Size matters: Rancho Soledad Nursery in San Diego County

The second nursery stop on my San Diego trip earlier this month was Rancho Soledad Nursery. As their tagline “Always Growing, Since 1954” suggests, they’ve been around for a long time, and they’re still the go-to source for landscapers and homeowners who want large specimens for instant impact—not just succulents, but also palms, cycads and tropicals, many of them from Rancho Soledad’s Hawaiian growing grounds. The smallest plants for sale are in 6" pots; 3 and 10 gallon are typical, and sizes go all the way to 48" boxes.

The nursery is open to the public, but most of their business is from landscape professionals. As a result, don’t expect much handholding when you visit. The upside is that you can walk around the expansive grounds (25 acres!) undisturbed; nobody will ask you what you’re doing poking around. Which is exactly what I did, snapping photos along the way.

You think these tree aloes (Aloidendron barberae) were in the ground. Wrong, they’re in large boxes and can be yours for a few grand.

Massive pony tree palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). According the Rancho Soledad availability list, 36" boxes are $1875 and up, and 48" $2500 and up.

Aloe marlothii, flowering happily in a box

Aloidendron ‘Hercules’, $719 and up

You want large agaves? No problem. Here are some Agave parryi var. truncata.

Rancho Soledad’s much sought after Agave ovatifolia ‘Orca’...

$844 in a 24" box. That’s much less than just a few years ago when large specimens cost thousands. To put this in context: Plant Delights Nursery sold Agave ovatifolia ‘Orca’ last year for $165 for a 3½" pot (yes, that’s three and a half inches).

Sometimes specimens live in boxes so long that their roots bust the wooden boards and root into the ground. I don’t know how the sago palm ended up here.

Yucca linearifolia, my favorite yucca species

Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’, sold by Rancho Soledad under the old name Furcraea gigantea ‘Striata’.

More Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’. If I lived in the right climate (zone 10), this would be one of the first succulents I’d plant.

Agave vivipara ‘Marginata’ extending into the wooden staircase that goes down from the upper sales area to the lower growing grounds. Here is a map of the nursery for orientation.

Agave potatorum ‘Spawn’ in the small display garden

Graptopetalum superbum and Encephalartos horridus in the display garden

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) laden with massive fruits

The fruits (“lignous capsules” according to Wikipedia) contain bean-sized black seeds surrounded by fluffy fibers that give the tree its common name.

The fruit is substantial, as you can see here

Boxed cycad knocked over by strong winds. At this size, they’re quite top heavy.

Variegated Aloe chabaudii

Agave potatorum

Agave potatorum

Extra fierce agave of unknown parentage

These teeth mean business

The perfect plant to keep out intruders

Wiggly terminal spines are always cool

One of my very favorite agaves, Agave vivipara ‘Woodrowii’, growing in the ground on the “Hill,” the steep slope below the upper growing areas (labeled “Aloes & Agaves Display Garden” on the nursery map)

Because there’s so little photosynthetic tissue, it grows at a maddeningly slow pace

Euphorbia grandicornis forming a beautiful but impenetrable clump

Aloe vaombe

More flowers than I’ve ever seen on an Aloe vaombe

Encephalartos lehmannii

Aloe surrounded by a cactoid Euphorbia on the left and a monstrose form of Cereus peruvianus on the right

Vigorously flowering aloes

I have no idea what species this is because virtually none of the containers in the growing grounds are labeled. I have no idea how the employees manage to keep it all straight.

Flowering silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) on the left, Aloe arborescens on the right

Upper growing grounds

Boxed fan aloes (Kumara plicatilis)

Aloidendron barberae waiting for a new home.

After walking around the nursery grounds for a while, I proceeded to the sales office because I did want to buy a few things. The sales desk was unstaffed, but there was a sign with a phone number to call. A few minutes later, a very friendly sales rep showed up in an electric golf cart, and he drove me all over the nursery to collect the plants I wanted.

In the process, I found out that the guy who owns one of the adjacent properties has a private car wash, gas station and race track for his car collection. The Rancho Santa Fe area has some of the most expensive real estate in all of San Diego County—the property the nursery sits on must be worth tens of millions. If you want to drool, take a look at these homes for sale.

Here are the three plants I bought: Aloe dhufarensis × secundifloraAloe sinkatana × marlothii, and Agave potatorum ‘Spawn’, all in 3 gallon pots, for a total of $97.50. Considering how expensive many of the plants at Rancho Soledad are, that’s actually not bad at all. 

I've already planted Aloe sinkatana × marlothii:

Aloe sinkatana × marlothii

The other two will go into the ground as soon as temperatures begin to moderate (we’re currently about 10°F below average).

Aloe dhufarensis × secundiflora

Agave potatorum ‘Spawn’


© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Great acquisitions and a wonderful post! I guess I'll have to wait some years yet before the prices on Agave 'Orca' decline to a semi-reasonable level, though.

    1. Rancho Soledad isn't the only game in town when it comes to variegated Agave ovatifolia. I think we'll see reasonably priced tissue-cultured plants very soon.

  2. I look at that "Massive pony tree palm" with astonishment, and then look my pony tree palm I've grown in a pot in my living room for 25 years, wondering how magnificent it would have become had I set it free to grow in proper climate in garden soil.
    $844 for an orca agave... wow. At that size, how long before it sends out a bloom stock and dies?
    If money was no object, a few of the large cycad and Encephalartos lehmannii would have come home with me!

    1. >>$844 for an orca agave... wow. At that size, how long before it sends out a bloom stock and dies<<
      Very good point! I don't think it'll be all that long. Maybe 2-3 more years? With any luck 4-5.

      Cycads, on the other hand, are a good investment.

  3. Loved seeing all the huge boxed plants there! I can't wait to see the flowers on Aloe sinkatana × marlothii! You picked some great ones, Gerhard! Believe it or not, there is a pony tree palm just about the size of that big one in my neighbor's front garden here in Sun Lakes!

    1. Ponytail palms just take time to size up, otherwise they're super easy.

      It's so cool seeing so many landscape-sized specimens.

  4. I felt a little guilty wandering around the grounds, as though I was a trespasser, but as you note that's the way it's set up. It will be interesting to see how sinkatana x marlothii matures, and I love the Agave potatorum 'Spawn' too. These kinds of trips to growing grounds are so restorative!

  5. Darn. Your photos just made me add more plants to my "must have" list. I have to face the fact that I have an Agave addition. Thanks ,once more, for the beautiful photos.

  6. Love the first photo looking up into the Ailodendron. Very other worldly. Lots of great photos. Can't imagine having to look after so many containerized plants.

    1. I can't imagine either! I meant to ask how often they water--and how. By hose?

    2. I wondered the same thing! In those big pots I don't imagine irrigation would do it! Yikes!

  7. Great tour Gerhard -I did have a swoon moment over that big stash of Furcraea -one of those plants I've always wanted and never see for sale anywhere-including Santa Barbra and the central coast. It would probably hate it here ! There used to be several wholesale growers in Rancho Santa Fe , but I imagine the temptation to make a small fortune on the real estate was the biggest factor in their demise.

    1. San Marcos Growers rates Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' as hardy to 25-30°F, but I think it needs protection below freezing to prevent cosmetic damage (which would be quite noticeable with such a brightly variegated plant).


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