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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 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.
'Crazy Horse' Agave
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.
'Shiro ito no Ohi' Agave
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.