Growing agaves is a real pleasure for gardening enthusiasts and lovers of rare plants. The agaves are easy to grow and many species adapt very well to extreme weather conditions like a burning sun, a prolonged drought and very low temperatures. They are environmentally friendly plants that require little watering and perfectly adapt to Mediterranean climate.

Agaves are plants of the Agavaceae family, native to Mexico, but able to adapt very well to European climates. There are about 300 species of agave in the world and you can also find some growing in the wild in the Mediterranean basin. The name ‘Agave Americana’ is often used for the century plant that we have in Europe. This common agave is also the hardiest of its kind. Growing this plant does not present many problems as it does not require much to grow effectively. The plant also has the unique property of being able to store water in its cells, stems or leaves, which enables it to survive long droughts. Agaves are resistant to both extreme heat conditions and the cold. In some countries such as Mexico, the agave is a multi-purpose plant used in the manufacturing process of its famous drink, tequila, mezcal and pulque (a very strong Mexican beer) and also for textile fibres such as leaf fibre or sisal. Agave americana or maguey is also used in the plant  pharmacopoeia and would be a cure for many ills.

The characteristics of agaves and growing conditions

Agaves belong to the category of plants known as perennial succulents or fat plants. Agave Americana is also called the “century plant” in reference to its impressive lifespan and high resistance to weathering. The leaves are variegated and often come with white or yellow stripes. Mature, Agave americana can easily reach a height of 3 feet (1 m). If grown under the best conditions, they can bloom after several years, normally between 10 and 15.

Agave americana are the agaves that are best suited to European climate because they are very hardy and resistant to large temperature variations between summer and winter. Agaves are often used to adorn gardens by providing a touch of exoticism and a refined figure, in comparison to other plants, characterised by geometric patterns. To grow them well, they need well-drained and sandy soil as well as prolonged exposure to sunlight. Agaves are plants that adapt well to temperature changes and can withstand, without difficulty, highs of 104 ° F (40 ? C) in the sun and lows of 14 ° F (-10 ? C) in winter. It is important to understand that they are also plants that do not necessarily need regular watering, as all these species store their own supply of water. You can water them moderately during spring and summer, but significantly decrease water supplies during fall and winter.

Growing agaves and maintaining them

Before you start sowing your agave seeds, it is important to know that you can keep them dry for at least one year in the refrigerator. There is really no specific time period for sowing, this can be done throughout the year. You can place them on a deck, against a wall, or in a container if you wish. For growing in trays, you must remember to bring it inside a cold greenhouse for the duration of winter. You can mix compost made from your garden soil with the same amount of peat soil. You must ensure that your plant receive a light but regular watering, especially during summer. Then, reduce the watering frequency upon the arrival of fall and cease irrigation completely during winter. To help it grow efficiently, it is advisable to cut off the plant’s stalk as soon as it appears.

For in-ground growing, you can opt for the same mixture as the one described above for growing in containers. Otherwise, you can make a blend consisting of 50% sand and 50% garden soil. If you are in a place where temperatures sometimes drop down to 50 ° F (10 ? C) at night, you need to make a supply of fertilizer at least once every three weeks in order for the plants to remain fat. This will also allow the plant to grow faster. In times of prolonged drought, you must carry out a light watering once a week. For the propagation of agaves, it is important to note that the inflorescence often produces seeds or bulbils that will subsequently develop roots and then sprouts leaves. You can let nature take its course by leaving the seeds or bulbils to spread naturally. You can also propagate by performing leaf cuttings. This involves cutting the leaves in a clean and precise manner, and planting them before they dry out completely.

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Published in Succulent plants by Alexander on 26 Jul 2011