Friday, June 29, 2007

As The Worm Turns, The Agave Goes

When a plant grows well in open desert, then it’s usually a sure bet for success as a landscape planting. Agaves are a good example. With full sun and an occasional long drink, Agaves will thrive with minimal care. Too much care can lessen the lifecycle of Agaves, rather than increasing it.

The Agave americana is a great xeriscape plant if you have the room. It is the largest of the Agave genus, and grows to six feet or more in height and width at maturity. It has a striking blue gray color with clearly defined leaf imprints that remain for the life of the plant. The photo of one of my plants shows the wonderful color and leaf imprints.

If you like to acquire free baby plants, the A. americana provides plenty of “pups” to build your collection. I’ve replanted three of the pups so far, and the large Agave has produced two more that I will transplant into large pots or give away. Potted Agaves look great. Surprisingly, these large A. Americanas can be grown well in small pots. Keep in mind that because of their rapid growth upward and outward growth, it’s difficult to move the pots, so a decision on a permanent pot home should precede the potting. If you get too close to Agaves, you’ll pay a price, either by a painful stab wound from the dangerous terminal spine or from the flesh-tearing marginal spines, so they shouldn’t be placed where someone could be injured.

I’m not looking forward to blooms. Those probably won’t come for at least another six years, but blooms could wait for up to 25 years. The A. Americana’s flower spikes can reach a height of 30 feet in about four months. The plant spends its lengthy lifecycle storing energy to send out a flower spike, and once that occurs in the A. americana, it spells death for the plant. The common name for the Agave americana is the century plant, alluding to its lengthy life before blooming and dying.

About the only thing that can kill off an Agave--other than blooming--is the agave snout weevil and that pest especially loves the A. Americana. Summertime is when the larvae do the damage. They eat the roots, stems and leaves, and in the process, leave areas where bacterial infections fester, which then rots the plants.

I’ve treated my Agaves preventatively with a systemic insecticide made especially for this pest, but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes the larvae do damage and there will be no outward signs of infestation until the plant suddenly wilts, collapses and dies. If that happens, dispose of the plant debris and any weevils and grubs found in the surrounding soil, and then treat the ground with the appropriate chemicals.

I especially love the A. americana for its distinctive leaf impressions. Others love it because if it weren’t for the Agave, they wouldn’t have the worm (the agave snout weevil, no less) in their bottles of mescal, and what's a drink without the worm!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great overview of agave plants. We have these and find what you say is true... minimal care is better.

Question though -- two have gotten so big they are overgrowing a walkway and crowding other plants. Can we trim some of the bottom leaves (the largest and widest) without harming the plant?

No Rain said...

Thanks for stopping by. Yes, you can trim the agaves without damage. Stick to the lower-most leaves and it will minimize ruining the shape. Also, you can trim off the hard pointed spines that face the walkway. Only clip off the spines--don't get any of the leave portion as it will then dry back to a certain point, which ruins the looks of the agave. Hope this helps,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the detailed information. I am in Northern California. I have a huge agave in my backyard. I must be over 7ft tall and 10ft wide and is now blooming with a stalk reaching close to 35ft. It will be sad to see it die

Anonymous said...

Once the Americana dies, does the tall flowering stalk rot and die?

Aiyana said...

Yes, the tall flowering stalk eventually dries. It won't necessarily rot--many people let them dry naturally and then use them as a decor element in their homes or yard. They will last for years.