multiple agave plants in landscape

5 Wonderful Agaves for Southwestern Gardens

Agaves come in different colors, shapes, and sizes

Agaves are an iconic succulent of the Southwestern landscape and thrive in our dry climate with little care. Their fleshy leaves come in a multitude of shapes from large and wide to skinny and narrow. The leaves are arranged in a rosette pattern, and most have sharp points at their tips. Depending on the species, the edges of the leaves may or may not have “teeth” (small thorns), but all add visually pleasing elements to the landscape.

All agaves are native to the Americas, and their most famous characteristic is the tall flowering stalk that they send up toward the end of their life, after which, they will die. It can take as little as six years or as long as several decades before an agave will flower, which is dependent on the species and growing conditions.

Let’s take a look at five beautiful agaves for Southwestern gardens to help you find the right one for your landscape.

Artichoke Agave
Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi v. truncata)

Notable for its resemblance to an artichoke due to the shape arrangement of its leaves. Its blue-gray color adds a lovely contrasting color element to the garden when planted alongside plants with bright green foliage. Each leaf is edged with small maroon teeth terminating into a single point at the tip. It does produce offsets (new agave near its base) that can remain or be transplanted in other areas.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. (USDA Zone 8)

Exposure: Full sun, reflected sun, to partial shade

Size: Approximately 2-3 feet tall and wide

Octopus Agave
Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana) 

Long, curving leaves with smooth edges add a tropical feel to the landscape with this faster-growing species of agave. They are not long-lived, and typically flower before they reach 10 years of age. However, don’t avoid this beautiful agave due to its short lifespan – its flowering stalk will soon be covered with small, baby agave that can be replanted in the landscape, ensuring that its unique beauty will continue in the garden. Octopus agaves do not produce offsets around their base, so they are a reasonably low-maintenance agave.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. (USDA Zone 9)

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 4-5 feet tall and wide

Variegated Smooth Edge Agave
Smooth Edge Agave (Agave desmettiana)

As its name suggests, the edges of its leaves are relatively smooth and terminate into a single sharp tip, making it a “friendlier” agave to use near pedestrian areas (the sharp tips of agaves can be snipped off with hand pruners if desired to remove any potential hazard). The medium-green color of this agave blends well with other bright green plants in the Southwest garden, and it is also available in a variegated form. While smooth edge agave is fairly frost tender, it grows well in containers and is easy to propagate from offsets.

Hardy to 25 degrees F. (USDA Zone 9)

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Size: 3 feet tall and wide

Queen Victoria Agave
Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

This is a very desirable agave, which should be no surprise as it’s named after a queen. Its dark green leaves have clear white leaf imprints in a tight rosette form. This agave grows slowly and lives a long time before flowering. It is best viewed close-up so should be used near an entry, along a garden path, or in a container where its beauty can be appreciated. This queenly agave is also available in a compact form.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. (USDA Zone 8)

Exposure: Full sun

Size: 18 inches tall and wide

Whale’s Tongue Agave
Whale’s Tongue Agave (Agave ovatifolia)

The broad leaves with a distinctive groove that adds a graceful element to its shape. It has small teeth along the edges with a large, pointy tip with the leaves arranged in a loose rosette, revealing their lovely form. The blue-gray color adds an attractive contrasting color throughout the landscape. This is a newer agave species and deserves a prominent spot in the Southwestern plant palette.

Hardy to 0 degrees F. (USDA Zone 7)

Exposure: Full sun to part shade (it needs partial shade in low-desert regions)

Size: 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide

These are but five of many agave species available for the landscape and you can find these and many more at your local botanical garden plant sale or a local nursery.

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One Comment

  • bo chukran

    Squid agaves are also easy, and unlike the octopus variety, they do reproduce by little squidlets at the base.