Growing Agave Attenuata in a Pot

Agaves are plants that lend themselves to be easily grown in pots and Agave attenuata is no exception. Because of it’s drought tolerance it’s a plant that won’t drop dead if you forget to water it every second day over summer. Another great thing about Agave attenuata is that it’s really easy to propagate from cuttings and the one I’m about to show you is one that I propagated from a large cutting about 18 months ago.

I’d been meaning to repot it for sometime as when I propagated it I placed the cutting in the pot to about 3/4 of the depth of the pot and I could now see the roots starting to appear at the surface of the potting mix so I knew it was starting to get a bit root bound.

The other thing I’d done was place the old black plastic pot I planted in inside a slightly larger clay pot. This is something I commonly do as black pots aren’t the most appealing pots and I don’t always like to plant straight into clay pots as they are porous and can dry out the potting mix before the plant gets the chance to take advantage of all the moisture. My theory is that because the black pot has vertical ribs on the inside it makes the roots grow straight down and stops coiling. It also has better drainage holes at the base as most clay pots only have one small hole in the bottom than can clog with roots after a while (you can drill extra holes in clay pots with a masonry drill which is something I’ve also done).

Also when you want repot your plant the plastic pot usually pulls quite easily out of the clay pot and then the plant pulls easily out of the plastic pot. Well that’s the theory anyway……………but not in this case.

So when it came time to repot my Agave attenuata I couldn’t get the plastic pot out of the clay pot. The roots had coiled so tightly inside the plastic it had expanded so much that it was jammed inside the clay pot. Now normally with most plants I would have had to break the clay pot to get it out but I decided that I was going to put this Agave attenuata to the test and see just how strong those roots were.

My solution was to pull on the short trunk as hard as I could and just pull it out (shock, horror). Now I have to say that there aren’t many plants that I’d do this to but I’d decided that the worst case scenario was that I’d just rip the roots right off the end of the trunk and I’d end up with a stem with no roots, which was pretty much exactly where I was with this plant 18 months ago when it was just a cutting.

So that’s exactly what I did. Pull on the trunk as hard I could. First though I did loosen as much potting mix as I could in an attempt to get it out of the plastic pot. This though, wasn’t going to happen as the roots had grown through the drainage holes and the only way to get it out of the plastic pot was to cut the roots off the bottom. Unfortunately though these were still inside the clay pot so they were inaccessible. So once I’d loosened as much potting mix as possible I pulled on the trunk as hard as I could and eventually with quite a bit of effort, the Agave still attached to it’s roots, plus the plastic pot, came loose from the inside of the clay pot and here’s what it looked like. A tangled mess of roots (and just after 18 months).

Agave-Attenuatta-1Agave-Attenuatta-2Now the decision I had to make was what to do next. For me this was a pretty easy decision.

If you’ve ever watched gardening programs on TV I’m sure you’ve heard the presenter tell you that when planting a plant that you should “take it out of the pot and then carefully tease the coiled roots so they’re nice and straight”.

Well I’d have to say that this is good advice as roots will continue to grow in a circle in the ground if this is what they’d been doing in the pot but I’d also say that there’s no need to be careful about it.

I treat roots like I do branches and limbs and if they need to be pruned then that’s exactly what happens, they get pruned. Now I’d have admit that this is a pretty extreme example of a plant that’s root bound but I also do this to any plant that I plant that has roots that have coiled around the inside of the pot.

Agave-Attenuatta-3Therefore the first thing I did was cut off the excess roots to get the plant out of the black plastic pot. This then exposed the extent of the roots inside the pot. As you can see it was quite root bound inside the pot as well so the next step was to cut off any coiled and crooked roots which was exactly what I did.

Agave-Attenuatta-4This then left me with a nice tidy root ball that was ready to be replanted. The other thing I did was soak the rootball in a diluted seaweed extract mixed with water for a few minutes to help it recover from “it’s surgery”.

It was then a case of either replanting it in the ground or back into the pot. I chose the later and I used the same pot the second around time around again as well. I will have to keep an eye on it though and maybe repot it in 12 months this time instead of 18.

Agave-Attenuatta-5So if you’re growing Agave attenuata in a pot don’t leave it too long to check out if it’s getting root bound and if it is, hopefully you won’t need to go to the same extent I did to remedy the problem.

Agave attenuata has a very extensive root system so I suppose at the end of the day it’s just as well, as that’s just one of the reasons why it’s such a  drought tolerant plant.

