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Saturday - October 03, 2009

From: Prairieville, LA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Propagation, Transplants, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Removal of pups from Century Plant after blooming in Prairieville LA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Will the main part of the century plant always die after it grows a stalk? I have babies coming off the base and need to know if I should separate them to keep them alive.


There are nine members of the agave genus with the common name "Century Plant." Of these, only Agave americana (American century plant) is considered native to Louisiana, although others no doubt have been purchased and grow there. You are correct, once a Century Plant has put on its spectacular  bloom, the whole plant then dies. The little offshoots, or "pups," are the plant's attempt to propagate itself. The pups should be separated from the adult plant as soon as possible. 

How do you transplant an Agave? Like kissing a porcupine-very carefully! All agaves reproduce by pups in about the same way, so these instructions should apply to your plant. Since the "mother" plant is already dying, you might begin by cutting away some of its menacing leaves from the area where you will be working.

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. You can, indeed, make new plants of the "pups", but first, protect yourself with heavy leather gloves. With clippers, remove the fierce spines on the pup before you separate the plant from its parent. If there is a clump of several new plants, 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 parent plant that won't hesitate to get you in the eye or the arm or the back with those long, sharp-tipped leaves. 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 cutting in a pot filled with a "cactus" potting mix. Top off the pot with more sand or "cactus mix", pack it down and put it out of doors in full sun. Don't overwater it and in a couple of months it should be ready to be on its own.

Now you're ready to decide on the permanent location for the new plant. Since it can be anywhere from 8 to 40 years before the plant summons up the energy to bloom and then it dies, you should not worry about where it can bloom best, but where the plant can spread out and the plump leaves be seen best. And, of course, where it's out of foot traffic or where a child or pet might blunder into it. Since the average annual minimum temperatures in Ascension Parish are 15 to 20 deg. F, you should be aware that the agaves should be protected from teen winter temperatures to avoid damage. A short spell of freezing weather shouldn't harm it.

If you choose to keep the new plants indoors in a pot, the agaves are so slow-growing that you shouldn't have to transplant into a larger pot very often. They can do very very well indoors in a good light from a window. Remember, they are succulents, and like most other succulents, they need less water and can tolerate quite a bit of shade. For more information on container gardening, read this article from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center "How To Articles".

Pictures of Agave americana (American century plant) from Google.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Agave americana

Agave americana

Agave americana





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