This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

April 17, 2017

How, why, and especially where to plant agaves in your garden

Agaves are beautiful plants. They use very little water, and are becoming more and more popular in places where people are thinking of water conservation, like Los Angeles. Of course here in the Phoenix area they've been popular for a long time, for although they aren't as tough as a cactus is, they're pretty darned tough, and require very little additional water.

There are some serious drawbacks to planting agaves, mostly because they're deadly. And I mean REALLY deadly. The end of the tips are razor sharp, and you don't want to ever, ever, be anywhere near them. And some of them grow to be HUGE, and send out a tremendous amount of offshoots, creating a dangerous thicket in a fairly short time. So if you're planning on planting agaves, I encourage you, but I encourage you to do your homework, and plan carefully. Otherwise don't do it!

The first thing you should do is to find out about the different types. They all kinda look the same in the little pots at Home Depot, and if you just go and grab some and hope for the best, you're probably gonna make a mistake. I have friends who collect agaves, and can see the differences easily. I learned to pay attention to what they said, and write down the names (often in Latin).

My favorite agave is called a Agave Parryi (that's the nice grey one in the photo up there). It was given to me by a friend over ten years ago, and it's just perfect for my tiny garden. It does send off offshoots, but not that many (and I snip them off), and it doesn't get to the gargantuan size that some agaves get to. It's just under two feet wide (I just went out and measured it) so it's a big miniature (kinda like a jumbo shrimp, I guess). I've had it here for over ten years, and I figure it was probably about that age when I got it, so it grows VERY slowly. At that size they are crazy expensive, so you'll either need to get out that credit card, or be very patient.

There are a lot of miniature agaves that you can get. The one to the right of it, which was also a gift, is a big miniature, which I've had there for many years. I'd also like to point out something even more important, the placement of an agave in your garden. Note that these are several feet in, where no one could get brush past them, or God forbid, stumble into them. I've seen the tips of agaves just inches from sidewalks and driveways, and it just makes me cringe. If you've planted an agave anywhere next to where people need to walk, you have made a big, and dangerous, mistake. Go dig it up and move it to someplace safe! Right now!

So if you have a place for an agave in your garden, I encourage you to get one, or several, they're beautiful. But they're extremely deadly, and if you make a mistake, it will not only be costly in terms of danger to human life, it will also be costly to have them removed. Beware.
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