All About Agaves
At Groovy Ranch Plants, we’re a bit crazy for agaves. There’s just something about these boldly architectural, wickedly beautiful and rather spiky plants. Our founder Jared Hughes has always loved agaves and discovered them at age 18 when he was working for Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse in Delaware, Ohio. Over the years, he’s built a personal collection of 100+ agaves including giant potted ones at our store and others in the big rock garden by our entrance. Jared is so enamored with agaves that he initially named the business “The Groovy Agave” before it grew into Groovy Plants Ranch. Today, we offer a wide variety of agave species in different sizes, shapes and colors.
Agaves are drought-tolerant succulents that make dramatic statements in the ground or in containers. Since we ship agaves all over the country, customers in warmer climates can enjoy them outdoors in landscapes. Those in colder climates can pot them up to grow outdoors as patio plants in the summer and indoors as houseplants in the winter.
Agaves are commonly called ‘Century Plant,’ because they were thought to require 100 years to flower, but in reality, some only take 10 to 15 years to flower. And, when they do, it’s quite a show with an enormous tree-like spike of tubular blossoms. Yes, it’s true agave’s main crown dies after flowering (a term called “monocarpic”), but the good thing is lots of pups or “baby agaves” live on.
With about 300 species, agaves are native to the southern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and northern South America. In general, they thrive in the warmer subtropical zones that experience seasonal dry periods. A few tolerate cold climates like Agave parryi but require good drainage especially in the winter. To see agaves thriving in their native southern California environment, check out this video garden tour of famous agave hybridizer Kelly Griffin at his home.
Some confuse agaves with aloe and cacti. It’s easy to understand, since they’re all drought-tolerant succulents. But a closer look shows agave have sharper spiked edges and more fibrous leaves (some are even used to make sisal rugs). Cacti, on the other, don’t have leaves at all. Also, agaves only bloom once in a lifetime, while aloes and cacti bloom annually.
Perhaps, the most famous agave are the blue agaves (Agave tequilana) grown in the fields of Jalisco, Mexico, for the production of tequila. Only the agave hearts or “pinas” are harvested to make tequila. Mature ones weigh between 80 and 200 lbs. and are packed with fructose, the key ingredient fermented for tequila. Check out this video to learn more about the distilling tradition.
Agaves grow best in USDA Zones 8 to 10 in full sun (minimum 6 hours) in sandy, gritty soil that drains well. While they are drought-tolerant, they grow best when soils receive even moisture during the growing season. When too wet, agave can be prone to rotting, so avoid soggy wet soils. Many agaves can tolerate cold temperatures, especially when dry. But, be sure to check each species cold tolerance before exposing to temperatures below freezing.
Where not winter hardy, agaves can be grown indoors in containers in a cactus-type potting mix. They are true sunlovers and prefer bright light with very minimal watering. They grow best when their container is only slightly larger than their rosette. If they start to stretch and lose their rosette shape, move them to a sunnier location. You can grow them indoors year-round or move them outdoors for the warmer months. Just take care when making the transition outdoors. Gradually move them from indoors to a partly shady location outdoors then the full sun of a patio, deck or balcony. If you transition too fast, you can burn their leaves.
Agaves produce pups or plantlets that can be pulled free from the parent plant to make more plants. Just plant the pups in their own pots and watch them grow.
Agave Collections at Botanical Gardens
Stop by Groovy Plants Ranch to see our agave collection. And if you’re traveling to California, tour the amazing agave collections at two botanical gardens -- Huntington Botanical Gardens in Los Angeles and Ruth Bancroft Garden in San Francisco. We love the beautiful agave backgrounds they’re now offering online to green up your Zoom calls.
When shopping for agave plants online, look for suppliers that take special care with packaging. Agave have very fragile leaves and can easily be damaged. You should expect some minor cosmetic damage but not major leaf breakage. At Groovy Plants Ranch, we have a great collection and take special care to package them to ship all over the country. Check out some of our favorites.
Hardy: A few agave varieties are cold hardy to 0 degrees F including 1) Agave parryi var. truncata with silver-blue rosettes and red-brown teeth on the ends and 2) Agave montana (Mountain agave) with gorgeous green leaves and cinnamon red teeth.
Dwarf: Agave x leopoldii is a dwarf agave with narrow spines and curling white hairs.
Rare: Agave cv. ‘Cubic’ (rare) is a rare one for the agave collector. Bred by Kelly Griffin, this hybrid has serrated spines on both sides of the leaves. Over time, it grows into a very attractive and stately plant with a compact habit.
Mangaves: Mangaves are a relatively new cross between robust agaves and colorful, spikeless manfredas. Try 1) ‘Bad Hair Day’ with narrow flat, lime-green leaves that form an arching habit, 2) ‘Catch a Wave’ with silvery blue-green leaves and dark spotting, 3) ‘Tooth Fairy’ with a rainbow of colorful teeth and 4) ‘Lavender Lady’ with smoky purple leaves in a rosette, echeveria-like form.