Agaves are fascinating plants that live for many years.

An agave blooms like few other plants. It grows a spectacular bloom stalk that shoots up into the sky and branches out fluffy blooms, resembling a cartoon-like tree. Pictures of this spectacle are below.

The plant itself can be used to create a sweetener, a Mexican beverage called pulque, rope, and tequila!

Because agaves are naturally from harsh environments, they make really fantastic houseplants. They are very low maintenance and fairly resilient to a number of household conditions. Their one inflexible requirement is an ample amount of sunlight. They are very slow-growing, which allows you to keep them in the same pot for years!

In this blog post, we will dig into the world of agave and how to care for them indoors.

Table of Contents

Agave plants are commonly referred to as Century Plants
One agave bloomed after 80 years at U of M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Agave bloom stalks can reach up to 25 feet high!
Agave plants sacrifice themselves to reproduce
A specific type of agave is used to make tequila
The White Rhino Agave might be the most expensive agave

How to care for agave indoors
—- The origin of agave
—- How much Light do agaves need?
—- When do you Water agaves?
—- What kind of Soil or Potting Mix do agaves need?
—- What kind of Pot works well for agaves?
—- How often should you Repot an agave?
—- What Pests are agaves susceptible to?
—- How do you Fertilize an agave?
—- Are agaves safe for Pets and Humans?

Agave plants are commonly referred to as Century Plants

Agaves earned the name “Century plants” because Agave americana was thought to only bloom after living for 100 years. It turns out that this was just a myth and that Agave americana, like all agaves, usually blooms between 10 to 25 years of age.

Regardless, the name has stuck!

Agave americana ‘Marginata’, Photo by: Alexander Goesten, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave_americana#/media/File:Agave_American_with_yellow_close_(NL).jpg

One agave bloomed after 80 years at U of M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens

While most agaves do bloom between 10 to 25 years of age, one agave at Matthaei Botanical Gardens proved that this is certainly not a strict rule.

Collected in 1934, the American agave kept on growing decade after decade until it hit 80 years old in 2014 and decided it was time to bloom! It grew a 20-foot tall bloom spike that required the botanical gardens to remove a glass pane from their roof to accommodate it.

After the blooming ended, a flute was constructed from part of the stalk and some University of Michigan musicians performed original compositions with the agave flute at a concert held at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in 2016.

Here is a photo of the agave’s bloom spike emerging through the glass ceiling at the botanical gardens. Special thanks to the Matthaei botanical gardens for allowing me to include their photo in this post!

Photo by: Univerisity of Michigan Photography, http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-oDRlolpbDWI/VAnIRL_DLtI/AAAAAAAAAhw/wHJdAjSx6yE/s1600/2014-8-14-1.JPG

Agave bloom stalks can reach up to 25 feet high!

Agaves shoot their blooms into the sky up to 25 feet to attract bats to pollinate the flowers that will form seed pods. Some agaves also produce baby clones along the stalk, called bulbils, that will eventually drop to the ground to live on their own.

Photo by: Valerio B. Cosentino, “Bulbils on the floral stem,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulbil#/media/File:Agave_vilmoriniana_02.JPG

Agave plants sacrifice themselves to reproduce

Nearly all species of agave are monocarpic, which means that they bloom right before dying. These plants usually live for 10 to 25 years, growing and storing up energy in preparation for reproduction. The amount of energy it requires the plant to produce its bloom requires the plant to die.

Can you save an agave from dying by removing the bloom spike?

Some enthusiasts have wondered if they could save their favorite agaves by removing the bloom spike. Unfortunately, an agave cannot be saved once it is blooming. The dying process started before the bloom spike was visible. However, the agave’s bloom is so unique and amazing that it certainly puts on a show as it dies.

A specific type of agave is used to make tequila

One cultivar of agave is the base ingredient for tequila.

Aptly named, Agave tequilana ‘Weber Azul’ is specifically grown for tequila production. The plant is harvested somewhere between 7 to 14 years. Growers harvest the plant when its core is sufficiently plump with the sugar needed for fermentation.

Agave tequilana ‘Weber Azul’ is native to Mexico and is not typically kept as a house or garden plant.

Photo by: Kurt Stüber, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave_tequilana#/media/File:Agave_tequilana0.jpg

The White Rhino Agave might be the most expensive agave

While most 2- or 4-inch pots of agave sell for 5 to 25 dollars, the Agave victoriae-reginae ‘White Rhino’ sells for much more. This cultivar is highly sought after for its gorgeous and striking white variegation.

