Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Removing the dead carcass of my Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’

I’m sure you’ve been lying awake at night wondering what’s happening to the dying carcass of the the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ near the front door. It started to send up a flower stalk last fall and the first flowers opened up in February 2015. By May 2015 most flowers were gone and bulbils (live miniature plants) started to appear on the flower stalk. Eventually there were many hundreds, maybe even thousands of bulbils. In early August 2015 we cut down the flower stalk because it was blocking access to the front door. A few weeks later I harvested the bulbils, keeping the best-looking ones and tossing the rest into the yard waste.

Now it was time to remove the dead carcass. Initial efforts to simply pull the rosette out of the soil failed. Time for plan B: bring out the electric reciprocating saw with a 9-inch blade.

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This agave species, like most, dies after flowering—a behavior called “monocarpic.”

Feeling quite chipper, I slashed through the leaves with speed and panache.

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Until I saw the first signs of mealybug infestation. Really? Here too? Is there anywhere they won’t go? Not that they can damage a plant that’s already dead

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10 minutes later the agave rosette looked like a pineapple:

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Since it still wouldn’t come out, I cut through the soil, eventually severing the roots that held the rosette in place.

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Here it is, conquered and defeated…

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…and—literally!—kicked to curb for yard waste pickup.

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There were mealybugs on the underside of many leaves. F$%§ buggers!

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There’s quite a hole now where this agave had lived for the past six years:

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On the plus side, I uncovered a few succulents that had been living in the shadows of this mighty agave. On the right in the photo above is an Aloe ‘Fire Ranch’ (Aloe vaotsanda × Aloe divariacata) that has developed quite a stem—albeit a lateral one. In the photo below you see an Aloe falcata on the left and an Agave parryi ‘JC Raulston’ on the right.

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Agave parryi ‘JC Raulston’ really needed a new home so I dug it up. Bad news: There were mealybugs in the soil and they had apparently been nibbling on the roots, almost killing the plant (as evidenced by the much larger but dead leaves around the surviving rosette). Good news: After removing the dead leaves and roots and thoroughly washing the plant, it looks well enough to thrive in fresh soil. I’ll find a new home for it later.

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The Aloe ‘Fire Ranch’ will come out, too. It’ll be moved to the new succulent bed that will replace the front lawn later this fall. I think if I prop it up, it’ll be four feet tall. Maybe it will finally flower, like this one in Old Town San Diego.

13 comments:

  1. Do you have to treat the soil where the mealy bugs were?

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    1. See below. There's not much you can do, short of using insecticides.

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  2. Once you get over the shock of losing a plant that was a key part of your landscape, there's a certain freedom in envisioning what's next. I'm glad the clean-up (wake?) gave you an opportunity to rescue other plants in the shadow of the agave.

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    1. In this case, I do focus more on the positives--a whole new look for this bed. I'm giving myself enough time to think this through so I get it right the first time.

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  3. Thank goodness you let us know, I need the rest after all of those sleepless nights of wondering! Looks like quite a feat to remove the carcass but now you've some empty space with which to play.

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    1. Of course I can't leave well enough alone. Now I thinking of taking out other plants in this bed and going for a more complete makeover...

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  4. Well done! I was going to ask the same thing Becky did. Are you worried about the other plants in the area?

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    1. Very good question. Since I don't want to dump a lot of nasty chemicals on the soil (which might kill beneficial organisms faster and more effectively than mealybugs), I probably won't do anything. I may selectively treat plants showing signs of infestation with a systemic, like Imidacloprid, but only as a last resort.

      I know, not a very satisfying answer...

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  5. Mine lifted right off, not out of, the ground, they had no root systems left at all. Much drier here, probably. Lots of mealies here too, unfortunately. I've been spraying a lot of alcohol. It's those blankety-blank ants.

    Agaves being monocarpic is not bad at all, don't you think? Gives opportunity for re-vamping areas.

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    1. Most roots were dead but there was one long one that prevent it from lifting right off.

      Yes, I've seen ants too. I guess they could be the culprits, seeing how they're known to farm mealies...

      As you said, monocarpism is often a good thing. I do look forward to mixing things up in this area next to the front door.

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  6. Gee, now I have to let mine know it's mom died. I guess I should drive by and pay my respects.

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    1. Yard waste pickup was yesterday. You'd have to go to the landfill :-).

      Best not to say anything to your baby.

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  7. Ah to have an Agave in the ground that is so big it can't be pulled out...

    So glad we don't have mealy bugs here (AFAIK).

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