The agave species is known for its architectural foliage available in a variety of colors. Some stay small enough for a pot; others send flower spikes that can reach heights of over 30 feet when in bloom. No matter the size, shape, color, or texture, agave adds drama to any garden. Parts of the plant can be made into agave nectar, tequila, and the fiber known as sisal.
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The many different variegated forms and varieties make it easy to find an agave to suit your garden style. Most agaves come in shades of greens and steely blues; some are variegated, with spots or stripes of cream, white, or gold. The stripes tend to edge the leaves or appear as intricate brushstrokes down the center of the leaves.
The agave plant has wicked spines at the leaf tips and sometimes along the leaf edges. Spines tend to be much darker than the rest of the leaf, and add strong ornamental interest. As the leaves of the agave grow, the spines are harder than the developing leaf tissue and form a permanent indentation or scar that continues to grow with the leaves.
When agaves bloom, clusters of flowers form along a tall stalk. Although individual flowers are simple with small petals, in clusters they are impressive. Some of the plants can take up to 100 years to bloom, hence the common name of century plant. Many varieties bloom faster, generally 3-7 years. Once the plant blooms, the mother plant dies. Luckily, "pups," or baby plantlets, emerge at the base as the mother plant fades. Some also grow new plantlets along the bloom stalk.
Agave Care Must-Knows
Don't be intimidated by these succulents. Agaves are extremely easy to grow as long as you keep one important factor in mind: Do not overwater them. The easiest way to kill a succulent is keeping the soil too wet. In order to help prevent rot, make sure to plant agaves in well-drained soil (avoid clay). If keeping your agave dry in the ground is a problem, consider a container. Use a well-drained potting mix, and let the soil dry out between watering times. During the growing season, agaves can tolerate fairly regular moisture. But wet winters can lead to rot.
Sunlight is another important factor. To thrive, they need full sun. In shade, they often get leggy and lose some of their striking architecture. They are also at more of a risk of rotting.
More Varieties of Agave
Agave attenuata is a common landscape plant in warm, dry climates. This agave develops thick trunks topped with spike-free gray-green leaves. It grows 3-6 feet tall and wide. Zones 9-11.
Agave celsii is a clump former with blue-green leaves that gracefully curve upward. Variegated forms such as 'Multicolor' and 'Tricolor' are quite showy, with white-striped foliage and brown spines on leaf edges. Zones 8-10.
Agave guiengola produces broad, fleshy whitish-green leaves that can grow 2 feet long. The plant is much wider than it is tall, reaching 6 feet across and just 4 feet in height. Zones 9-11.
Agave salmiana 'Belleville' makes a bold statement in the garden. The foliage is slightly wavy and bright green. It can grow 3 feet tall. Zones 9-11.
Agave victoriae-reginae features blunt, triangular leaves marked with white stripes. This easy-care plant is also grown as a houseplant. Zones 10-11.
Agave parryi bears broad, spiny, blue-green leaves and forms a compact rosette that grows 20 inches tall and spreads up to 3 feet wide. Zones 6-10.
Agave potatorum 'Cameron White' shows off wide evergreen spiny leaves to 3 feet wide. It grows 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Zone 10.
Agave havardiana 'Havard's' is one of the largest and hardiest agaves. It grows about 3 feet tall and wide and has a neat clumping form. Zones 5-10.
Agave desmetiana 'Joe Hoak' is prized for its gray-green foliage brushed with cream. It grows 2 feet tall, making it a great choice for growing in containers. Zones 9-11.
Agave salmiana 'Crazy Horse' has wide and flat, blue-green leaves that have serrated edges. It can grow 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Zones 9-11.
Agave attenuata variegata 'Foxtail' offers colorful variegated foliage with leaves boldly patterned in yellow. It's slower growing than the plain-green form and can reach 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 9-11.
Agave 'Kissho Kan' is a handsome variety from Japanese that's very compact and excellent for growing in containers. It has blue-green leaves with cream edges and dark brown spines. It grows 12 inches tall and wide. Zones 9-11.
Agave americana 'Marginata' is also called century plant because it blooms infrequently. After the mother plant blooms, it dies, but offsets continue to grow. It is a large plant, reaching up to 6 feet tall. Zones 10-11.
Agave vilmorinaria 'Octopus' bears thick evergreen leaves to 3 feet long that have a distinctive curly look. It grows 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 9-10.
Agave striata This narrow leaf agave has thin, rounded leaves tipped in a single sharp needle and they form rounded plants. Zones 7-10.
Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor' develops spectacular foliage with stripes of white, dark green, light green, and yellow. An excellent container plant, it grows 18 inches tall. Zones 9-11.
Agave schidigera 'Shiro ito no Ohi' is a beautiful plant that looks great in containers. It has dark green leaves edged in white and featuring curly white hairs. It can grow 12 inches tall. Zones 8-11.
Agave 'Tradewinds' is a close relative of 'Kissho Kan' and looks similar with gray-green leaves striped in cream. It's a great container plant. Zones 9-11.
Plant Agave With:
Lavender fills the early-summer garden with sensory delights: beautiful purple-tone blooms atop foliage that oozes fragrance on a sunny afternoon. Every part of the plant is infused with aromatic oil, making this a choice herb to place along pathways or near outdoor seating areas so you can savor the fragrance. Lavender varieties abound: The darker the flower, the more intense the aroma -- and the flavor in cooking.Drought-, heat-, and wind-tolerant, lavender doesn't like poor drainage, waterlogged soil, or high humidity. Raised beds can enhance drainage; surrounding plants with a gravel mulch can help increase heat around roots. After flowering, shear plants to induce bushiness and subsequent bloom. Avoid cutting plants back to the ground. Dried blooms retain fragrance for a long time; crush dried flowers to release aromatic oils anew.
A yucca in bloom is a showstopper. It produces imposing spires of large, bird-attracting white flowers in summer and fall. The evergreen rosettes of stiff, sharply pointed leaves, often variegated with cream or white, are striking. Use them to punctuate the end of a walkway, mass them as a barrier, or plant them as accents throughout the border. Be careful not to site them away from paths or other places people could be scratched by their sharp leaves. Free-draining soil and sun is all yuccas require.This plant is also sometimes called Hesperoyucca.
This North American native plant has a home in nearly every garden with flowers that hummingbirds love. Long blooming with brilliantly colored, tubular flowers, penstemons -- ironically -- have been a staple in European gardens for decades.There are many different penstemon types. The leaves are lance-shape or oval, sometimes purple-red as in 'Husker Red'. Some Western species need outstanding drainage to dry conditions and won't thrive during wet weather. However, many, such as 'Husker Red', thrive in a wide variety of conditions. Just be sure to provide excellent drainage. Mulch in areas where a type is marginally hardy.