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Agaves Provide Structural Impact & Boldness

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Agave parryi Robert E. Lyons ©

Agave parryi
Robert E. Lyons ©

Great structure, unique foliage and a flower stalk that stretches 40 feet in the air are a few features of agaves. Sometimes described as fierce and outspoken, agaves give great bones to the body of your garden, support gardening style in the heat of summer and keep their composure through winter rain and snow.

Often called “century plants,” this genus is comprised of succulent perennials that patiently grow and accumulate their reserves to put out one grand flower show. Flowering doesn’t take 100 years. They will typically hold out for five to 10 seasons before producing a monstrously tall stalk of yellow flowers that is well worth the wait – a great gardening event! The offsets or “pups” are produced as the original expires.

Agaves are found native in the most challenging desert habitats of Mexico and the southwestern United States. They can survive the hottest, driest summer that North Carolina can bring. Agaves will benefit from as much sunshine as you can afford and respond well to fertilizer and water in the summer. Keep their feet from staying wet; agaves require very good drainage, especially during our cool, wet winters.

Agave parryi Robert E. Lyons ©

Agave parryi
Robert E. Lyons ©

Sunny spots and rock gardens are great places for agaves. Larger species such as Agave americana grow five feet wide and produce tall flower spikes, while smaller versions and other species, such as Agave parryi, can display a more compact stature with equally beautiful, although slightly shorter, flower stalks. Select silver, blue or variegated leaves and colorful spines to draw even more attention to this succulent, no matter the size.

JC Raulston Arboretum’s (JCRA) Southwest Garden is a great place to check out a variety of hardy agaves. There are other woody lilies, such as yucca and beargrass, along with some cacti in the collection. Also look for the newly constructed rock garden on the west side of the McSwain Education Center, which features various agaves and other rock garden plants.

Mark Blevins