Grow an Agave plant for garden decor, landscape effect and drought tolerance
The Agave or Century Plant creates a dramatic statement in the landscape. If you live in a climate where the summers are hot and dry, growing an Century Plant outdoors will be remarkably easy. If you live where it gets too cold to grow them outdoors, you can grow them in a bright window in the house. The hardest job will be to select the Agave you like best. Use these tough-growing plants for focal points, barriers and design. One variety, the Agave tequilana ‘Weber azul’, goes beyond garden beauty and is used to make tequila.
Agaves or Century Plants thrive in the spare, hungry soils of chaparral, and some mountainous and desert areas as well as regular gardens. In fact, a rich soil or too much water will cause the plant to grow soft and weak. Make sure it is well-drained. Tough plants as they are, Agaves will rot and fail if water collects around their roots. Although these plants will tolerate dry shade, they do best with as much full sun as you can give them.
These plants are very decorative, growing leaves in a circular clump called a ‘rosette’. Century Plants come in small sizes or large. The littler ones look comfortable in a smaller garden or up near the front of a larger garden. They’re also the best choices for pot cultures.
One of the most decorate or the smaller-growing Agave plants is the A. victoria reginae. It grows to about a foot wide. A much larger Agave is the Octopus Agave, or the A. vilmoriniana which spreads its 3 – 4′ long smooth, sculptural leaves like octopus arms. There is also a soft green Agave that will develop a graceful branched trunk like a tree. This is the Agave attenuata. It is lovely and architectural as it reaches 6 – 10′ on thin trunks, but it doesn’t like temperatures that fall lower than the high 20’s F.
Undoubtedly, the most popular agave is the Agave americana. There are many cultivars with white or yellow stripes. All are fiercely toothed all along the leaf edges and most can grow from 5′ – 12′ wide and close to the same dimensions in height. The A. americana handles cold to around 20’F in the winter — sometimes lower.
The bloom of the Century plant is nothing if not impressive. Some can reach 40′ in height. Agaves bloom only after they reach full maturity, something that can take 10 years depending on the variety. They send up enormous flowering spikes that can look like trees or tall torches. Most have white, yellow or green flowers that are less spectacular than the overwhelming size of the bloom itself. Flowering stalks start off looking like a giant asparagus spear rising out of the center of the plant. After blooming (which can continue for up to a year) the bloom fades and the plant itself slowly dies. But in the meantime, most Agaves send up side shoots called ‘pups’ which will grow into adult plants and squeeze out the dead parent plant over time.
Frequently, pups will be produced long before the parent plant blooms so these plants can produce huge groups or ‘stands’ of plant life. The A. vilmoriniana is an exception in that it will grow a 10′ tall spear covered with yellow blossoms and miniature plantlets. The plant will die without pupping, but offers hundreds of little plants — some even with incipient roots — all along the flower spike. Just pop them in the soil and watch them grow!
Most Agaves have sharp spines particularly at the tips of the leaves. These are specially adapted leaves that grow in a rosette (like a rose in shape) and store water in them. This makes them ‘succulents’. It also makes them resilient to heat and dry. Unfortunately, roots are not resilient to gophers so you may have to protect them if you have a gopher problem.
Due to their tough skin covering, Agaves are rarely bothered by insect pests outdoors. When grown indoors, they are more vulnerable to getting mealy bug or scale infestations.
Use a clump of dramatic Agave plants to form focal points in the garden. Century Plants can also be very effective when restrained in large decorative pots. They are key plants in a Western, Southwestern or desert styled garden. And they are fine companions for a cactus garden. Try them as sentries for a front door design, an entry way or a barrier hedge along a dry property line. For growing a tough, easy to care for, artistic-looking plant, the Agave or Century Plant has a lot to recommend it.