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Mr. Smarty Plants - Trimming damaged leaves on agaves

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Thursday - February 05, 2009

From: Palm Springs, CA
Region: California
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Trimming damaged leaves on agaves
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Some of the leaves on my agaves are damaged. Can I cut them off? If yes, how can I prevent the wound from becoming infected? Thanks.

ANSWER:

We previously answered a question on trimming agaves, and want to extract some of that answer for you here.

We looked and looked for a website that would give you specific information on trimming an agave and, while we picked up snippets of information, nothing that gave step by step instructions. So, we are going to try to make some up, more or less. First, tools. Go to this Rainbow Gardens Bookshop website Cactus and Succulents Pruning Tools. We are not necessarily advising you to order these, just look at the pictures and get some idea of what you can use. We saw one forum post from a guy who had been using a chain saw. We don't recommend that, either, just saying that the Agave is tough, it lives in very wild places, with all sorts of animals eating on it, etc. and it can take a little (or a lot) of trimming without keeling over. You do need some sort of cutting instrument, lopping shears, a long sharp knife or a curved pruning saw would be possibilities. You will want heavy leather gloves, a long rod or rolled-up newspaper to push other leaves out of the way and, finally, a suit of armor. You should know that the sap of the agave can be caustic and cause skin and eye irritation; we would suggest wearing goggles when you cut. 

A wise move is to first get rid of that long spine that's ready to get you in the knee or eye. Then, decide if you want to cut farther down on that leaf or leave it to callus over. When you have trimmed back all the leaves that are damaged, you will probably want to keep the shape of the plant by trimming equally all the way around. Work up from the soil level, row by row, as needed.  Remember, as formidable as they are, these plants are succulents and can take quite a bit of abuse and still heal.

The best site we have found on general care of agaves is this one from the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service on Agave americana.  There is a very good drawing of a trimmed agave right at the top of that article. The article also claims that pests and diseases are not a large threat to agaves. However, we are also aware that bacterial infection can enter the plant through wounds. Ordinarily, the plant will take care of that itself by callusing over the cut when the agave is trimmed. 

 

 

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