Agave musical chairs

Like kids outgrowing their clothes, plants often outgrow the space where they were originally planted. Case in point: the mounded succulent bed next to our front door:


For kicks, take look at what this area looked like on May 1, 2009 shortly after it had been planted:


Sure, the bed looks good at first glance, but there are two things that have been bothering me. The Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ on the right has way too many pups. I shouldn’t have let it go that long, especially since the pups are easy to remove when young—just pull.


Secondly, my lovely Agave schidigera has gotten completely buried under the hulking Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ behind it. Yes, there is an agave in there somewhere. I also hated that dwarf papyrus-like thing growing under there in virtually dry soil—I have no idea what it was or where it came from.


The plan of attack was as simple: remove the entire clump of Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, extricate the Agave schidigera and plant it where the Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ had been.

The Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ came up very easily. Wearing my trusty welder’s gloves, I first pulled off as many pups as I could. Then I used a shovel to lift out the mother plant and the remaining pups.

I ended up with quite a few offsets:


Here’s the mother plant (top left) and some of the larger babies:


Next I removed the remaining roots of Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ and loosened the soil a little.


Then began the sweatiest and most time-consuming phase: removing the Agave schidigera. I didn’t take any pictures since I was working hard but believe me, I cursed a time or two. I basically had to sever all the roots first because I had very little to grab onto and yank. But as is always the case, perseverance prevailed and eventually I had the agave out.

After a bit of cleaning and grooming, I planted it in the same spot previously occupied by Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ and then stabilized it with a few flat rocks. Now it needs to establish new roots, which shouldn’t take long.




140529_frontdoor_succ_bed_020  140529_frontdoor_succ_bed_024

The backside that been towards the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ is pretty squished. It should straighten out over time.


Hard to believe this fairly large Agave schidigera (26 in. across) had been under that Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’!


This is a truly beautiful species, and I’m glad I’ll be able to enjoy it in all its splendor now.



Guess what else I found in front of where the Agave schidigera had been: a small Agave parviflora with a couple of babies. I remember planting it years ago, but I thought it had perished. Nope, it had been fighting all this time for light and water but it didn’t die.


This is one the smallest agave species and looks very ornamental in a container. I’ll dig it one and put it in a nice pot this weekend.


So what am I going to do with the Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’? The mother plant will go in a large pot in the backyard and the pups will be given away. I’ll meet a few succulent fanatics tomorrow for the Garden Conservancy’s East Bay Open Day and they will get some. If you live in the Sacramento area and would like a pup, let me know!


  1. What a lot of work! Hey can I get some pups from you for my area? I have your truncata. Looks great by the way!

    1. Candy, of course. I have several agaves for you if you want them.

  2. Oh, I would love one for the school garden, if there are any left! Sue

    1. I always keep some aside for you. You can have one, two, three... I have a few other things too. Let's touch base next week.

  3. You can almost hear the agave schidigera breathing a sigh of relief now that it's been prized out of under the variegated desmettiana.

    1. I bet it was! First I considered cutting off the lower leaves of the Agave desmettiana to give the Agave schidigera more room, but that wouldn't have been a satisfying solution.

  4. First, I know it's been almost 5 years, but those got huge! Second, I thought you were talking about removing the really big one on the left, and I almost cried out "WHY?!" (early morning reading)

    The final result looks really great! This example supports what I remember Alan Titchmarsh saying on an old "Ground Force" episode once: when planting things that are going to take several years to fill in, don't worry about planting them too closely together. You'll enjoy them more that way and can always move them once it starts getting crowded. :)

    1. Whoa, no, I'll let the big Agave desmettiana go to flower. Apparently this species is one of the quickest to bloom at age 7-9. So mine could flower as early as next year.

      I love what Alan Titchmarsh said. Unconsciously, I seem to have adopted that as my gardening philosophy since I'm always moving plants :-).

  5. Oh my! Gerhard the growth of those plants is just amazing. I am a bit jealous as that would never happen here. The after looks just splendid.

    I also like Alan's Alan quote, life is too short to leave space between your plants! Oh and why do I see blue spray paint on the mother plant of the Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ and on your lawn?

    1. Although--or maybe because--I see these plants every day, I didn't really have a good idea of how fast they had grown until I dug up that old photo from 5 years ago.

      I had no idea what you meant by "blue spray paint," but then I looked at that photo and saw you were referring to. I have no idea why it appears that way in a browser. The real photo isn't like that. I dialed down the blue channel and reposted the photo. The weird blue artefacts should be gone now. In other words: no spray paint.


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