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Welcome to the second edition of “AZ Plant Lady Drive By: What’s Wrong With My Landscape”.


Where you able to figure out what was wrong with the landscape, below?



I got some great answers and they were all right, BUT only one person noticed one problem that others hadn’t.


Here are a few of the answers I received on Facebook:


“Huge needle sharp plants next to a walkway.”


“The century plants (agave) need more sun.”

“Agaves planted too close to walkway, tree planted too close to house, poor pruning of Bush between houses. Looks like the Bush was trimmed with a chain saw. The mixture of desert and green landscaping is a bit much.”


These were great comments and were correct, but there was one other problem that only one of my readers found. Here is her comment:


“Those agaves are going to cause a lot of trouble.  They will multiply and take over the tiny area they are planted in.”
1. First of all, you should not plant prickly agave near areas where people walk – like along the driveway or an entryway.  Getting pricked by an agave hurts – I have had this happen countless times to me while in the field and once or twice at home.

2. The choice of agave in this landscape is a poor one. The agave in this landscape are called Agave americana and are perhaps the most commonly found agave that I see in landscapes.  

While these agave are attractive, they do have a characteristic that makes them high-maintenance – they produce lots of baby agave (also called volunteers or pups).


These volunteers are prolific and take a lot of time to cut them out.  The agave group, above, started out as one Agave americana that then reproduced. The majority of agave pups were removed, but six still remain.

This homeowner has kept up with removing most of the volunteers – but it is hard work.


Removing the volunteers means getting up close to these prickly agave and it isn’t easy to remove them. You have to get your shovel down into the soil a few inches to cut off the volunteer from the parent plant.

Homeowners usually allow the volunteers to grow, which over time, creates a somewhat unattractive mass of agave.  OR they remove them and plant them elsewhere in their landscape, which just increases the problem because those replanted agave babies will start making their own babies.


Now, I think Agave americana are beautiful (as does the little hummingbird perched on this one).   But, I wouldn’t plant one in my garden.

So, is there a solution for homeowners like me who love how agave look, but don’t want lots of babies to take care of?

Yes!

There are many different species of agave that don’t produce volunteers, or not too many.

Here are a few of my favorites that will make a good substitution for Agave americana:


Cow’s Horn Agave (Agave bovicornuta) is a beautiful agave and does not produce any volunteers.

They will grow approximately 4 feet wide and tall.  Plant in an area that receives filtered sun or afternoon shade.  This agave is hardy to zone 9.


You can see why this agave is called ‘Octopus Agave’ (Agave vilmorniana).  It does mimic that tentacles of an octopus.  

This agave will not produce volunteers either.  It does best in filtered shade or in an area that will receive afternoon shade.  Hardy to zone 9.


Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) is my favorite large agave.  I am using several in a new landscape area that I designed alongside a golf course.  

This agave grow 5 feet tall and 6 – 10 feet wide.  I does great in full sun.  It does produce the occasional volunteer, but not many.  Hardy to zone 7.

I hope you have enjoyed this edition of “AZ Plant Lady Drive By”.  Thank you all for your comments.  I’ll keep my eyes and camera ready for other “landscape no-no’s” to show you.  

My goal is not to poke fun at those homeowners who have made mistakes.  I want to help you to avoid making the same mistakes in your own landscape.


**IF YOU HAVE A PHOTO OF A ‘LANDSCAPE NO-NO’, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SEND IT TO ME AT arizonaplantlady(at)gmail(dot)com



I have been fighting a losing battle for over 16 years and it involves my husband, agave and yucca.

Yucca whipplei


Okay, here is a yucca (above).  One of the many different species that occur throughout the Southwest.

And here is an agave….

Agave americana

Actually, there are also many different species of agave as well.

Here are a few different agaves that I have grown along with my husband in the 25 years that we have been married:

Agave vilmoriniana

Agave parryi
Agave desmettiana (getting ready to flower)


Agave victoria-reginae

So, what is the battle that I am dealing with?