Due to having large areas of white (or areas lacking chlorophyll), the plant grows much slower than the average agave. These circumstances have created quite the predicament for growers: huge demand for a plant that takes much longer to produce.

As a result, the White Rhino’s price tag usually starts around $200 for the smallest specimens.

This price might dissuade many from purchasing the White Rhino. The good news is that there is a huge selection of beautiful agaves available at a lower cost!

How to care for agave indoors

The Origin of Agaves

Nearly all agaves are found in the southern United States and Mexico. Due to the harsh environments in these locations, agaves have adapted to survive and thrive in drought and intense sun.

While we cannot perfectly mimic their natural environment in our homes, this does give us a clue about their care!

Light:

Agaves like lots of sunshine. They are happiest in a spot that gets lots of bright light throughout the day. This is often right on the window sill of a sunny window. These plants also do well with artificial lighting.

Water:

Because agaves are very drought tolerant, underwatering is going to be tolerated much better than overwatering.

They should only be watered after the pot has been allowed to dry out. During the winter, they can remain dry for a while when light levels are lower and they are dormant.

Some sources recommend bottom-watering for agaves. This is where you set the pot in a container of water and let water saturate the soil through the drainage holes.

Bottom watering avoids standing water on the top of the plant. The core or crown of the plant is susceptible to rot if water remains for too long.

You can top water as well. However, it is recommended to do so under the leaves to prevent crown rot.

Soil:

Agaves do best in well-aerated, chunky soil. A cactus mix or a quality potting mix with perlite or pumice added would work well.

Pot:

Some sources say that agave like to be root bound. Further research indicates that a very root bound agave will result in stunted growth. So, as with most plants, it is important to find a pot that allows the roots a little room to grow, but isn’t significantly larger than the rootball.

Choosing a pot that is an inch or two larger than the rootball would be perfect for the agave to grow into.

Repotting:

Because agaves are such slow growers, they rarely need to be repotted.

Some signs your agave might need to be repotted are:

  • It is drying out quickly
  • Its roots are sticking out of the bottom
  • It has been 2 or more years since it was repotted last

Some sources suggest refreshing the soil, even if the agave doesn’t require a larger pot, to replenish the nutrients every 2 years.

When you do repot to a larger size, choose a pot that is one or two inches larger at most. Since agave is such a slow grower, having too much extra space in the pot allows moisture to linger. This can induce root rot.

Pests:

Agaves are capable of having all common houseplant pests; the most commonly found on agave is mealybugs.

To read about how to control mealybugs, click here to check out my post.

They also have 2 pests that specifically target agave: the agave snout weevil and the agave mite.

You are less likely to have the agave-specific pests if you keep your agave indoors. However, it is possible that a newly-purchased agave may be suffering from one of these, particularly the mites.

The Agave Snout Weevil

The agave snout weevil is tough to detect in the early stages. It operates like a parasite, boring a small hole at the base of the agave. Then it lays eggs and a lethal bacteria inside the core. The bacteria begins to rot the agave so the larvae can eat it. Since the process begins in the core it isn’t obvious until advanced stages.

Agave Snout Weevils often look for more mature agaves, making juveniles less susceptible.

The recommendation for preventative treatment and an attempt to save the plant when infected is to use a systemic pesticide. Systemic pesticides work by being absorbed into the plant’s veins while it is absorbing its normal water. The pesticide courses through the plant’s veins, making the plant toxic to the pest consuming it.

The Agave Mite (or Eriophyid mite)

The agave mites are a bigger problem for indoor growers. They spread more easily among agaves and are happy to feed on agaves of any size.

Mites are often first noticed by seeing leaf discoloration as the mites themselves are too small to see.

To control agave mites, use a miticide containing sulfur. Apply a thin layer to the entire plant and repeat monthly for a few months or until you see no signs of mites. All agaves that you own should be treated as these pests spread very quickly and easily.

It is important to apply the miticide thinly because a thick coating may cause the leaves to stick together.

Fertilizer:

Agaves can be fertilized throughout the growing season once a month with a well-balanced fertilizer or a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer similar to that for cacti. I use Espoma’s Organic Cactus Plant Food (linked here to Amazon through the affiliate program).

Temperature:

Agave can handle temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 and 32 degrees Celsius

Pet and Human Safety:

Agaves are toxic to humans and pets. The sharp teeth can agitate people’s skin when handling so you may want to use gloves when you repot or handle this plant.

Resources used for this article:

Click to read last week’s post: How to Detect and Get Rid of Mealybugs on Houseplants

A Natural Curiosity
%d bloggers like this: