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My favorite type of succulent are agave and while there are many different species, I’ll never forget the first one I ever grew. It was an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) that planted years ago while in college studying for my horticulture degree. Even though that was long ago, I have a daily reminder of that first agave plant in the form of one of its descendants growing in my garden today.

This agave is the ‘grandbaby’ of the first one that I grew all those years ago and it was with a feeling of sadness when I noticed it sending up its flowering stalk late in winter, signalling that it was nearing the end of its life. At the same time, there was also a sense of excitement about new birth with the promise of a new generation of agave babies on their way.

The age that an agave is when it flowers varies between the different species, with some living for decades before they send up their towering spikes. With octopus agave, they generally live less than ten years before this wondrous process begins to take place. 

Watching the rate of growth of the flowering stalk of an agave never ceases to amaze me – they grow several inches a day.

Golden yellow flowers began to open along the length of the giant stem much to the delight of bees who happily pollinated the blooms.

Pollinated flowers soon gave way to tiny octopus agave along the stem.

And a few weeks later, they were ready to be picked ready to create a new generation of octopus agave for my garden.

There are probably over a thousand small agave growing along the stalk. However, I selected only nine to represent the next generation. I’m not likely to plant all of them in my garden once they are rooted, but it’s a good idea to select a few more than you are planning for in case some don’t make it, or if you want to give a few away.

Each baby agave are referred to as ‘bulbils’. They don’t have any roots yet, but will soon appear when planted.

I filled three pots with a planting mix specially formulated for cactus and succulents, which means that it is well-drained, which is important when growing succulents. Three agave babies went into each pot, which I placed in the backyard in an area that receives morning sun and filtered shade in the afternoon – placing them in full sun all day would be too difficult for them at this stage as they still need to grow roots.

My job now is to keep the soil moist, but not soggy until roots begin to form, which should take approximately 3-4 weeks. At that time, I can start to space out the watering to every five days or so. Eventually, I will move them out of the pot and transplant them into the garden or into a large container (2 1/2 feet tall and wide) where they can make their new home.

I’m not sure where I will plant each new octopus agave, but I will transplant one to where the parent plant used to be, continuing the cycle of life.

The baby boom isn’t over. Soon, I will be welcoming another set of baby agave into my garden as my King Ferdinand agave has also sent up its flowering stalk. This species is somewhat rare in the landscape and takes a very long time before it flowers, so I am very excited to welcome its babies next month.

 

Plants can do some spectacular things, and the dramatic process when agave send up their flowering stalk, definitely qualifies. Yesterday, I noticed that my octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) had begun to send up its fleshy shoot. 

I must confess that I had mixed feelings about it. My first reaction was excitement in getting to view the impressive growth of the fleshy stem and the flowers that will follow. But then, I felt sad that this signaled the beginning of the end for my octopus agave. 

You see, this agave is the ‘grandbaby’ of the first agave that I ever planted, back in the late 1990’s, making three generations of flowering agave in my Arizona garden.

Eventually, that agave flowered, and I harvested one of the babies and planted it in a pot. Several years later, that octopus agave went through the same process, and I collected two babies.

The two siblings started out growing in a pot, and when they got large enough, I transplanted them out into the garden.

One was planted in a corner but had a short-lived stint in the garden as construction near the wall meant that it had to go.

Its sibling did great in its new spot in the front garden when it was planted in 2010, and now it is getting ready for babies.

The tiny baby agave are barely visible, and the stalk will grow several inches a day.

Octopus agave don’t have a long lifespan and mine average eight years in the ground before they flower. 

In a few months, miniature octopus agave will cover the flowering stalk, which can be easily detached and replanted in the garden. It’s hard to believe that I will be planting the fourth generation of agave in my garden.

*I will keep you updated as it continues to grow and the arrival of baby agave.

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