Agave plants are beautiful and practically maintenance-free. Once you plant them, they’ll liven up sunny, dry areas in your yard and you don’t have to do much else besides sit and watch them grow.
These plants are also used to make sweetener, tequila, mescal, and more. Most home growers opt to keep them around for their ornamental value. They’re perfect for desert landscapes and xeriscaping.
So, how do you grow agave at home? Keep reading to find out.
Varieties of Agave Plants
This impressive plant has 270 known species in the Agave genus, which all belong to the Asparagaceae family. Most agave plants can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-11, but thrive the best in dry climates.
Agave plants (Agave spp.) are long-leaved succulents that form a rosette shape when fully formed. The leaves have small spikey tips and also produce a flower spire.
There are 40 species of agave plants native to America, and most grow in the western and southwestern parts of the country. People use this plant to make fermented pulque, tequila, and mescal drinks. They can also be used to make a low-glycemic sweetener.
You can also grow these succulents for decorative use in your garden.
Here are the most common species of agave plants:
- A. attenuata
- A. deserti
- A. americana
- A. angustifolia
- A. tequilana
- A. ovatifolia
- A. macroacantha
- A. potatorum
- A. victoriae-reginae
The choice between the species will depend on your taste. Some agave plants have slender leaves, and others have twisting leaves resembling sea creatures like octopuses. If you want to make tequila, you’ll need to grow the tequilana species.
The best time to plant agave is spring or early fall. It can take up to seven years for this plant to reach full maturity. Once mature, many species grow tall flower stalks from the center of the rosette.
The flowers are bell-shaped and come in several colors, such as white, green, and yellow. The plant will often die after it the flowers produce berry seed pods.
There are lots of options for growing agave; you can place them as a feature of your outdoor space, as part of a border, or as part of a succulent collection. You can grow them as edibles in rows, as well.
Or, you can grow them indoors in small containers if there’s enough light for them to grow. They need full sun, at least six hours of direct light per day.
How to Plant Agave
These plants can be striking additions to your home, but preparing the soil and picking the right location before planting this succulent is essential.
Most people choose to grow one agave plant in their garden as its eye-catching detail is enough to create a centerpiece amongst other flowers and herbs. It’s vital to ensure that you leave enough space around the plant, as they can grow quite large and take up a lot of space.
The spikey tips can be painful to touch, so you should always leave a good amount of walking distance around them.
Pick the Right Spot
Agave plants must have full sunlight. That means it’s not a good idea to keep them constantly shaded behind a building or under a tree.
As long as the climate is warm, they can handle partial shade at times, but there should be full sunlight for most of the day.
Before deciding on a permanent spot for your agave plant, it’s good to remember that these succulents don’t transplant well, so the spot will be their final home once planted into the earth. The location should have at least six hours of sunlight daily.
Besides well-draining soil, agave plants prefer rocky or sandy soil. If there isn’t good drainage, it can lead to root rot, potentially killing your plant over time. These succulents also like slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8.
This soil is the same whether you’re growing from seeds, pups, bulbils, or nursery plants.
Temperature and Humidity
Your agave plant will need a climate with low humidity and frost-free regions. If there’s too much humidity, this can also lead to issues with rot on your plant. Having said that, there are a few species that can tolerate some freezing temperatures.
Most species grow in USDA Growing Zones 8 and 9, but others can thrive as low as Zone 5, such as A. parryi.
Caring Tips for Agave Plants
When growing agave plants inside, it’s best to pick a more spacious container than the nursery plant or large enough for seeds to grow when the plant reaches full maturity. The size of the container will vary depending on the species and cultivar of agave.
Some species are tiny, about the size of your hand, and some are massive. One in Texas reached 40 feet!
The best soil for container growing is a simple cactus mix with the addition of small rocks and pebbles. Repotting will also need to be done yearly to keep the soil fresh and healthy. Most people tend to kill their agave by overwatering, so make sure to only water when the soil feels totally dry.
Agave is drought-tolerant, and you’ll only need to do minimal watering in your garden.
The best way to tell if your agave needs to be watered is if there’s been a long period without rainfall and the top three inches of soil are dry.
However, watering will be different at the beginning of the growing stage. After placing the plant in the soil, you should water it when the top two inches are dry until it’s established in its new home.
Once your plant is established, you can water it less.
Another excellent aspect of agave succulents is that they require little care. Of course, you’ll have to check for pests and whatnot, but nothing too time-consuming.
If the leaves become sun damaged or start turning brown, you can cut them off with a sanitized garden knife. Otherwise, you can leave your new succulent to grow without much interference!
Look Out for These Pests and Diseases
These plants are fairly hardy, but there are a few little insects and fungal pathogens that manage to make a meal out of these spiky plants.
Scyphophorus acupunctatus are the most common kind of insect to feed on agave plants. These beetles are half-inch long and have snout-like mouths, making them instantly recognizable.
Snout weevils will suck the fluid inside your plant, and the female beetles will lay their eggs in the center in spring.
You should be extra cautious at the beginning of the growing process when your plants are young, as this is when these beetles cause the most harm. If you notice any wilting or wrinkling on the leaves, you should apply neem oil or an insecticide.
This disease, also called black spot, is caused by the Colletotrichum fungi. You can spot this disease by the yellow or brown spots that eventually turn black on the leaves.
Again, this disease likes to target new, young plants, so it’s vital to be vigilant during the first few months while your plant is getting established.
Use a copper fungicide to treat anthracnose. Our guide has more tips.
Root and Crown Rot
Root and crown rot are caused by fungi such as Fusarium oxysporum and Phytophthora cinnamomi. It’s commonly spread through water, infected seed, or infected plant parts. When infected, the leaves will turn black or yellow and mushy.
You can prevent root rot by taking care not to water too much and by planting in a well-draining area. Once your plant has root rot, you can treat it with a copper fungicide, but you can never completely eradicate the problem.
Uses for Agave
Agave syrup is made from agave nectar and has become a popular alternative to honey. While you need special equipment to extract the nectar itself, you can buy the stuff and make your own simple syrup at home for use in cocktails and desserts.
All you need are these ingredients to make your simple syrup:
- 2 ½ oz minced ginger root
- 1 cup agave nectar
- 2 cups water
Boil together until it forms a thick consistency and then strain.
Otherwise, just enjoy those lovely plants as the decorative wonders that they are!
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