Growing Agaves in your Home Garden
Growing Agave Attenuata in a Pot
Agaves are plants that lend themselves to be easily grown in pots and Agave attenuata is no exception. Because of its drought tolerance, it’s a plant that won’t drop dead if you forget to water it every second day over summer. Another great thing about Agave attenuata is that it’s really easy to propagate from cuttings and the one I’m about to show you is one that I propagated from a large cutting about 18 months ago.
I’d been meaning to report it for some time as when I propagated it I placed the cutting in the pot to about 3/4 of the depth of the pot and I could now see the roots starting to appear at the surface of the potting mix so I knew it was starting to get a bit root bound.
The other thing I’d done was place the old black plastic pot I planted it inside a slightly larger clay pot. This is something I commonly do as black pots aren’t the most appealing pots and I don’t always like to plant straight into clay pots as they are porous and can dry out the potting mix before the plant gets the chance to take advantage of all the moisture. My theory is that because the black pot has vertical ribs on the inside it makes the roots grow straight down and stops coiling. It also has better drainage holes at the base as most clay pots only have one small hole in the bottom that can clog with roots after a while (you can drill extra holes in clay pots with a masonry drill which is something I’ve also done).
Also when you want to repot your plant the plastic pot usually pulls quite easily out of the clay pot and then the plant pulls easily out of the plastic pot. Well, that’s the theory anyway……………but not in this case.
So when it came time to repot my Agave attenuata I couldn’t get the plastic pot out of the clay pot. The roots had coiled so tightly inside the plastic it had expanded so much that it was jammed inside the clay pot. Now normally with most plants I would have had to break the clay pot to get it out but I decided that I was going to put this Agave attenuata to the test and see just how strong those roots were.
My solution was to pull on the short trunk as hard as I could and just pull it out (shock, horror). Now I have to say that there aren’t many plants that I’d do this to but I’d decided that the worst case scenario was that I’d just rip the roots right off the end of the trunk and I’d end up with a stem with no roots, which was pretty much exactly where I was with this plant 18 months ago when it was just a cutting.
So that’s exactly what I did. Pull on the trunk as hard I could. First, though I did loosen as much potting mix as I could in an attempt to get it out of the plastic pot. This thought wasn’t going to happen as the roots had grown through the drainage holes and the only way to get it out of the plastic pot was to cut the roots off the bottom. Unfortunately, though these were still inside the clay pot so they were inaccessible. So once I’d loosened as much potting mix as possible I pulled on the trunk as hard as I could and eventually with quite a bit of effort, the Agave still attached to its roots, plus the plastic pot, came loose from the inside of the clay pot and here’s what it looked like. A tangled mess of roots (and just after 18 months).
Now the decision I had to make was what to do next. For me, this was a pretty easy decision.
If you’ve ever watched gardening programs on TV I’m sure you’ve heard the presenter tell you that when planting a plant that you should “take it out of the pot and then carefully tease the coiled roots so they’re nice and straight”.
Well, I’d have to say that this is good advice as roots will continue to grow in a circle in the ground if this is what they’d been doing in the pot but I’d also say that there’s no need to be careful about it.
I treat roots like I do branches and limbs and if they need to be pruned then that’s exactly what happens, they get pruned. Now I’d have admitted that this is a pretty extreme example of a plant that’s root bound but I also do this to any plant that I plant that has roots that have coiled around the inside of the pot.
Therefore the first thing I did was cut off the excess roots to get the plant out of the black plastic pot. This then exposed the extent of the roots inside the pot. As you can see it was quite a root bound inside the pot as well so the next step was to cut off any coiled and crooked roots which were exactly what I did.
This then left me with a nice tidy root ball that was ready to be replanted. The other thing I did was soak the rootball in a diluted seaweed extract mixed with water for a few minutes to help it recover from “it’s surgery”.
It was then a case of either replanting it in the ground or back into the pot. I chose the later and I used the same pot the second around time around again as well. I will have to keep an eye on it though and maybe repot it in 12 months this time instead of 18.
So if you’re growing Agave attenuata in a pot don’t leave it too long to check out if it’s getting root bound and if it is, hopefully, you won’t need to go to the same extent I did to remedy the problem.
Agave attenuata has a very extensive root system so I suppose at the end of the day it’s just as well, as that’s just one of the reasons why it’s such a drought tolerant plant.
