low water needs. They make fine sculptural accents when planted in pots or garden beds.

According to Steve Huddleston’s “Easy Gardens for North Central Texas,” 10 agave species exist. Some of the most cold tolerant include A. Americana, A. ferox, A. flexispina, A. gentryi, A. harvadiana, A. neomexicana and A. parryi.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived