Agave are wonderful specimens to include in your San Antonio landscapes. They bring textural interest to your surroundings while providing an evergreen, low maintenance and low water usage plant.  They love the sunshine and the heat it produces, most can even tolerate reflected heat. The biggest needs you need to be concerned about when planting agaves, or other desert specimens for that matter, is soil drainage and proper planting techniques. Lucky for you, we’ve got what you need to know all tucked into this blog.  

Planting Needs for Agave/Desert Specimens

Agave, and all other desert specimens, need EXTREMELY well-drained soil. Sandy, loamy soil is best as this is their native habitats type of soil. Extremely well-draining soil prevents what we call “wet feet” which is what happens when roots are left too long in standing water. “Wet feet” are the kiss of death for agave and other desert specimens.

If you are interested in planting agave in your landscape and you have heavy clay soil (the opposite of sandy, loamy soil), you’ll need to heavily amend your native soil.  Products like lava sand, expanded shale or other sand products will help to give you a soil that drains sufficiently enough for desert specimens to thrive.

Don’t know if your native soil is well-draining? Dig the hole in the area you desire to plant in. Fill up the hole with water and time how long it takes to drain. If you watch is ticking past 20 seconds or longer, you will need to amend the heck out of your soil before attempting to plant. (See berm planting section below for another option.)

Octopus Agave

(Octopus agave, how cool is this?)

Planting Tips for Agaves/Desert Specimens

Removing Agave from Plastic Containers:

  1. Carefully cut the bottom off the plastic pot with a utility knife.
  2. Set the pot in the hole and make a vertical slice through the side of the plastic pot, disturbing as little of the roots as possible. Gently remove the plastic pot from around the agave.
  3. Take a look at the specimen set in the hole from all angles. Gently adjust positioning of agave specimen if needed.
  4. Backfill hole with amended soil. Make sure final soil level in hole is level with surrounding soil.

Removing Agave from Wooden Containers:

  1. Use a rubber mallet and knock the bottom off of the wooden container.
  2. Set the container in the hole and gently knock the sides off of the wooden container, disturbing as little of the roots as possible. Remove the wooden sides from the hole.

Follow steps 3 – 4 from above to finish planting.

Splendida Agave

(Splendida agave)

Berm Planting Agave/Desert Specimens

If you have especially heavy clay soil that prevents adequate draining in your landscape or you can’t dig a hole as deep as the container your agave is in, berm planting is a great alternative. This way the rootball can be elevated above heavy clay soil and instead of new roots getting drowned in waterlogged, ill-draining soil, they can reach down when they need to take up moisture up.

Berm Planting: Remove agave specimen as advised in steps 1- 2 above, according to if your transplant is in a plastic or wooden container.

  1. Dig at least 8″ down into the soil, and still only twice as wide as the rootball.
  2. Set specimen in designated area and build a soil pile (a berm) up around the rootball, being sure to cover the rootball completely.  You should have about ….. wide of a berm created.
  3. Finishing up with some decorative rock or other landscape material could help prevent soil erosion.
Skarkskin agave.

(Another cool one: Sharkskin agave)

Extra Tips for Agave

After planting your agave, plan on watering it every 4-5 days for the next couple of months. Throughout the summer heat you can plan on watering every couple of weeks. During early fall, plan on ceasing regular watering as agaves begin to harden off in preparation for winter. 

Early fall and spring are the best times for planting agave in San Antonio.

Look for agaves that are native to Central Texas, or the Chiuhuahuan Desert, as these will be more cold hardy and be able to survive our occasionally cold winters without protection. 

~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy