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Mr. Smarty Plants - Moving Century plants in Norwalk CA

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Tuesday - September 15, 2009

From: Norwalk, CA
Region: California
Topic: Planting, Transplants, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Moving Century plants in Norwalk CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have two large Century plants that are each 10 1/2 years old. One is 4'x5' tall and wide with about 8-10 small shoots. The smaller in about 3 1/2'x 5' with about 6 shoots. They've grown too large for their current location and I'd like to uproot and move them. Can this be done without killing them or putting them in shock? I moved them once 5 years ago while I was adding on to my home. Sad to say, that time the plants where not in soil for about 7 months, yet the didn't die and are thriving in their current location. I was about to pull them out today and discard them. I went to Lowe's (home improvement chain) this morning to look for replacement plants (didn't know what kind of plant it was until this morning). When I saw some there, noticed how expensive they are at this size, and did further research online, I had to reconsider and can't wait for them to bloom. Any advice?

ANSWER:

There are nine members of the genus Agave native to North America, of which three are native to Southern California, but not specifically to Los Angeles County. The three native to Southern California are: Agave americana (American century plant), Agave deserti (desert agave), and Agave shawii (coastal agave), which is endemic to California. We will use the American century plant as our example, because all members of the genus will function similarly.

You are facing an interesting dilemma. Moving those plants is a terrible job. Not only are they well-armed with hooks on the end of their leaves, and vicious spines everwhere else, but when the leaves are cut, they squirt out a noxious sap that can severely burn the skin, usually requiring medical attention. According to our information, in a warm climate they should bloom at about 15 years in age, but it can take up to 60 years. We have no way of knowing if the 7 months they spent out of the soil might have retarded the time of bloom, but it's a possibility. We do think, however, that if you really want to see the blooms, the plants need to be left where they are, allowed to bloom and die and then be removed. Even taking out a dead plant is a real chore, as the spines don't soften up just because the plant is dead, and some of the sap can even linger. You can, of course, transplant the offshoots, or "pups" to a better location, but then you have another long wait for the blooms. 

For specific instructions on transplanting agaves, go to this previous answer and appropriate cautions. And if you transplant the pups, select the new site with care, remembering that they grow big and can threaten people and pets. Don't put them somewhere that they will grow close to sidewalks or in play areas. We didn't have any very good closeup pictures of the spines on Agave americana (American century plant) so we are going to include a couple from the very similar Agave havardiana (Havard's century plant) Remember, you were warned.

 

From the Image Gallery


Havard's century plant
Agave havardiana

Havard's century plant
Agave havardiana

American century plant
Agave americana

American century plant
Agave americana

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