Fat plants



Agaves are monocarpic or multicarpal or multiannual or perennial succulents. They have large leaves that are more often than not rigid and succulent. Often at the top there is a very sharp thorn. The leaf margin can be serrated (and also equipped with thorns) or smooth. It can produce a panicle inflorescence which then produces capsule, black fruits. Flowering occurs at least after 8 years, but for some species, under ideal conditions, it takes at least 40 years. In the monocarpic species unfortunately this event brings the plant to death. All agaves originate from the central-northern American continent. Some species, however, became naturalized in the Mediterranean basin ...
The word agave derives from the Greek and means "worthy of admiration".


Family and gender
Agavaceae, gen agave with more than 300 species
Type of plant Multi-year or perennial succulent
Exposure Full sun
Rusticitа Depending on the species
Ground Well drained
Irrigation Abundant during the vegetative period
Composting Regulars
colors Green, variegated, striated, glaucous
Height From 50 cm to 1.5 meters
Propagation Bulbilli, basal or seed jets

This species of succulent plants is one of the most numerous and of the most varied characteristics (it groups together over 300 varieties). The stem is generally very short and the leaves start from the base. A characteristic of the leaves is that they are very fleshy and stocky. The root system is composed of a bundle
of very compact roots, formed by very long fine capillaries, which allow the plant to reach the water even very deep.


usually develops in the summer months. Before flowering, the plant must reach maturity (which takes several years). These plants die once they flower, but other plants are generated through the flower or the suckers. The plant is perennial and has woody thorns on it
edge and on the apex of the leaf. Like most succulent plants, the agave also produces an inflorescence, which develops on the apex of a stem that starts from the center (it can even reach ten meters in height).


The cultivation of agaves is, in the right climatic conditions, very simple. These are resistant plants that grow quickly giving a lot of satisfaction. They are certainly suited to the Mediterranean garden, that is to all those coastal areas characterized by dryness during the summer period.


this plant is native to the desert areas of America, but is also very present on the Italian territory, in the more temperate areas of the south.
In the north these plants must be sheltered in greenhouses or under verandas, with temperatures no lower than five degrees. In addition to low temperatures, the plant suffers from water stagnation, while it tolerates long periods of drought. The ideal exposure for these plants is undoubtedly the full sun throughout Italy. In central and northern areas, warm and sheltered exposure is imperative. In this way the agave can enjoy the best conditions even during the cold season.
In the south of the peninsula or in very hot coastal areas, a half-shade location may also be suitable. However, there must be at least 5 hours of full sun and the rest of the day there must be a very bright shadow.

Rusticity and winter

Rusticity is very dependent on the species. Some are pretty, others for nothing. In general (and in particular for the most widespread among us: agave americana, Victoriae-Reginae, ferox, filifera, stricta) we can say that the minimum temperature they can withstand is -13 ° C. They can therefore be cultivated easily almost throughout Italy provided they are located in a sheltered place from the winds and with exposure in full sun during the winter.
In any case, if you do not live in the South or on the coasts, it is almost essential to protect the specimen with transparent plastic, insulating material or at least a double layer of non-woven fabric. If the plant is in a container it is certainly better to withdraw it at least in a well-lit cold greenhouse because outside it may cause the roots to freeze, especially if the pot is very small. Ideal summer temperatures range from 20 to 30 ° C.


If we want to cultivate the agave in the open ground let's remember that it wants a well-drained and basically sub-acid soil. It is therefore better to avoid too clayey and compact soils that could cause rotting at the base of the plant. If the substrate of our garden is not suitable we can replace it by digging a very deep hole. This will then be filled with a soil for cactaceae or with a compound in which there is a high percentage of very fine sand and gravel.


Agaves bear drought very well but, contrary to popular belief, to live better they always need to have at least a slightly damp substrate.
During the growing season, from March to September, they must be irrigated continuously. However, water should not be allowed to stagnate because it could cause rot in the roots or in the rosette of the leaves. In particular, when proceeding you must be careful to wet only the substrate and not the leaves, the collar or the inside of the rosette. In fact, there is the danger that water will stagnate for a long time before evaporating, becoming a source of spread of pathogens.
From September onwards, going towards the period of vegetative rest, the administration of water can be gradually attenuated. In winter it is possible to intervene even slightly once a month to prevent the substrate from drying out completely.


These are fast-growing plants and therefore need a good amount of nutrients. Furthermore, their so draining substrate is unlikely to retain micro and macro elements.
To keep these succulents vital, it is good to give a specific fertilizer for succulent plants every twenty days. Usually the formulations on the market are liquid and must be diluted in the irrigation water. A good fertilizer for succulents must have a proportion NPK 1-3-5, therefore not very rich in nitrogen and with a higher concentration of phosphorus and potassium. Let's also make sure that there are good amounts of trace elements in the formulation.


