Agave, a prickly giant that you can learn to love

Agave on rocky ground

With its one-of-a-kind designer-like silhouette, agave helps make your garden seem to come from out of this world.

Basic agave facts

Botanical nameAgave sp.
Type – succulent plant

Height – 12 inches to 15 feet (30 cm 5 m) depending on the species
Exposure – full sun
Soil – light, well-drained, neutral to acidic pH

Hardiness: average  –  Flowering: summer (rare)  –  Foliage: evergreen

Short presentation of the agave plant

Agave is a succulent plant native to Mexico. It’s easy to recognize thanks to its thick, fleshy leaves that are lined with sharp teeth and tipped with a sharp spike that you’ll quickly learn to respect. The leaves unfurl in a rosette-like pattern that is very typical. A plant that evolved to survive in the harshest environments, there are some regions where agave won’t grow very easily. It’s nonetheless possible to grow it in a pot, which makes bringing it indoors over winter easier.

How to plant it?

To thrive, this succulent plant needs 3 things:

  • full sun exposure;
  • light soil, not chalky, and most of all that drains exceptionally well;
  • mild winter temperatures (40°F or 5°C at the coldest). One species, Agave americana, is hardier (14°F or -10°C).

When you’ve chosen the spot, all you need to do is:

  • Dig a hole that’s deep enough.
  • Add sand to increase drainage.
  • Unpot the plant and tease a few roots outwards before settling it down.
  • Backfill the hole, pressing the soil down somewhat along the way.

Since Agave doesn’t fear lacking water, the ideal planting time is spring. Make sure to leave a planting distance of about 1 ½ feet (40-45 cm) between two plants for smaller species, and up to 3 or 4 yards or meters for larger ones.

Potted agave:

Perhaps you live in places where winter is harsh, but you’ve already fallen in love with this species of succulent plant and definitely will give growing it a try. Worry not, it’s possible to grow agave plants in pots, as long as you follow certain rules:

  • Potted agave plantSelect a voluminous pot that has lots of holes for drainage.
  • Lather a layer of drainage material an inch or so thick (avoid chalk gravel), without clogging the holes.
  • Start fill the pot up with a mix of soil mix and sand.
  • Remove the plant from the pot you purchased it in, and tweak the clump to free the roots out from the clump.
  • Place the plant in the hole, and backfill the rest of the pot, pressing the soil down as you add more soil.
  • In fall, when temperatures start dropping, remember to bring your agave indoors. If you’re lucky to own a veranda, your succulent will be very happy!

Smart tip: After planting, spread a layer of flint stones or white rocks around your plant. They’ll mirror the sun’s heat back up to the plant!

Caring for agave

Care, exposure and planting for agaveThis succulent is ideal if you don’t want to spend too much time gardening. Why so? It doesn’t require any care.

For potted agave, too much water will quickly lead the stem to rot: only water when the substrate is dry. In winter, there’s no need to water at all.

Pruning agave:

It isn’t necessary to prune your agave.


Depending on the species, you can propagate a specimen through seed, or by removing an offshoot from the side of the plant in spring or summer to transplant it elsewhere.

Diseases and pests:

Although agave is not very vulnerable to disease, it might however attract scale insects.

Landscaping and pairing

Agave is clearly THE plant to grow in poor and dry substrates. It’s also ideal to set up a maintenance-free garden or to create an exotic atmosphere, together with a barbary fig cactus for for instance.

Agave americana : the most famous

Agave americana6 feet tall, 10 feet wide (2m by 3m), this species is semi-hardy. It can take the climate of the East coast, but nothing will please it like the Gulf of Mexico and the lower West and East coasts.

Its leaves are elongated, tinted in a bright green hue and each grows 3 to 6 feet long. There’s also a ‘Variegata’ cultivar which has green and ivory-white leaves.

When it blooms, Agave americana shoots a floral scape up that can reach over 30 feet (10m) with many white or cream-colored flowers clustered in little bunches.

Smart tip about Agave

It’s very common to get agave confused with Aloe vera. There’s an easy way to tell them apart: only agave has a spike at the tip of its leaves.

Images: Pixabay: Piotr Zdrzynicki, Oscar, Efrain Hernandez, Martin Grassl

Written by Christophe Dutertre | With a formal degree in landscaping and an informal love of gardens, Christophe will introduce you to this passion we all share. Novelty, down-to-earth tips and environment-friendly techniques are marked on the map, so let's get going!