When it comes to succulents, few plants are as beautiful and easy to work with as the Agave attenuata. The attenuata is a native of Mexico and is found throughout the Southwest and South America. It often enjoys the spotlight in many sunny locations of the garden.
Very light green in color, almost the classic “sea foam” green color you can see at the beach on a windy day, this agave is one of my favorite succulents. It is not classified as an aloe and neither is it a cactus. It is an agave from the family agavaceae.
This particular agave does not have thorns making it a very user-friendly plant. It also comes in a dark blue color called the Nova or Foxtail agave. Another striking cultivar is the variegated variety. It is similar to the green attenuata but is decorated with striped white and green leaves.
Having such a beautiful foliage, the variegated agave doesn’t quite have the sturdy constitution of the plain green attenuata and rarely grows pups or in clumps to the dismay of many horticulturalists. The common green attenuata, however, moves well from location to location and recovers rapidly or shows no sign of shock after a good quick transplant.
Some of my own attenuatas (planted in groups of course) are placed in full sun. During the heat of a high summer day, I have noticed some bleaching and actual burning on their leaves. Just like you and I, the fleshy leaves of this fine succulent can be sunburned and although they can tolerate the salt air planted by the sea, be careful of the cold.
Having thick fleshy leaves like it does, the attenuata does not fair very well in below freezing temperatures. The water-storing leaves and their large cell structures freeze quickly through the thin epidermis and turn an ugly black when the temperatures are 28 degrees or below for any length of time. If a clear Santa Ana night rolls through in early winter, be prepared to cover your agaves with some thick plastic.
A small tea light candle lit and placed under the plastic late in the evening on the ground near your agave will prevent a freeze. Sort of like a miniature smudge pot, without the orange grove.
Because the attenuatta grows very slowly, it sometimes takes 10 to 15 years before it matures and flowers. As a result, large container material for specimen-sized plants in this species is very costly. One of my favorite tricks for using the Agave attenuatta is to find large old growth plants in a neglected grouping and harvest them using a hand saw.
If you cut the curving trunk behind the head and leave approximately a foot or so of trunk on the plant, this portion can be placed directly in loose or mounded soil with the head of the agave pointed up and out towards the observer. Many times, air roots are already in evidence along the trunk and will immediately take root if watered correctly during this transplant phase.
Don’t bruise or bend the fleshy leaves during the harvesting or transplanting of this plant. The foliage will not recover and become unsightly. Another good trick to help the aesthetics of a battered and bruised agave is to take a very sharp razor knife and cut laterally down from the opposite edge of the triangular leaf creating a new sharp pointed tip while eliminating the existing broken, smashed or discolored one. Usually the leaf will remain green and attractive until such a time as the plant has recovered. The leaves may also be removed completely from the stalk as well.
Being a lazy, low-maintenance type of guy, I love the attenuata because it hardly ever needs any care. The only down side to this plant is that when it finally does flower (which in itself is a very beautiful thing), that individual head begins to fade and eventually dies.
When planting the Agave attenuata in your yard, remember to put it where the soil drains well and keep the snails away from it. Water it infrequently because it is fairly drought tolerant and always let it bask in the sun.
Filed Under: Local Roots