Well, my husband always refers to agave as yuccas.  
No matter how often I tell him that we don’t have any yucca in our garden – only agave, he still calls them ‘yuccas’.


He has lived in the Desert Southwest his entire life and still cannot tell the difference.

Now, I really don’t have anything against yuccas….
Yucca baccata
Unlike agave, yuccas can grow very tall and large.
But, I must admit that I prefer agave.

Sometimes when my husband and I are driving down the street, he will point to a flowering agave and call it a ‘yucca’.  And every time, I correct him.  Now, I don’t want you to think that I am the type of person that is always correcting others, but this one thing is a particular sticking point with me.

I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because I’m a horticulturist and I am passionate (crazy) about plants?

For awhile I was wondering if my husband just did it to tease me, (like he does about other things).

That is until last weekend, when my father-in-law asked me to prune some of the dead leaves from his yucca….

Agave americana variegata



The only thing is….it wasn’t a yucca.

Now, I know where my husband gets it from….. 

******************************

I hope you all have a great weekend!

I will be hibernating indoors this weekend, enjoying the air-conditioning 🙂

Now, you may think that I am talking about soft, cuddly puppies finding a new home.  But, I am actually talking about my agave pups.  The word ‘pups’ refers to the small agave offsets that sometimes form from the adult agave.

 Agave americana surrounded by her ‘pups’.

Some agave species produce quite a few pups, while other species rarely do.  I do try to stay from agave species like Agave americana because they produce so many pups that it becomes quite a maintenance chore to constantly remove them all.  But that being said, I have many friends and clients who just love this particular agave.

Well, the day finally came in my garden for my agave pups to move away from their childhood home.
Can you see them?  There are 4 in the picture above.  Three are quite small still, but more then ready to leave their mother, my Agave parryi.  I am actually quite excited to be getting pups from this agave because in my experience, they do not produce many pups.  It may be that this one has because it does receive overspray from my lawn sprinklers.
Okay, this may seem obvious, but you would be amazed at how many people just start digging in the middle of their gravel (granite) without clearing it away first.  Believe me…you want to clear it away first or else you will be left with a mixture of rock and soil mixed together.
 
Aren’t they cute in a prickly sort of way?  They really are quite tiny.
I carefully removed the soil around the pups, leading to the mother plant because the pups are still attached to her by a thick, fleshy root.  You can see that the pups are beginning to form their own roots, branching out to the side.
Just cut the root connecting the pup to the adult agave….that’s it.  It is really very easy.
Now, this same adult agave also has another pup, which has grown much closer to home then these tiny pups.
 
This one did not want to leave home, even though it was quite grown up.  When the pups are growing right up alongside the adult plant, just insert a shovel and push down firmly, cutting the connecting root.  **Sometimes you have to be a bit forceful in getting some pups to leave home  😉
I was able to harvest 5 pups.  I was so happy and had fun selecting where I wanted to put them in my garden.
Before you plant them, you need to put them in a dry, shady spot for 4 – 7 days so that the cuts have a chance to dry first.  This helps to prevent rot when they are planted.  Don’t worry about them surviving without water for a few days….they have plenty stored inside – they are succulents after all.
Once you have planted them, they will need supplemental water to help them establish and grow roots.  Agave do best when given supplemental water, even when mature.  Most are connected to my drip irrigation system.  The others receive overspray from my sprinklers, which is enough for them.
If you haven’t noticed this before, I am not a perfect gardener and am likely to tell people, “Do as I say, not as I do”.  But, I do not profess to be a perfectionist and so I will show you one of my larger agave, whose pups should have left home long ago…
smooth-edge-agave-pups
This is my Smooth Leaf Agave (Agave desmettiana).  I love this type of agave.  It is medium size, and the sides of the leaves do not have thorns.  The thorns on the tips can easily be cut off if desired for a more pedestrian friendly agave.
As you can see from the photo above, the pups are quite large and should have been kicked out long ago.  So, I brought in the muscle (my husband) to help get them out.
Because the pups were growing close to the parent plant, a shovel had to be used to separate them.
 
