AGAVES—OFTEN CONSIDERED STRANGE or unusual plants—are members of a diverse group called the succulents. To be classified as a succulent, a plant must have adapted to grow under dry or even very dry conditions. Succulents have a design that reduces moisture loss, and they are capable of storing water in their tissues.
MANY SUCCULENTS HAVE CONTRIBUTED to the diet and economy of their native countries. Some succulents have leaves that are peeled and cooked like a vegetable; others have sweet fruits that may be eaten fresh or made into jam. The most famous is the agave from which tequila is produced. Some agaves have strong fibers that can be woven into rope. One popular dwarf variety is the “Kissho Kan,” or happy crown agave.
AGAVES CAN GROW anywhere from 6 inches tall to 15 feet tall in their native habitat, depending on the species, but they are smaller in cultivation. Most are not winter-hardy in areas where the temperature drops below 35 degrees F. They typically flower only once, between the ages of 10 to 25 years. After flowering, the main plant usually dies, and the shoots or offsets develop into new plants.
AGAVE LEAVES CAN APPEAR quite simple or be ornate, depending on the species, but most are spiked or spiny, with sharp tips. They may also have sharp barbs or small spines down the margins of the leaves, making them difficult to handle.
TO GROW AGAVE INDOORS, use small containers so the soil does not remain wet for long. Use clay or other porous materials; the container must have a drain hole that drains freely. Use soil mixes blended for cacti and succulents. Most are sun-loving, and watering can vary from every two weeks to every three months depending on the location.
Shelly Nold is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.
ASK THE GARDENER
by Angie McManus
Can you transplant sunflowers when they are in full growth?
I would not recommend transplanting sunflowers while they are full grown if you’re growing the giant sunflowers that can reach 6 feet or larger. But if you are referring to the smaller ones that only reach a couple of feet, those could be transplanted, especially if they have been container grown. When digging up the larger sunflowers, you risk not keeping all the roots intact, jeopardizing the plant’s stability. That being said, if you must move them, it is essential to dig up as much of the root ball as possible. Take a spade and dig a circle a couple of feet around the plant, making sure not to sever any roots. Dig as deep as possible to keep the root ball together. Transplant immediately and water well. This will give the best chance of success.
It is important to pre-dig new holes so you can replant immediately. The longer the roots are out of the ground and exposed to sunlight and wind, the more stressful it is on the plant. Summer transplanting is not recommended for this reason among others, but if you must move them or lose them, it is certainly worth the effort.
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