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31 Responses to Growing Agave Attenuata in a Pot

  • nandi says:

    I have a question you might be able to help me with.
    I found this plant at the dump- some guy dropped a few very large plants right infront of me and I couldn’t resists. I loaded them into my car and brought them home with me! The problem is, he obviously just used a saw and cut the plants from the ground. No roots attached, just a long woody stem. The plants still look very healthy, just a little bruised. I would love to give these plants a chance to survive. Could I cut the woody stem so that it is shorter? It is about 60cm long, and then soak it in seaweed solution and then put it in some dry soil? In the past Ive had a play with little ones, with no problems, I’m just not game to take a risk with the big ones. Any help would be fantastic! They are such beautiful plants 🙂

    • Rebel Gardener says:

      Hi Nandi, Although you haven’t mentioned it I’m assuming the plant is Agave Attenuata? It’s certainly worth a try. I’ve propagated this plant before from large cuttings. I use Multicrop plant starter as a rooting hormone but there are many others. I turned the plant upside down and then tipped the plant starter on the exposed cut until it soaked in. Not sure if the seaweed solution would promote root growth but soaking the base in a solution with water before placing it in the medium will hopefully encourage the plant to draw it up and help the top of the plant survive while it grows roots, although this is not critical with this plant (being a succulent) as the cutting should survive for some time without any attention at all. I then just planted my cutting straight in some quality potting mix. You can leave the stem whatever length that suits you, either long or short. It you want you can even plant it straight into the final pot you’d like to display it in. Make sure you place it in a sheltered position until the roots form. Best of luck.

  • jennifer says:

    HI Rebel Gardner. I am sad because they are coming to chop a BIG tree from my garden It,s a Chinese Elm. Enough said. Getting back to Agave I have one in a small clay pot and it has grown a very tall stem { about 1 ft. long with a small tuft on top. After I repot the top bit, can I cut the remaining stem into 3or 4 pieces thus making 4 extra,s. I am trying to repot another plant but can,t remember the name.. thanks

    • Rebel Gardener says:

      It’s always sad when you here a large tree is be removed. I’ve never tried cutting the stem into smaller pieces but I do believe it should work. Once the roots have established you should then get buds forming on the the top. Then be selective which ones you want to keep. You can keep them all or just pinch out the buds you don’t want. Just remember you may not get the long straight stem you originally had but if you bury most of the original stems then you may be able to get the stem to grow straight up. Also I make sure you plant the stems the correct way up. I know this is common sense but sometimes it’s worth reminding. Best of luck

  • Gail says:

    I have two pots which have agaves rootbound any simple solution to remove them maybe poison to get them out. I want to save my pots as I would like to reuse them .

    • Rebel Gardener says:

      Hi I don’t think poison is the way to go. Try using a sharp knife and run it around the inside of the pot to sever the roots.

  • Ruth says:

    If the centre of an Agave Attenuata has been broken off, will the plant survive and the centre regrow?

    • Rebel Gardener says:

      You can replant the piece that’s broken off, into a new pot and then let it regrow roots (make sure you keep it protected until the roots grow). The stem that is still in the ground should develop buds not long after and new shoots will regrow. You can decide which shoots you want to grow and then pinch out the rest.

  • Monica H. says:

    i repotted an Agave macroacantha today and found small little bulbs in amongst the roots, about the size of a grape maximum. is this normal? could i use these to propagate the plant?

    • admin says:

      Hi Monica, Haven’t come across these before but if you cut some off with the roots and replant them there’s a fair chance you’ll get a new plant.

  • Maggy J says:

    Hi Rebel Gardener

    Like Ruth – the centre of my Agave was torn off by a night time teenage thrill seeker. The bulk of the plant was left intact, only the very central part of the “flower” was removed. As the plant is in a bottomless pot planted in my garden I am not quite sure what to do with it. Will it continue to grow or should I cut it at the stem and hope for a new agave to grow from the stem? Thanks

    • admin says:

      I’m very sorry to hear that. It should regrow off-shoots from the stem. These may not grow vertical though, and may grow out horizontally before the grow upright. I would wait to see what happens. If you don’t like the habit you can always prune off the new shoots and then propagate them as new plants. Agave Attenuata will grow easily from cuttings, even large ones.

