Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Thursday, August 13, 2015

There's always an agave...

Ever since I heard those words by Loree of Danger Garden, I took a slightly perverse satisfaction in being an exception to that rule. What can I say? I have a somewhat contrary nature. Alas, I have joined the spiky crowd.

I was at Fred Meyers, looking for a hose for the greenhouse. Well, of course I have to swing through the outdoor plant section, just to see what's left at this time of year. Among other things, I found a nice selection of agaves from Little Prince of Oregon still available. Both labels said the two plants below were hardy to USDA zone 7. I have a particularly hot, steeply sloped spot I've been thinking of trying agaves in. Why not?
Agave x leopoldii
Agave 'Royal Spine'
The agaves were on a table full of plants that had their prices marked down by 50%. I assumed that included the agaves. At checkout, I found out otherwise, but we still paid the $6.99 for each plant.

The front entrance to my parents' house has a large ramp and steps set at a wide angle from each other. The steps, ramp, and driveway form the boundaries of a narrow bed about four to six feet wide. At the end next to the steps, it's quite steep. It slowly becomes less sloped towards the end of the ramp, like a slightly twisted ribbon. Since it faces west and is surrounded by concrete and gravel, it gets very hot on a summer afternoon. This year, it's been absolutely scorching. I originally planted this bed with some of the surplus heathers from the driveway island. They do pretty well there, for the most part, but they look sad and droopy on hot afternoons. So I determined this year to find some really heat-tolerant plants for this bed. In addition to being raised and steeply sloped, much of the soil is a gritty mineral soil with little organic matter. There is a large component of clay, making it hold together, but the grit balances that out. I've also been finding some gravel, too.
Two little agaves now share this bed with Calluna vulgaris, Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta', sempervivums. There are others, but that's what's visible in this shot.
 One of the trenches we dug earlier this summer ran along the driveway, yielding ample sharp gravel to collect to add to the planting holes for the new agaves, with a few to place around each plant on the soil surface, to improve drainage around the crown.

Of course as soon as I got home from the store, I looked up both agaves online and found one rated hardy to 8b, and the other to zone 9. I guess we'll see if Little Prince is full of...um, compost. I'd like to get a few more that are definitely hardy, like Agave parryi. One of my favorite agaves is A. bracteosa, but as it naturally grows in the light shade of pine trees, I'm not sure it would like the scorching heat of this bed. However, their native habitat is much further south than the PNW, with much more intense sunlight. Does anyone more familiar with agaves know whether A. bracteosa can handle a furnace-like exposure in the PNW?

Other plants I've tried in this bed include Penstemon rupicola, Penstemon cardwellii, Helianthemum 'Henfield's Brilliant' Euphorbia rigida, and Lavendula stoechas 'Bright Luxurios'. I started the year with three P. rupicola that I had planted a year or two ago. I'm down to two. I'm not sure if it was just the scorching heat or the fact that I watered during that heat. Our native penstemons don't generally appreciate hot, wet soil. Then again, the high elevation species like P. rupicola don't generally like lowland heat, period. The Penstemon cardwellii was a pleasant surprise, resurrecting from nothing after disappearing during the heat last summer. It seems to be handling things better this year. The three helianthemum were a bit root bound when I planted them, right before the heat kicked on this spring, and I don't think many of those poor roots have realized they have more soil to grow out into. It was a struggle to keep them watered. I finally lost one, while I think the other two, though looking tired and stressed, will survive. I also have some Sedum reflexum 'Spanish Selection' next to the steps that looks terrible right now, but that's because I chopped it to bits before I planted it. The cuttings in the greenhouse are rooted now and could be planted any time, though I'll at least wait for a few cool days in a row, or fall, whichever comes first. A Pinus mugo at the flatter end of the bed will be dug out this fall to become part of the new screen planting along the road. Nobody in this house wants to bother with pinching those sticky candles every spring to keep the pine compact enough to stay where it is.

I'm on the lookout for other super heat-tolerant plants for this bed, but the point of this post is that I have finally added agaves to my garden. You win, Loree, there's always an agave. Whether these two in particular will survive the winter remains to be seen.

11 comments:

  1. My Agave bracteosa is in full hot sun surrounded by gravel and loves it. I hope your new Agaves survive. My Agave havardiana has also been quite winter-hardy, so that might be a good one to look for too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like how you placed the rock gravel around the Agave. It looks very nice and I hope it yields success.
    I don't have a single agave (or any other thorny plant). I worry that I might back up into one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Chav. I already had quite a few spiny/thorny plants from dealing with the deer. I find I still like them even now that the fence is up. But I understand your concern, especially backing into an agave (ouch!). That's why this bed is perfect. There's little chance of anyone backing into one of these agaves, or accidentally contacting them at all.

      Delete
  3. Congrats on joining the club! I will be interested to see how these do for you, I'm hoping well. I did loose a 'Royal Spine' last winter, hopefully yours is in a better spot than mine was. I've got a couple A. bracteosa in the front garden where they deal with intense sun and reflected heat from the gravel and sidewalk/driveway. I can tell you they aren't nearly as happy as the ones in the back garden, that get shade for part of they day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hooray! Does this make me one of the cool kids now? I'll be interested to see how they do, too, especially planted this late. I'll try a few more planted next spring. I may try a bracteosa in this bed, after hearing Alison's tale, but my temperatures are usually closer to those of Portland than up her way, and this bed is especially hot.

      Delete
  4. You've fallen under the Danger spell. Before you know it that bed will be full of agave and other spiky plants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Before the agaves went in, I already had two Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta'. Those little things are sharp! The agaves should feel right at home.

      Delete
  5. You found some nice specimens. I've discovered that some agaves get sunburned but they seem to recover from that without permanent damage as they become larger and more well established. As I'm considering turning off or otherwise severely restricting water to my back slope, I'm considering adding more agaves and other succulents down there. The idea of possibly losing my balance and falling into spikes does give me pause, however (even though that has never happened).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the PNW, most agaves grow so slowly that any damage can take a long time to disappear. I'm worried enough that these things will survive without damage, let alone weakened by sunburn. You have so many choices for succulents in your area. You could have the agaves along the bottom of your back slope and plant softer things in front to cushion your fall!

      Delete
  6. None of us can hold out for long, but all of my Agaves come into the house for the winter. I tried, and lost, several in the ground, even after following Loree's guidelines to a tee.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!