The Agave americana century plant is a majestic succulent that turns any garden into a showstopper.
Its blue-green or gray-green rosette leaves can grow up to 6 feet long and 10 inches wide – with the central stem reaching 20 feet tall at maturity. The leaves have serrated sharp edges and needle-like spines on the tip.
Although people once believed that century plants had a lifespan of 100 years, hence the name ‘century’, they only live for an average of 30 years.
The century plant is monocarpic – it will only flower once in its lifetime, then die shortly afterward.
When mature, the plant uses its many years of stored energy to produce brightly colored yellow flowers perched on the central stem.
It leaves behind offsets – also called pups for a more common name – that you can propagate to carry on the agave plant’s legacy.
Agave americana is native to Mexico and is also known as maguey plant, Mexican soap plant, or American aloe, although the common name is century plant.
The century plant is drought-resistant, low-maintenance, and quite striking, making it popular among garden enthusiasts. However, many gardeners still struggle with growing this succulent.
Read on to learn how to grow and nurture your Agave americana century plant to full bloom.
Best Conditions for Growing the Majestic Century Plant
How do you know if your garden is ideal for growing the Agave americana century plant?
Here are some points to consider before planting your agave plant.
Grow Your Agave Plant in the Sun
The majestic Agave americana thrives in desert-like conditions. It loves the sun and favors USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11, which have temperatures ranging from 10 degrees to as high as 50 degrees Celsius.
Don’t sweat if you don’t live in one of these zones. Just give your agave plant as much sunshine as possible.
If you plant indoors, place the pot in a spot that receives maximum sunlight.
Occasionally take the plant outdoors to bask, but keep away from sudden direct sunlight to prevent sunburn.
Use Well-Draining Soil
The Agave americana prefers sandy or loamy soils that are light and well-drained. This succulent has a weak root system so plant in porous soils to allow penetration.
If the soil in your yard is too moist, worry not. You can cheaply make your own potting soil.
Give Your Agave Americana Space to Grow
Maya, a 60-year-old century plant, grew over 38 feet tall and shot through the roof of her home at Garfield Park Conservatory. That’s how tall century plants can get. When planting one in your garden, consider the vertical space it will need to grow.
Also, plant away from foot traffic as the spiky leaves may injure children and pets.
How to Care for the Plant
Like most succulents, the majestic plant century requires very minimal care.
Here are some practical tips to help you take care of your agave plant.
Over-watering your century plant will cause the roots to rot and the succulent gray-green leaves to droop – and your plants will eventually die.
After planting, water the century plant agave more frequently, about once every three days for a month, until the roots take hold. Once established, only water once a week.
Always ensure that the soil has dried out before watering again.
If the soil in your yard is too moist, consider planting the American aloe in a pot where you can control the growing conditions such as pH and soil drainage using a potting mix.
Fertilizing your century plant encourages faster maturity; and the faster it matures, the sooner it will flower and die. Since the plant can survive without fertilizer, no need to speed its maturity.
However, you may opt to use organic fertilizer on young plants to encourage rooting and establishment. For potted plants, fertilize sparingly because all the nutrients are confined within the pot.
Use a slow-releasing fertilizer to avoid over-fertilizing, which will speed up growth and cause your plant to become weak.
When your plant starts looking too big for the pot, the roots stick out of the drainage holes or the soil no longer drains well – it’s time to repot.
Luckily, century plants grow slowly so you may only need to repot once every two years.
Preventing and Controlling Pests
Most predators and pests keep away from the Agave americana century plant, mostly because of the spines on its leaves. However, the large black snout weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus) loves feasting on its green leaves.
The weevil injects bacteria on the leaves before hatching its eggs. The bacteria make the plant tissue soft so that the hatched grubs can easily digest the leaves. Eventually, the plant weakens and dies while the grubs retreat to the soil and pupate to snout weevils.
Don’t give the snout weevil a chance to destroy your majestic century plant. If you buy century plants from the store, check the soil for grubs to avoid transferring them to your garden.
Even better, don’t plant your century plants with the store’s nursery soil. Frequently scout your garden for any signs of snout weevil infestation.
Check the leaf stalk for a black hole where the weevil may puncture to inject bacteria. Also, check the lower leaves of the plants for early signs of withering.
If you notice signs of infestation by the agave snout weevil, act fast.
Here’s how to kill the agave snout weevil.
How to Propagate the Majestic Century Plant
Perhaps to account for its heartbreaking death just after it flowers, the Agave americana is a generous reproducer. You will get many pups that you can propagate in pots or directly on the ground.
Here are a few tips to help you successfully propagate the majestic century plant.
Tip 1 – Wear Protective Equipment
Get yourself some goggles and gloves to protect yourself against the spiky leaves.
Tip 2 – Choose the Right Pup
Look for pups that have grown about 5 inches from the mother plant. These pups have more developed roots, hence a better survival rate when transplanted.
Dig away from the base of the pup, about five inches, to avoid damaging the spread-out roots.
Separate the pup from the major roots and dust with sulfur powder to prevent the freshly cut roots from fungal infection and rot.
Tip 3 – Plant Your Pup Immediately
Prepare your pot with the right potting mix or choose a spot in your garden that receives ample sunlight and has well-drained soil.
You may apply a rooting hormone to promote faster growth before planting your pup.
Tip 4 – Water Sparingly
During the first month, water at least once every five days until the pup establishes. Scale down on the watering as your plant grows.
Treat your majestic century plant right and it will grace your landscape with its evergreen leaves for many years before it dies. Its final magnificent flower stalk is well worth the wait.
Benefits of Growing the Majestic Century Plant
Apart from making your landscape stand out, the century plant is edible.
- Bake the leaves or roast the flower stalks to get a fibrous meal.
- Ground the seeds to get flour used for thickening soups or baking bread.
- Tap and ferment the sap from the flower stalks to make pulque agave wine.
You get beauty, food, and wine from one plant. What more could a gardener ask for?
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Photo from wikimedia