Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

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.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

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!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Friday - March 04, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Loss of agaves to freezing weather in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants: I live in Austin and lost all my agaves in the subfreezing weather this winter. Around town, I've noticed some agaves that seemed to tolerate the cold just fine and other that are totally ruined. Can you recommend the species that can handle the cold (as well as our summer heat), and advise what final size they are? Thanks!

ANSWER:

We first checked with Julie Krosley, a staff member in charge of the Gardens at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on whether agaves on the Center grounds had been damaged, also. Here is her reply:

"Most of our agaves have had leaf damage, but none have totally succumbed. It is hard to know if the agave in question was native to the area or not. I would suspect that some of the South Texas species would have frozen. If she had one in a pot that was hardy to this area, I bet it would come back."

Since we don't know if yours were of South Texas or even Mexico origin, we will answer your original question by finding and listing plants of the Agave genus that are shown to be native to this area. The temperatures we had a couple weeks ago were not the first freezing temperatures in Central Texas nor will they be the last. A plant native to this area already has learned that. Succulents (such as agaves) are more susceptible to damage from freezing, because they have a lot of fluid in their cells. When water freezes, it gains volume, and can rupture those cell walls. Please read this article from the Mohave County, Arizona Cooperative Extension on Freeze Damage in Plants.

Searching our Native Plant Database for agave, we found 14 native to North America, and 9 native to Texas. We found exactly one, Agave americana (American century plant), that is shown on the USDA Plant Profile map for that plant as being native to Travis County. These maps are not always up to date, and sometimes include plants cultivated in an area to which those plants are not native. Nevertheless, the fact that all the other agaves native to Texas grow only in far West Texas or South Texas is a pretty good indicator that agaves may not be hardy to this area.

Follow the plant link above to read all about the height and growth characteristics of Agave americana. Perhaps planting in a more sheltered spot, where warmth from the sun might soak into walls behind the plant, might provide enough warmth to get a new agave through cold nights. There are no guarantees about Texas weather or the plants that grow in it.

Pictures of Agave americana from Google

 

More Cacti and Succulents Questions

Trimming freeze-damaged Agave Americana in Alvarado TX
April 08, 2010 - What is the best way to trim Agave Americana cactus? The freeze this winter when it snowed has caused the leaves to die towards the bottom of the plant.
view the full question and answer

Container plant in difficult sun exposure from Leander TX
June 06, 2014 - HELP!!!! I have a large Mexican terracotta pot on my front porch. This awkward area is facing westward, so receives the full dose of Texas sun after about 3 pm onward. Now here's the catch; my fr...
view the full question and answer

Growing Native Cactus Indoors in Dallas
December 17, 2015 - I have a Chihuahuan fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus uncinatus), a pincushion cactus (Epithelantha micromeris) and a horse crippler (Echinocactus texensis), which I bring in for the winter, since they te...
view the full question and answer

Plants for hanging flower boxes from Austin
July 27, 2013 - I have two long flower boxes 17" x 15" x 25 feet long one on the north side of the apt and one on the south made of metal suspended about four feet from the ground. One will get the morning sun and ...
view the full question and answer

Scale on Agave attenuata from Melbourne, Australia
January 27, 2011 - I have an agave attenuata in a pot. It has been attacked by scales. I have been spraying it every 3-4 days at night with a chemical sold to me by the local gardening store. It's not helping and I am...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.