This Crème Brûlée isn’t so tasty

While we had above-average rain in early and mid-December, there has been very little precipitation since then. In addition, the coldest temperature we’ve had this winter was 28°F on January 2 and 3, and that only lasted for a couple of hours each time.

With this in mind, it’s even more baffling why my Agave guiengola ‘Crème Brûlée’ ended up like this:


Yes, this is a fairly frost-sensitive species (San Marcos Growers rates it hardy to 25°F), but I just don’t see how this could be frost damage.


I’ve never twirled an agave leaf before!

In addition, it’s not the pattern you’d see if the plant were rotting from excess moisture. That kind of damage typically starts in the crown and spreads outward.


Here, the rot starts toward the middle of the leaves and spreads from there.


The pups are affected as well.



I dug up the mother plant and the roots look fine.


I popped off the babies but after removing the rotting leaves, I was left with only one viable pup (on the right).


I have no idea what’s going on here. All I know is that I waited too long to intervene. If I had dug up the plant and removed the rotting leaves weeks ago, I might have been able to save the mother and more of the pups.

This isn’t the first Agave guiengola ‘Crème Brûlée’ I’ve lost. A much smaller plant succumbed to frost damage four years ago. (I can’t remember the damage pattern but it may have been the same or similar.) I suspect this species is not as hardy as reported, or else there’s a curse on it that only affects me.

I’m officially giving up on Agave guiengola, especially since its leaves sustain blemishes so easily. Even at its best, my plant was never as attractive as what you see here. There are plenty of other agaves that would be more rewarding to grow; I’ll let you know what I will plant instead.


Laura Balaoro said…
Amen! No more frost sensitive Agaves out in the open garden for me too.
Luisa said…
Aaaaaah...!! [covers eyes] That does not look good. (Was it in the shade, by any chance? Of course, they also burn easily...)

After the snow here, I swore I'd never have another A. attenuata... and now I have three little guiengolas, oy. On the other hand, there are so many great-looking agaves :~) I'll be interested to see what you plant in the guiengola's place.
Mark and Gaz said…
Shame to see that Gerhard but funny enough my smaller Creme Brulee suffered the same fate and it was already in a heated greenhouse. Odd!
Alan said…
I hate the mysterious plant deaths/damage, but it sounds like you're not alone with this one. Maybe it's just not a very hardy cultivar? More room for something else now!
Unknown said…

Have you tried laying down a thick layer of porous rock mulch? I only ask because the species grows on rock outcrops and the soil splatter could be depositing organic matter on leaves that normally receive none thus inclining them to rot. The variegate would likely be less hardy than the species, but blocking the leaves from soil splatter might improve the outcome for you.

Just a thought.


danger garden said…
I know what happened. I cursed it by admiring it (and posting a photo saying so). I'm sorry.
sue said…
You might want to email Brian Kemble at the Ruth Bancroft garden to see if he can shine any light on why your agave is doing this. I suspect a bacterial infection from dirt splashing up on the leaves from the ground. Growing it potted in sterile potting soil with a gravel topping may be the only way to keep it alive. If it's in the bed by your driveway, could it have been covered with leaves for a while as well?
Yes, mostly shade. Maybe too much shade.

I know what you mean about A. attenuata. I've said the same thing so many times! My A. attenuata 'Ray of Light' made it through the winter with no damage, as did my much larger 'Boutin Blue'. But long term, A. attenuata is not a good fit for our climate--too hot in the summer, just a bit too cold in the winter.
Oh no!! What is it with this cultivar? It seems to be a sensitive thing.

I've had the same negative experience with Agave mitis [aka celsii] 'Multicolor'. I've killed two, and yet my regular A. mitis and my A. mitis 'Nova' are thriving. Go figure!
More room is always good. Maybe something else entirely. Not sure yet.
Oh no! You looked at almost all of my plants!!
Daniel, I think you hit the nail on the head. No rock mulch, just dirt, and the heavy rains we had in early December definitely splattered some mud on the leaves.

The sad thing is that I have plenty of rock mulch left over and could easily have protected this plant.
Sue, I think you and Daniel are right about contamination from the soil. This cultivar clearly isn't very tough.

It was in the backyard, by the way, and while it wasn't covered with leaves, there were some bay leaves trapped underneath it.
Unknown said…
Well, pup and core of mother look good, might be a fun experiment -- you could do a pre-post post { ;) } next year this time comparing outcomes after mulch intervention.

Considering how good the roots look, I would think with such protection the plant would do well for you. Keep in mind, however, that these don't stay small and can get gigantic. See photos I took at RSN with Kent Houser of Mysterious Gardens for scale:

Of course, Kelly says that that is only occurring because of the RSN steroids they fertilize with, but still . . .
Denise said…
Unless it grows big into a flawless, pristine specimen, it's kind of a gawky thing anyway. Lots of other agaves to love.
I agree! I think an Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' would look great as a replacement. I may have a lead on one...
Hoover Boo said…
Well, that's gardening. However 'Stained Glass' is so spectacular, I don't think you'll miss 'Creme Brulee' much at all.