Agave Americana


November is a notoriously finicky month in my region; a mild autumn day can become a freezing night with little warning. If I’m not on my toes, this can be fatal for tender houseplants and tropicals left out in the garden. In the past, a day’s warning was sufficient for gathering all the plants to stow away in my garage or lathe house for winter. But my hectic travel schedule has forced me to become better prepared. I’m not always home when Old Man Winter strikes.

If I had to describe my usual level of preparedness, I’m more like Aesop’s live-for-today grasshopper rather than the plan-for-tomorrow ant. But I’ve learned incorporating a little vigilance into my lifestyle is better than to coming home to a frostbitten garden.

My greatest anxiety always centers on my Agave americana ‘Marginata’, or century plant. Purchased at an end-of-the-season sale, this plant has grown into an important focal point in my garden. The form and color are so interesting, that your eye is immediately drawn to it. The spiky, succulent blades can reach lengths of over 6 feet and often curl gracefully making the plant look somewhat like the head of Medusa.

Agave americana can take a certain amount of cold (41 degrees F), but the combination of sudden and extreme drops in temperatures and high rainfall is too much for it.

When I bought my agave it fit in a 1-gallon container and I simply kept it on the kitchen table during winter. Since then it has grown into a 4-foot tall behemoth with a cluster of babies gathered around the base. And while the blades are beautiful from a distance, they have sharp spines and tips. The thought of moving it produces a high level of procrastination that is only surpassed by my fear of losing it to cold weather.

So with the help of a close friend and thick gloves, I should have my agave tucked away in the garage by the end of the week, well before the first hard freeze. With this task out of the way, I can relax, enjoy the final days of autumn, and be the grasshopper that I truly am.