July 8, 2017

1 - Agave plants produce babies (offsets) as their replacements when they die.

Yard and Garden July 8, 2017

Q.

We have many agave plants in our landscaping. Some of them grow babies/pups, some do not. On the ones who grow these babies, should we remove them from the mother plant or is it OK to just let them grow?

- Nancy N.

A.

Agave plants are called “monocarpic” meaning that they grow until they flower, and then the plant dies. Most agave plants produce offsets (the baby plants) to replace the parent plant when it dies after flowering. These offsets are genetically identical to the mother plant unlike any new plants grown from seeds. Some agave species produce plantlets on the flower stalks. These plantlets take root and begin growing when the mother plant dies and the flower stalk falls to the ground allowing the plantlets to root into the soil.

The monocarpic nature of agave makes the production of offsets important. Seeds may germinate and grow, but the offsets have a better chance of growing since they are attached to the mother plant until it flowers and dies.

It is indeed possible to dig and transplant some of the offsets, though not necessary. The coming monsoon should provide moisture for the newly transplanted agave plants, but you may also irrigate these plants. They are succulent plants, storing considerable water in their tissues and should not be watered excessively. Excessive irrigation can result in disease infestation. When cutting the offset from the mother plant before transplanting, you can allow the new plant to “rest” in a shady, dry location for a few days before planting. This will allow a layer of suberin (waxy protective layer) to form over the cut surface and can help avoid entry of disease. This is not essential unless you are planting the new plant in soil with a high level of organic matter or clay that remains moist for prolonged periods of time.

The ideal soil for planting the new offsets is one that is well drained. Such soils will contain coarse sand or small gravel. This allows water to pass through quickly and also allows entry of air into the soil. Such well-drained soil will reduce chances of the new transplant rotting.

Fertilizer is not needed, especially the first year after planting. Be certain to plant the agave in a location with enough space for the plant to reach full size without becoming a hazard to people on sidewalks or other areas. Agave plants have sharp points at the tips of their leaves and along the margin of the leaves.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html.

Send your gardening questions to Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith at cwsmith@nmsu.edu or leave a message at https://www.facebook.com/NMSUExtExpStnPubs.

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist, retired from New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.