It wasn’t until I started the new garden that I looked at growing Agaves. After I finished landscaping my front garden I decided I only wanted to fill it with plants that could survive only on rainfall and without any supplemental watering at all (once established). This was a tall order to place on most plants and those selected certainly would have to drought tolerant plants.
Agaves were becoming more and more popular in Australian gardens in recent times with Agave attenuata being a popular choice. The reason, of course, was simple, drought tolerant plants were becoming more of a necessity due to the drought so the decision to add a few Agaves to my front garden was an easy one indeed.
When it came to selecting them it wasn’t difficult at all as there were plenty to choose from and here are the ones that I selected (so far).
Agave attenuata has softer leaves than most Agaves and doesn’t have the sharp spines at the ends of the leaves. This Agave is very easy to propagate from. The two smaller agaves in the left of the photo were pups from a larger Agave attenuata that I cut away at the base to propagate from.
I’ve found Agave attenuata to be fairly easy to grow. The Agaves in the photo don’t get any supplemental watering and seem to have a faster growth rate than the other Agaves in my garden. I have found though that during extremely hot conditions in summer they can look a little stressed but I still think that they are very drought tolerant plants.
Agave desmettiana aka El Miradore’s Gold, seen growing here below only gets sunshine in the summer. Hence you can see it grow a little taller than it normally would. This Agave is also easy to propagate from as it does set lots of pups. The pups have been removed from this side for propagation but there are quite a few growing on the other side.
Agave desmettiana also has long fleshy leaves but unlike Agave attenuata, these leaves do have sharp spines.
Agave potatorum is one of my favorite Agaves. I really like the color of the leaves and the fact that it is also very easy to propagate from. I have three other Agave potaorums growing close by that were propagated from this plant.
Agave stricta nana has been fairly slow growth in my garden but it is a dwarf variety and only grows to about 30 cm. I have two Agave stricta nanas growing in my garden. The other one is a lot smaller than this one as I only just discovered it again recently when I cut back a large Agave attenuata that was obscuring it.
Agave victoria-reginae is probably the slowest growing Agave I have in my garden. At this stage, it hasn’t produced any pups. There is also a great photo of this Agave below, taken growing in the Geelong Botanic Gardens.
So far I’ve found these Agaves to be very easy to grow. They are all growing in raised beds and only get watered when it rains. Compared to other plants though I haven’t found them to be fast growers, Agave attenuata does have a reasonable growth rate. So despite not fertilizing my other drought-tolerant plants in the garden, I have decided to give these some slow-release fertilizer just to give them a helping hand.
Another Agave that I discovered recently growing in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne in the Californian Garden is Agave Parryi. This is one I think looks really distinct with it’s grey, blue leaves and will be keeping an eye out for it in the nurseries. I think it would make a great addition to a smaller garden like mine.
Here’s another Agave I found also in the Californian Garden that I’m still researching to find a name for it. I think it may be a variety of Agave americana?
There are also Agaves growing in the Geelong Botanic Gardens.
So there you have some photos of Agaves growing around Nursery or Gardens. But just in case you might want to look at more here are some photos of Agaves I found growing at Gardenworld located in USA South East. This garden center has a wonderful garden full of succulents and cacti as well as selling lots of unusual plants from around the world. It really is worth a visit.
So that’s it this time. As you can see Agaves are indeed becoming more popular here in Australia. With the emphasis, these days being on drought-tolerant plants Agaves can only prove to become even more popular in gardens. At the end of the day though even if you put aside their drought tolerance the Agave really is quite an attractive, architectural plant that really does suit contemporary gardens indeed.
In the photo above the original Agave, I bought was the larger one at the back. The other 3 were propagated from pups from this plant. Now they are growing pups and today I’m going to remove the pups from them all.
Now, removing the pups on this Agave is the fun bit as it does have very sharp needles at the ends of the leaves. The way I go about it though is to get some really long scissors, remove some of the stones below the pups and then just position the scissors in as far underneath as possible and cut them away. Sometimes you get some with roots and sometimes without roots but either way it doesn’t matter.
Once you have detached the pups I then just treat them with some plant starter and then pot the ones with roots into 5cm tubes and the ones without go into a larger pot until they grow some roots. Pretty easy really.
Once these pups are ready for the ground I might even plant a few more around the three in the garden and the others I’ll probably just give away.
Agave potatorum is probably one of my favorite Agaves. It’s not as fast-growing as Agave attenuata but then again it doesn’t grow as large so it’s probably not meant to be.
So there you have it. If you’ve got the patience just buy one Agave potatorum and then just let it multiply.