Agave americana (Century Plant)
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Agaves are the ideal statement plant for a patio during the warmer months of the year. If it's situated indoors, a brightly lit spot accompanied by morning or evening sun is crucial for its health and turgidity. During the colder months, (below 8°C / 46°F at night), bring the plant back indoors and place in a brightly lit location with some direct sun. If the Agave is situated in a darker location, the soil must thoroughly dry out in between irrigations to combat root rot, but these locations should generally be avoided for the prevention of over-watering related diseases.
A conservatory or south-facing room is best for good quality growth. Never locate an Agave within three metres of an operating heat source, for example, a fireplace or radiator as irreversible damage may occur. For newly propagated pups, be sure to avoid sun scorch and droughts.
The ukhouseplants' rule of 'droughts between drenches' strongly applies to all Agaves. In the spring and summer, allow all of the soil to dry out in between waters for at least a week. During the cooler months, reduce this further to replicate its dormancy period. This genus is an excellent choice for those who are avid under-waterers, due to their ability to survive weeks on end without hydration. Under-watering symptoms are usually uncommon; however, crispy and stunted growth are possibly due to either forgetfulness or too much sunlight. Over-watering symptoms include root and stem rot, mushy yellow leaves and a rotten stem. These issues can be corrected by removing the plant out from its pot and inspecting the rootball or soil. Are the roots brown and mushy? If so, remove the affected roots and replace the soil with a well-draining potting mix (Cactus & Succulent Compost is best). Agaves are more likely to suffer from over-watering if they're situated in a dark location or in overly-moist soil.
This is not a factor; however, if your Agave is situated indoors, a quick hose down from time to time will reduce the number of dust particles covering its leaves.
Feed monthly all year round using either a Cactus or Houseplant-labelled fertiliser. Do not directly apply 'ready to pour' feeds into the soil without a pre-wash, as this will lead to burning roots and yellowed leaves.
Over-watering is the most common issue, with typical signs including a softened yellow stem and stunted growth. There must be periods of droughts to replicate the habitats of the American deserts, as well as limiting the chance of diseases. Avoid waterlogging as there's no point fulfilling the phrase 'drenches between droughts' if the base of the pot is submerged. For more information about over-watering related issues, be sure to click on this link.
A pale centre and deformed growth are typical signs of too little light. Offer at least an hour of direct sunlight, especially in the winter months, to provide the vital nutrients that'll be converted into plant sugars.
Scorched or browned edges are the result of too little water and over-exposure to the sun. Although Agaves are a superb choice for plants in sunny locations, those that haven't acclimatised to the harsh rays will show signs of sun-scorch and environmental shock. Gradually increase the amount of light every week, starting from an indirect location to a few hours of morning/evening sun over the course of a few weeks. Prolonged exposure will significantly speed the process of dehydration, so consider transplantation into a bigger pot (in the spring) to wrap the roots around moister soil.
Over-supplementing an Agave will bring nothing but grief in the likes of yellowing leaves and weak, dramatic growth. Although a six-weekly feed is an excellent way to promote good health, dry soil and fertiliser salts will quickly lead to the burning of roots. The advice for this issue is to pre-moisten the soil beforehand and reduce the frequency of fertilisations somewhat.
Agave consists of over 614 species, originating from semi-desert locations in Mexico, Central America and northwestern South America. The genus was first described back in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus during a trip to the Americas. The name, Agave, can be translated from Greek meaning 'admirable', due to its towering flower stalks produced in late spring. Over the millennia, A. tequiliana has been used to make tequila, whereas the A. americana is farmed for its sour-yeast tasting beverage, 'Pulque'.
0° - 25°C (32° - 77°F)
H2 (Hardiness Zone 10) - Tolerant of temperatures above freezing. This plant will die if left in temperatures below frosts; move to a conservatory or greenhouse until this risk has elapsed.
Most species will reach heights of 1m in height and 1m in width when grown indoors. Growth will be slowed once it becomes potbound, so if you want a smaller specimen, only repot biannually. Ultimate height will be reached within 8 - 10 years.
Remove yellowed or dying leaves and plant debris to encourage better growth and improve the all-round appearance. Pruning must be done with clean scissors or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases; remember to make clean incisions as too much damage can shock the plant.
Via Seed or Offset Division.
Offset (Pup) Division - For this method, it's best to divide in spring or summer and once the offshoots are at least a quarter of the mother plant's size. Remove its pot and place your hand in between the junction that connects the two; soil may have to be brushed away to get a better grip. Gently push the pup downwards while supporting the mother plant until you hear a snap. Cautiously separate the root systems, keeping great care in keeping them damage-free. Place the new plantlet in a small pot with a well-draining potting mix, much similar to the original soil, and maintain the same care routines. Cactus & Succulent compost is best, or you can make your own using multipurpose compost with added grit or perlite. Provide a bright setting with temperatures around 18°C (64°F) with the majority of the soil drying out in between waters. New leaves should emerge within the six weeks, as long as the soil is kept on the drier to life.
Huge tubular stalks will develop during late spring, with the blooming process lasting several weeks. The (at least) two-metre spike will produce clusters of yellow, pink, red or white flowers along the shaft, forming a tree-like structure. If pollinated successfully, the seeds can take several months to develop and can be propagated in the following spring. Agaves are monocarpic, meaning that they'll only flower once in their lifetime before dying shortly afterwards.
Repot biannually in spring using a 'Cactus'-labelled potting mix and the next sized pot with adequate drainage. Agaves are far better being potbound for several years due to the heightened risk of root rot and repotting-issues (like transplant shock), so only repot if you feel it's wholly necessary - restricted root growth will also increase the chance of blooms, too.
Hydrate the plant 24hrs before the tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those situated in a darker location, introduce an extra amount of perlite and grit into the deeper portion of the pot to downplay over-watering risks. Click on this link for a detailed step-by-step guide on transplantation, or via this link to learn about repotting with root rot.
Keep an eye out for mealybugs, scale, thrips, fungus gnats, whitefly, vine weevils & root mealybugs that'll locate themselves in the cubbyholes and undersides of the leaves, with the exception of the latter two in the soil. Common diseases associated with Agaves are root rot, leaf-spot disease, rust, powdery mildew & southern blight - click here to learn more about these issues.
Not known to be poisonous by the consumption of pets and humans. If high quantities are eaten, it may result in vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite.