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Mr. Smarty Plants - Transplanting agave in Austin

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Tuesday - September 22, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Transplants, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Transplanting agave in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have an 8 foot tall agave (americana?) planted in my front yard. It has been there quite happily for over 20 years. How would I go about transplanting this to another location? Thanks!

ANSWER:

How do you transplant an Agave? Like kissing a porcupine-very carefully!

First, and no kidding this time, approach this task with care. The agaves have survived in very hostile environments by being pretty hostile themselves to grazing by livestock or digging up to clear land for farming. The agave itself  has no particular problems with being moved. You just get the root out of the ground, and even if it is broken, it will still survive on the root that is left. You're talking about a pretty big plant to move, and getting close enough to it to get a shovel into that root is a challenge.

First, protect yourself with heavy leather gloves. Long sleeves, long pants and protective goggles are also important. The "sap" or juices within the leaves can be toxic and cause severe allergic reactions. With clippers, remove some of the fierce spines before you approach with a shovel. If there is a clump of several new plants, or "pups", gently break them up by hand or with a knife. One standing alone can probably be popped out of the ground with a trowel or small shovel. Again, careful, you are close to a very forbidding plant that won't hesitate to get you in the eye or the arm or the back with those long, sharp-tipped leaves. Once you have the main root out of the ground, get rid of loose roots and then, as if it was an onion, peel away leaves until you get to the best-quality leaves in the center of the rosette. Carefully discard all the removed spines and leaves where someone won't come along and step on them. And the compost pile is out, you don't want to stick your hand into that! If it was necessary to cut the transplant, you need a clean cut on the base of the wound. You can dab the wound with sulphur before putting the plant back in the ground.

Is it absolutely necessary to move that agave? These plants may bloom at any point from 8 to 60 years of age. The blooming is spectacular, but then the entire plant dies. Whether or not a transplanted agave would bloom as soon as it would have undisturbed, we don't know. It seems, however, that the plant should be blooming soon, and then it can be removed and discarded much more easily. 

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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