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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.

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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.

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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!

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Friday - August 23, 2013

From: Miami, FL
Region: Select Region
Topic: Non-Natives, Soils, Watering, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Shriveling agave from Miami Florida
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Most upset - My beautiful agave (wish I could have submitted an image) has stared to misbehave. The once first liquid filled leaves, are starting to look more like the skin of the Wicked Witch of the West, with ridges and what appears to be dehydration. Again, without an image upload of it's location, it is hard to explain its setting. I don't know what to do about this, as I don't know whether this is a weather reaction, or some sort of bug infestation. It has been in the same spot for the past two years with nary a problem. Can you please tell me what would cause these leaves to look as though they were being drained of their liquid? In one case, one of the leaves has flopped over. Thank you so very much.

ANSWER:

There are 15 agaves native to North American and not one is native to Florida. From the Florida Gardener:

"South Florida is a sub-tropical zone. Frosts and freezes during the winter are very rare. Citrus does very well here as do many tropical plant varieties.

Temperate-zone vegetables can be grown here provided it is during the cooler fall and winter seasons. Northern plant varieties have a tough time surviving through our hot and humid summers while those that need successive cold spells to flower or fruit will probably do neither.

South Florida soils are mostly sand with some peat and limestone aggregates."

Since we don't know specifically which agave you have, we will choose Agave parryi ssp. parryi (Century plant) for an example. Now to figure out what is making the leaves droopy. First, we must ask you a rhetorical question. ("Rhetorical" means you don't have to answer it) Has your Century Plant recently bloomed? If so, the agave is dying. The agave takes about 8 to 40 years (not a century) to bloom and then, having done so, has exhausted all its energy blooming and begins dying. The plant will nearly always have "pups" which can be transplanted before the mother plant completely passes away.

Next, the growing conditions of Agave parryi (Parry's agave)

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil Description: Dry, rocky soils."

Now, this is why the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants are being grown; in your case, Miami-Dade County, Florida. We already mentioned the growing conditions in South Florida and the Growing Conditions for an agave, so now you know that most likely the problem with your plant is that it is trying to grow in the wrong place. If you purchased it at a local commercial nursery, no doubt you were sure it would grow in that area. Agaves are dry desert plants, South Florida is not dry desert.

Beyond that, we are at something of a loss, but we found several websites which should be able to help you. Often problems with desert plants like this involve too much water, not enough sun or poor drainage, causing the roots to stand in water and rot. Read these sites and see if you can find a cure for your plant. Here, from an article on Desert Plants, is another take on the conditions in which agaves thrive:

"The Agave species is known for its striking form and general tolerance to cold, heat, sun, drought, and poor or alkaline soils. Agaves are some of the most useful plants in the hot arid regions of the Southwest. Sizes of agaves vary from one to six feet in height. They have many interesting leaf styles and color variations. The pointed leaves of the Agave Americana are armed with thorns at the tips. This leaf formation allows them to capture tiny amounts of rain, which guides the moisture down to the roots."

One piece of advice: before you buy any plant, look at it in the nursery and write down the full name of the plant on the sales tag, then go home and search for it on the Internet, starting with our Native Plant Database. If it is not on our database, try the Internet. It may be a plant not native to North America at all, or you might be looking at a trade name thought up to make the plant more attractive. When you find a scientific name, try our database again, and then the Internet, until you find information on what the plant is, where it truly belongs and whether you can amend the soils and water sufficiently for it to live in your garden. Some more websites we suggest you visit:

Arizona Cooperative Extension: Problems and Pests of Agave, Aloe, Cactus and Yucca

Growing on the Edge Droopy Agave Leaves

eHow: How to save a dying Agave plant

 

From the Image Gallery


Parry's agave
Agave parryi

Parry's agave
Agave parryi

Parry's agave
Agave parryi

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