  • JEFF says:

    We have Agave growing high above the existing pots and we would like to have them sitting lower in the pots. Can we cut the stems (30mm dia) say 250mm below the head and replant the stem and head without affecting the head. Or do we have to re-pot them into higher/larger pots.


    • admin says:

      Hi Jeff, You can cut them off to whatever length you require and repot them as you would with cuttings. Just make sure you keep them sheltered/protected until the roots regrow. You can also cut the stem with the existing roots to whatever length and it should regrow as well.

  • Sheila Hale says:

    I have just purchased 4 Agave attenuata pups from a grower and potted them up into 8 inch pots. One I put into a large glazed, blue terracotta pot. They are about 4 inches high at the moment. How long will they take to grow to say 1 foot.

    • admin says:

      Sheila, They aren’t the fastest growers. They will take at least a couple of years if not longer, They will grow quicker if you plant them in the ground in a friable soil. You can always dig them out when they are older if you like and then pot them up.

  • Sandra says:

    Hi Rebel Gardener,
    I’ve had several pots of Agave growing in my yard for years. None of them have sprouted pups. Are there male and female versions of the plant and could it be that my pots are only male versions of the plant?

    • admin says:

      Sandra, Most of mine haven’t sprouted pups either. If you want some pups, cut off the main stem just above ground level and treat it as a large cutting. Repot it and it should regrow roots. Then with the original plant, which is now a stump your should get pups. As they grow you can then cut them of as cuttings if the they grow from the stem and those growing from the ground you can remove with roots and repot.

  • Sandra says:

    Excellent – thanks!

  • Debbie says:

    Hi there
    Can you possibly help me?I have a large agave with a long tall stem planted in a pot. The stem appears to have become rotten and at the base (we have had seriously heavy monsoon like rain) and the whole thing toppled over. I thought the plant would die but realised yesterday that the middle is actually sprouting very healthy looking large new growth. The stem also has long strands coming out of it. Can I just cut the base off and the strands will take root? I would love to be able to save this plant a it is so beautiful. Thanks – Debbiey

    • admin says:

      Hi Debbie, Yes, just cut it off above the rotten bit and then place it back in a pot and wait for roots to grow. Make sure you keep it sheltered until you see a sign of roots.

  • Carlee says:

    Dear Rebel Gardner,

    I have 2 agave that have been in pots on my patio but are now taking up too much room reaching out for the sun. I am thinking of planting them out in the garden but am a little worried that their root system may take over my garden if planted out. Do you think this is a valid concern?

    • admin says:

      I have agave growing in amongst yuccas, cactus and succulents and they seem to be in harmony. I always try to plant, plants together that have similar requirements of water, fertiliser, sun etc. Position is always important for any plant.

  • Sarah says:

    Hi. I have a well-established agave attenuata which has done well for many years in a large pot. This year it has sprouted some pups for the first time but they have appeared between the leaf axils rather than in the soil around the mother plant. I don’t think my chances of successfully removing the pups is very high as they would have to be cut out and will have no roots, but what I am really concerned about is why this has happened. Is this evidence that the mother plant needs re-potting?

    • admin says:

      Sarah you can cut off the pups and grow them as cuttings if you wish. Agave Attenuatta does have quick growing roots. If you haven’t root pruned it for some time then I’d say that is probably due, irrespective of whether it has pups or not.

  • Felicia Vertrees says:

    Hi! I recently bought several agave from a yard sale. In general, how often should you water it? Also, one has a smaller plant growing from the main stem. How can I remove this to make another plant?

    • admin says:

      Watering depends on many factors. If you have it in a pot it will need water more often. I water mine 2 or 3 time a week in summer but if it’s really hot, more often. Just cut of the pup and place into a smaller pot with potting mix and then wait for the roots to grow. Make sure you keep the potting mix just moist.

  • Kim says:

    I have two Agave’s. I am about to re-pot one thanks to your information above. My other Agave is in a large pot but it’s stem has fallen forward and as a result it is being bumped as we walk to and from the front door. Is there a way I can straighten it up, and how do I prevent my re-potted plant from doing this? Thanks

  • Renee says:

    Hi, we recently purchased several very large agave plants. They had been cut out of the ground without the roots 2 weeks prior to purchasing. How long will they surviv without replanting? Have we wasted money purchasing? Regards.

    • admin says:

      If you pot them up now and place them in sheltered position they should grow roots. Put a little rooting hormone on the end as well but it’s not essential.

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