Agave desmettiana is known for producing offsets (pups), but in my experience, there are not too many.
Actually, the adult agave below was grown from a pup.
A proud parent and her 8 offspring.  I planted a few and gave some to my mother, Pastor Farmer, of Double S Farms.
There were times when I worked on golf courses that my budget was tight, so I would ask residents to bring their agave pups to me so that we could use them in landscape areas around the courses.  The residents were very generous and after a while, we had more then we knew what to do with.  So, if you have some agave pups, plant one in a pretty container and give to a friend or donate them to your city, church or other organization.
**My son continues to do better each day.  We did have a little bit of a setback on Saturday, but yesterday and today, he is feeling much better.  Thank you again for your support and prayers!

I am talking about Agave babies, which are known as ‘pups’.

Parry’s Agave with small pup.
I knew that my Parry’s Agave, above, had a little pup growing.  I have been keeping my eye on it, letting it grow a little bit more before I take it and place it somewhere to grow on it’s own.   
Now, I don’t meant to rub it in to my northern neighbors, but it was a beautiful day to be out in the garden so while I was taking pictures, I soaked up all of the warmth from the sun that I could.  It has been rather cold lately (for us desert dwellers anyway) and today was a beautiful 68 degrees.
*I promise I will be envying your weather come August….
 
Yesterday, on the other side of the same Agave, I had noticed the beginning of a little pup breaking through (in the far left corner of the photo).  Well, as I was uploading the photo, I was in for another surprise.  I noticed another pup growing right next to the Agave.  I now have 3 Agave parryi pups to figure out where to place in my garden (what a wonderful problem to have).  They are expensive Agave and do not produce a lot of pups as opposed to some other species of Agave.
Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae) parent plant and pups.
This is another of my favorite Agaves.  How many pups can you see coming up from the larger parent plant?  I count 3 pups, but there is actually another that is not in the photo.  This Agave is also highly prized and expensive.  Victoria Agave do not often produce pups, so I am very thankful that mine has been nice enough to give me 4.
Agave lophantha with two pups.
Agave reproduce in two ways.  One is by flowering at the end of their lifetime.  The other way happens earlier in the Agave’s life span and that is by producing offsets called ‘pups’.  The Agave sends out runners underground that produce the pups.  The pups can be located right up next to the parent Agave or a few feet away.
Agave macroacantha with many pups growing around it.
To remove, carefully expose the runner and cut with pruning shears or a sharp knife works well too.  Before planting, the Agave pup needs to form a callus on the bottom, so place in a shady, dry spot for at least a week before planting.  Agave pups can be planted out in the garden or placed in a container.  Even better, you can give some to your friends.
Personally, I would do this in the spring or fall and avoid the hot summer months as this can add more stress as the Agave pup is struggling to grow roots to absorb water.  But, that being said, Agave pups can be planted year-round.
Agave americana with pups.
When most people think of Agave, they think of Agave americana (above).  I do love the blue-gray leaves, but I stay away from using this particular Agave because they produce large amounts of pups.  This leads to a lot of maintenance as the pups need to be removed frequently or they quickly become an overgrown mess.  I have worked with many clients who have ended up pulling out their Agave americana for this very reason. 
Agave desmettiana with two large pups.
This Agave started life as a pup and was transplanted 4 years ago. 
It’s parent Agave flowered 3 years ago and died.
 Okay, I admit, I am not the most organized gardener.  I should have taken these large pups (on the right) and transplanted them last year.  But, I promise I will as soon as it warms up.  So, please do not wait to do this as long as I did.  Agave pups do best when planted when they are small.
Agave desmettiana, (above), is a nice alternative to Agave americana as it grows large, but does not produce too many pups.  It also has smoother edges in contrast to Agave americana. 
Now, this photo does not have anything to do with this post, but my dog, Missy, loves to take advantage of any photo opportunities. 

As does my son…

Christmas in the desert is much the same as it is around the world.  Christmas lights adorn homes and trees, with a few notable exceptions.  This is the desert after all….we sometimes do things a little differently.

