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Tuesday - November 20, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Removal of mature agaves
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hello- we live in Austin, TX and have a bed of different varieties of agave. They are near the walkway to our house, and are so out of control they pose a hazard to our guests walking up to the house, our dog (already got poked in the eye) and our son. We need to get rid of them! But because they have propagated so much there are layers upon layers, and needless to say very difficult to "prune back" because of the sharp points on the leaves or even dig up at this point. Any suggestions on getting rid of the whole lot of them? Even pesticides at this point we'd consider. It's too bad there's a large wild rose bush smack in the middle of them and some nice aloe we'd like to keep but we may have to sacrifice those too. The bed is approximately 14 feet by 6 feet. Thank you for any suggestions!

ANSWER:

Boy, eighty-four square feet of Agave is a whole lot of sharp things. At the outset, while we sympathize with your problem, we really don't like to recommend herbicides. If you decide you have no alternative, you can go to a reputable nursery, purchase their recommended product and be sure to read and follow the directions very carefully.

It appears that your main problem is that the whole thing kind of got ahead of you, and there is no question that children, pets and maybe in-laws can be hurt by agave. We know you don't want to hear this, but digging them out with a good sharp shovel is probably the only way. And disposing of them is going to be tough, too. Please don't put them in the compost pile, those thorns can last forever. A long-handled shovel, long heavy leather gloves and maybe heavy pruners to kind of cut the job down to size are going to be necessary. It seems a real waste, too, because agaves are always big sellers when we have our semi-annual Plant Sales at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Of course, our customers are buying little bitty pots, but your plants were little bitty once, too.

One possibility that occurs to us would be preserving the larger, older specimens, especially those a little more safely removed from the edges of the space. It takes an agave from 8 to 40 years to bloom, and when it does, it's really spectacular. Of course, then the plant dies, having used up all its energy making those blooms. It should be a little easier (a relative term), as you work your way in from the edge, to ease the smaller "pups" out with your shovel. Have you considered offering these to other gardeners? As we said, the succulents, including the agaves, are always popular at our Plant Sales, and you could probably find some others who would be happy to take some of the smaller plants off your hands, as it were. This is going to be slow, tedious, and possibly painful, but it will give you a chance to save your wild rose and the aloes.

And, lesson for the future: When the pups pop, get them out while they're little.

 

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