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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Monday - December 17, 2007

From: South Bend, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Diseases and Disorders
Title: Care of Ecuadorian penco century plant
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I was recently given a Penco, Century plant from Ecuador. It doesn't seem to be doing well. Two of the leaves have turned dark, then yellow, and died completely. Five remain, one seems to be dying as well, from the tip, as if drying, sick. The plant is dear to me, help me save it. It gets indirect light, I was told not to water too much, I do once a week.

ANSWER:

First, Mr. Smarty Plants would like to state this caveat—our focus and expertise here at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is with plants native to North America so we can't give you specific details about care of an Ecuadorian century plant. However, we can give you some general advice about caring for Agaves. First of all, you need to be sure that the potting medium the plant is in gives sufficient drainage. There are cactus/succulent mixes available (with a higher ratio of sand and/or pearlite to potting soil) that keep the mixture from being soggy. You can read a discussion of various formulas and kinds of mixes from the YouGrowGirl.com forum. Next, infrequent water and low fertilizer are keys. Chances are once a week is still too often to water. The plant should be kept on the dry side in well-drained soil. A great soil-moisture tester is a freshly sharpened pencil. Trim a wooden pencil to reveal fresh wood, plunge the pencil into the soil about six inches, hold for a second and remove. If the trimmed wood is still light-colored upon removal of the pencil, the soil is dry enough to water. If it comes out darkened, wait a few days and try again.

There is another possibility. If your century plant has just bloomed, then I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. It is going to die no matter what you do. Please see the answer to a previous question about a dying century plant. Also, if you enter "century plant" in the Keyword Search slot on the Ask Mr. Smarty Plants page, you will find some other "answers" about century plant care.

 

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