First of all, we have a town Christmas tree made entirely out of tumbleweed.  It is painted white and really looks quite beautiful at night when lit up.  We have a huge celebration each year when the  lights are lit for the first time.
 
See…. I told you it was made out of tumbleweed.  For those of you who do not know what tumbleweed is, it is the light brown, prickly, round shrub that you see rolling through the town when you watch old Western movies.
*Disclaimer – contrary to popular belief, it is rare to see tumbleweed rolling through the desert.
We desert dwellers also decorate our cactus whenever we get a chance.  Saguaro cactus is relatively easy to decorate.  There was a home we used to drive by that had 3 saguaro cacti and every year they would decorate them as the 3 wise men – they looked just great.

Water is a much celebrated natural resource and some landscapes have fake desert washes running through their front yard.  During Christmas, some decorate their washes with blue lights to signify water.
*Fake desert washes were extremely trendy, but are thankfully, on the decline.  I admit that I did design some for homeowners who insisted on having them, but I would use large boulders and embed them along the sides to imitate a natural creek bed.
Ocotillo make a great stand-in as a Christmas tree.  Just hang some ornaments and string the lights.  I may have to try this on my Ocotillo next year.
You know those nets of Christmas lights that you can spread over shrubs?  Look carefully, this homeowner spread his lights over his boulder.  I’m not sure where I stand on this one….
Agave americana all lit up.  I love how this looks.
Some people feel that they have to throw lights on everything in their front yard.  They just do not know when to stop.  I’m not sure the lights make this Prickly Pear cactus look any better.
The majority of homes in the desert are beautifully lit and look like many of the homes where you live.  This is one of my favorites.  The arborist in me just loves how the lights define the beautiful tree trunks of the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees.
*None of these pictures are from my home.  My husband is somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to decorating the outside of our home for Christmas…a string of lights around the house is as fancy as he gets.  But, I get to go crazy with decorations indoors.
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of what Christmas in the desert looks like.   

What does Christmas look like where you live?

Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)

Our society usually doesn’t equate beauty with age.  Instead, we celebrate youthful beauty and spend our money on trying to stay looking younger than our years.  Thankfully, in the world of plants, maturity is something to be celebrated.

 
In the case of the agave, age equals beauty.  A leaf of an agave plant can live for up to 15 years.  The leaves are etched with beautiful patterns called ‘bud imprints.’   These delicate patterns decorate the leaves in numerous different ways depending on the species, as you can see in the photo of my Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi var. truncata) above.
 
 
Cow’s Horn Agave (Agave bovicornuta)
Along the sides of agave leaves are small thorns, called ‘teeth.’  Agave leaves stay in bud for 2 – 3 years.  The teeth from the leaves imprint on the other leaves while they are held tightly within the bud, which is how their delicate patterns are formed.
 
 
Depending on the species, some bud imprints are more obvious, while others are more subtle.
 
The fibers from the leaves of the agave are used for weaving items such as bags and mats.  The leaves are also used to feed cattle in areas of Mexico.
 
Agave ‘Durango Delight’ (Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’)

Some agave leaves have filaments along the edges.  Most agave end with a sharp terminal spine, which should be taken into consideration when you decide where to plant them.  You do not want them in high traffic areas where people can be pricked, (believe me, it hurts). 

 
Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata)

Because agave store water inside their leaves –  their leaves are thick and succulent.  Some of my favorite agave species are Artichoke Agave, Mescal Ceniza, and Victoria Agave.

 
Agave salmiana
I saw this agave (above) next to my gym, and I was very impressed by its teeth.  They remind me of ‘claws.’
 
Century Plant (Agave americana)

There are between 200 – 250 different species of agave, in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  Some of my favorite features of agave are how beautiful they are with their leaf shapes and imprints.  Secondly, their low-maintenance and drought-tolerance also make them a favorite in my garden.

 
Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

Agave is amazing plants, and I am a huge fan.  There is much more information to cover, which I will address in a future post.  But, I will answer the most common question that I am asked about agave, “No, they do not live for 100 years.”  You may be surprised at the real answer…

 
But, that is for a later post…