Agave plants are perennial, long-lived, subtle colored plants belonging to the class of succulents native to Mexico, S. America and Central America. There are many varieties in the agave genus which range from one foot to twenty feet in height and one to ten feet in width.
They are characterized by an eye-catching, large, sculpted, symmetrical, fountain-like display of leaves with spiny tips. Usually, they have marginal teeth or curled threads on leaves but a few have soft leaves with no spines. In some species, the leaves display variegated or geometrical patterns with white or gold markings, lending unique beauty to the plant. Agave impart structure to landscapes and are grown as fencing to protect crop. Their needle-like spines are a deterrent to cattle, and for that same reason they should be kept away from children and pets.
Alcoholic beverages, tequila and mescal, are made from the sap of blue agave (Agave tequilana) in the regions of Mexico. However, the sap of most of the agave species is toxic and can cause dermatitis. Agave fibres are used to make mats, bags etc.
Agave plants are monocarpic, meaning they bloom only once in their lifetime. They may take 25-30 years to bloom upon maturing, with the tall bloom stalk reaching up to 40 feet in height within two months. The bell-shaped, white, yellow or, green flowers last long and produce berry seed pods. The plant dies after that, completing its life cycle.
Soil and Containers:
As with all succulents, the agave plant needs a highly porous, well-drained soil for its proper growth. Rocky or sandy soil is preferred, as soil with poor drainage can lead to root rot and eventually kill the plant. They can also thrive in a nutrient-poor soil. The pH of the soil should range from neutral to acidic.
The smaller varieties like Agave victoriae-reginae can be grown in containers but the larger ones survive best in the ground. Large agave plants can be made the striking focal point of the landscape, particularly on a slope where water cannot stand for long. Agave has shallow roots and can be grown in small pots with less soil. An unglazed shallow clay pot with several drainage holes is the best choice.
Agave plants prefer full-day bright sunlight. Hardier varieties can tolerate the mid-day scorching sunlight of May and June, but young plants or ones with thinner, delicate leaves need to be shifted to a shaded area to avoid sunburn.
Agave plants, much like cacti, are very drought tolerant. They can go without water for weeks, even months in cool weather. They thrive well in a climate with less humidity as excessive atmospheric humidity can lead to crown rot. They should be watered only when the soil is completely dry as over-watering can cause root rot. Over-watering leads to the drooping or yellowing of leaves. Baby plants need frequent watering until the roots are well established.
Agave is a no-fuss plant and can survive well without feeding. However, it may be given liquid fertilizer once a year.
The spring season is the right time for propagation. The pups start forming around the mature plant either before or after flowering. Some species make plantlets or bulbils on their flower stalk, which can be twisted off and propagated. The pups in the soil can be pulled away gently from the mother plant along with some roots of their own. These can then be planted in a container with well-draining, moist soil and kept in the shade until the roots are established.
Agaves are hardy plants having very few problems with pests and diseases. However, the agave snout weevil can burrow into a plant’s center to lay its eggs, gradually destroying the plant. It’s best to remove such plants to avoid the spread of infection.