As we have said most of the agaves bloom only once, in late summer, when they reach full maturity. Depending on the species, the age ranges from 8 years to more than 40. If grown in pots, they may never come to bloom. If you notice that the plant is emitting the flower stem you have the choice between two roads. The first is to enjoy the beautiful flowering and wait for the plant to come to an end (it can take several years). An alternative is to cut the stem. The plant will go to death anyway, but not wasting the energy to flower and for the seeds it will last a little longer. It certainly will not issue new leaves, but will remain stalled. Personally, since it is a plant that is easily multiplied and over the years you have already had the chance to take suckers, I think it is worth enjoying the well-deserved flowering and then letting the agave follow its natural cycle.

Pot cultivation

In almost all the North of the peninsula, given the mild winters, it is customary to grow these succulents in a container so that they can be moved and repaired.
The first advice is to always choose not too large pots: the larger the size, the more you risk over-irrigating and creating stagnation (perhaps the only major enemy of agaves).
We therefore choose a vase slightly larger than the root system. On the bottom we can create a drainage layer with expanded clay or gravel. The ideal compound for these succulents is very light and little able to retain water. On the market there are already substrates of substrate specifically designed for these needs. If we want we can add some fine river sand and some pebbles.
If we want to create the substrate instead, it will be good to compose it with 30% fine gravel, 30% river sand and 40% soil for green plants or garden soil not too compact. Even a few handfuls of leafy soil will not be a problem. The repottings are to be done frequently, even once a year, since the plant is very vigorous. We choose, if possible, terracotta or natural material containers that promote transpiration and also air recirculation helping in the prevention of rot.


Agaves do not require pruning, but only periodic cleaning of exhausted basal leaves. Periodically some of them tend to dry out and must be eliminated promptly to prevent them from becoming a vehicle for pathologies. They should be cut with a sharp or disinfected shear or knife (over the flame or with bleach) as close as possible to the base.


The propagation of the a. it is very simple. The plant periodically produces buds at the base that tend to detach from the mother. You have to wait until they have reached at least 10 cm in length and take them with a well disinfected knife. They should then be left in the air for about two days and placed in individual jars with cactaceous soil. For about two months they will be kept in the shade and at a temperature of 15-18 ° C, with the substratum always moist. As soon as we are sure of the root we can begin to treat it normally, moving it to full sun.

Pests and adversities

As we have said, they are very resistant plants. The most common problem is due to excessive irrigation. If we notice that the plant loses vitality and the leaves turn yellow we immediately check the soil. If there is too much humidity in the depth it will be better to wait for the substrate to dry completely and change the irrigation method. If the plant is very debilitated, it may be necessary to extract it from the pot, let it dry well in the sun and then completely change the substrate, perhaps mixing some granules of product for the prevention of rot. Another traditional enemy of agaves is the cochineal with scudetto. Generally it can be noticed on the lower part of the leaves and involves a strong general debilitation of the subject. If they are few they can be removed manually, then disinfecting the part with alcohol. Otherwise, systemic insecticides and mineral oil should be used. They can also be affected by red spider mite: it causes the leaves to turn yellow. It must be fought by increasing humidity and vaporizing a specific acaricide.


Here are some of the best known:
agave americana (some interesting varieties are:
middle-picta aurea,
medium-picta alba),
A. Victoriae-reginae,
A. Ferox,
A. Filifera,
A. stricta,
A. seemanniana,
A. schidigera,
A. Pumila,
A. parvi flora,
A. potatorum,
A. pigmaea,
A. lanciniata palmeri,
A. nigra,
A. macrocantha,
A. leopoldii,
A. horrida,
A. ferdinandi regi,
A. desmettiana,
A. angustifolia,
A. tequilana (used in Mexico for the production of tequila).

Agave Properties

Agave is a plant that in Central America, its area of ​​origin, has for centuries been widely exploited for its properties. Agave leaves contain a sugary juice that many of you know is used for the production of tequila which is obtained through its fermentation, but this is certainly not the only use that can be made of the agave.
The fibrous leaves of the agave in the past were widely used for the production of different materials but currently its uses are mainly related to the field of alternative medicine and phytotherapy. Agave juice is a very sweet substance that can be used instead of sugar, although recent research shows that other preparations such as honey are preferable to this substance.
In addition to this use there are also other uses of agave that exploit its digestive, tonic and diuretic properties. There are powder preparations, herbal teas, creams and other preparations that can help solve small problems or can be used as adjuvants.

Agave as a sweetener

One of the most famous properties of agave, as already mentioned, is certainly its high sugar content. This characteristic is the same reason why the agave is used to produce tequila, an alcohol obtained through the fermentation of the leaves of this plant.
In an age in which sugar is more and more often looked at with crooked eyes due to its high caloric content, the problems that its excessive consumption entails and other reasons that we are not listing in this article, the agave and in particularly the sugary syrup extracted from its leaves, represents a valid alternative to refined sugar.
However it is good to be careful also to the agave syrup, as to all those substances that spread among the lovers of natural products. It appears that some agave syrups are extracted incorrectly and also contain an excessive amount of concentrated fructose.
Therefore, before using the agave as a sweetener, we advise you to inquire and find products that are really a valid and healthier alternative to sugar.
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