agave webberi

Agaves – which ones were hardy enough to survive the surprise winter?

Have you been adding xeric agaves to your garden in an effort to be more water-wise in light of our extreme heat and drought?
Adding native and adapted xeric plants to the garden is the perfect solution to reducing your lawn and your water bill.
But, as with all plants, it’s important to do  your research and know what you’re getting.
This cold and early winter weather had been hard on some agaves that can take the heat, but can’t handle the cold.  
I’m always pushing the edge of the envelope (and not just in gardening, but we won’t talk about that here).  So, that means I trial many plants in my garden that might not be a perfect match for our climate.  And, sometimes it kicks me in the …trowel.
Here’s what did and didn’t make it at this winter’s current low in my garden:
The squid agave, pictured above, is always a tough cookie.  They have survived for me down to 17 degrees in the icebox winter of 3 years ago.  

The giant franzosini agave handled the cold with aplomb.  It’s big and bold and still making way too many pups!  Let me know if you want one!  I’ll even ship!  Seriously!

This was an experiment.  This octopus agave is stunning when it’s alive.  Trust me.  However, I knew that experts report it hardy only to between 26 and 28 degrees.  And that’s in the ground.  Plants in a pot are much more tender because their roots get colder above ground faster.  Sometimes it doesn’t even freeze here in the winter, so I was taking a calculated risk, knowing I might simply have to replace it when it warms up next spring.  And I will replace it.  I love the look and the sculptural shape so I will just take my chances and treat it like an annual in cold years.

This Arizona star agave looks pretty ugly now, but I think it will come back from the crown — it will just take a while to be big and beautiful again.

This standard weberii agave seems to be tolerating the cold just fine.  It’s been scraped up by the deer, roaming around looking for places to rub their antlers, but that’s just a cosmetic problem for this agave.

I’m very surprised that this variegated agave Americana made it through.  I’ve lost some in previous years’ freezes and I fully expected to lose this one at 24 degrees.  There are a few ugly spots on the back side, but it’s doing great.  Those that died in previous years were much younger, so I think this one did well because it’s well-established now.

This wicked sharkskin agave in the back xeric bed is hanging on just fine.

I think this sweet little quadricolor agave has struggle with some deer munching and the cold, but a little pruning will help it shine again in the spring.

You can see that the green goblet agave has some freeze damage on the lower leaves, but the rest of it looks healty.  Another haircut and it will be pretty as a picture again.

 And, finally, my whale’s tongue agave is hanging tough and looking good in the cold.

Just to set the record straight, I have learned some lessons from previous freezes.  I have several desmettiana agaves in pots in my greenhouse – staying toasty warm for the winter.  I use to have a nice one along the front walk and it died in a slight freeze.  They are so pretty that I reserve those for pots now.

As long as this is as cold as it gets this winter, most of my agaves are safe.  Hint, hint….  How are your agaves faring in the winter vortex this year?

Next post I’ll talk about how and when to prune out the rotting stuff.

Toughing out the drought, agaves abound in my garden…

Like many Central Texas gardeners learning to cope with the drought, I have a growing collection of agaves in my garden. 

The common misconception about agaves is that they are giant monsters and that they all die after they bloom.  Most agaves are monocarpic, but a few of them are not.  What many call a century plant – a common name often used for many different varieties, doesn’t actually live for 100 years before its first bloom.  Most bloom at about 40 years old, primarily because of the soil, water and environmental conditions in which they are grown in landscapes.

This agave ‘Americana’ does get large – typically 5-7 feet tall by 8-12 feet wide (including its offsets, or pups).

There are many much smaller and manageable species that can be used as structural focal points in the landscape and beautiful potted plants. A few of the more compact agaves suitable for small gardens and containers that do well here include the squid agave, quadricolor agave, Parry’s agave and the regal Queen Victoria agave.
These agaves above are quadricolor agaves and they stay quite small.  Mine is about 18 inches tall.  It does create offsets, or pups — creating new plants through underground runners/roots.  This variety makes a great potted plant.

I believe this is a Webberi – it will get very large and it’s growing in a very xeric bed outside of my back fence.

This beautiful, deep green agave is ‘green goblet,’ a passalong Pam of Digging shared with me.   I love the uncommon color on this one, but be careful, the spines on this one are absolutely unforgiving!

This is an agave parryi truncata, which typically grows 2-3 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide – a very manageable size for a smaller garden.

This is what I believe to be agave ovatofolia, or ‘whale’s tongue’ agave.  Frequently confused with parryi agaves, they are sometimes mislabeled.    It is one of the agaves proported not to pup, and it grows to 3-4 feet tall and wide.  Because of its neat and uniform growth, it makes a wonderful focal point in the garden.

 This agave is called “blue glow” and it’s easy to see why.

 This variegated agave has fine spines and is quite happy living in partial shade with very little water. 

 One of my favorites is the “squid agave” with it’s delicate tentacles curling out into the sky.  After several years in this bed, this one is starting to produce quite a few pups. 

These prolific pups belong to my Agave franzosinii — a beautiful and graceful piece of sculpture that is the centerpiece of the raised bed at the entrance to our home.  They are a lot of work – removing them is a  regular chore because I don’t want a mass tangle of unruly agaves, I just want the one focal point.  But it’s worth it.

And here’s the mama Franzosinii from afar in its bed.  The Spanish dagger in the foreground had to find a new home, though, because it was stealing the show from the blue agave!  Can’t have that.

With the dire forecasts of this unbearable drought, I’m pleased with these xeric additions to my garden.  There are many more wonderful varieties to try, and many of them are on my list.