The Proper Care and Maintenance of the Desert Agave Plant

ou may have heard of the desert agave plant.  If you have ever had tequila, you have had one of the extracts from this New World plant.  The agave plant also has a bit of bite, however.  It has been known to cause a nasty dermatitis if you ingest the wrong part.  Some who have tasted its wrath have continued to experience painful rashes up to a year afterwards.

Because of this and its Western desert appearance, the agave makes for a compelling houseplant.  The agave is not necessarily well suited to the indoors; it much prefers the dry, savageness of the desert to the climate controlled interiors of most homes.

However, with a bit of care you can make your home hospital to the desert agave plant.

Before we launch into our recommendations for the proper care of the agave, we should first get clear about what we mean when we say “agave.”  There are actually several varieties of this desert plant, from our American agave to the various other versions of the plant that grow throughout the Americas.  Our recommendation will focus on the American variety although they are likely to apply to most of the other agaves as well.

The agave Americana is a desert shrub that blooms from the ground.  It has a central phallic protrusion surrounded by a bouquet of stiff sword-shaped leaves with light green interiors and yellowish fringes.  Many but not all agaves have similar configurations.

Warning: Keep the Agave away from children and pets: If you have small children, you should keep your agave plant out of their reach as the course leaves may injure small hands.  If the agave’s spade leaf cuts deep, this may cause blood vessels to burst and bruising to occur around the wound.  Keep the agave plant up and out of reach of our little friends if they are not yet of the age to follow directions closely.

Since the agave is a desert plant, the lighting requirements are as you might expect–lots of light.  Lots and lots of light!  You cannot overexpose your agave.Lighting Requirements

The one exception here is if you kept your agave in a darker portion of your home and have now decided to move it in front of a sunny window or out on a porch.  The only time agaves are sensitive to light are when you have habituated them to lesser amounts of light.  In these cases, you should slowly increase the amount of light over the course of a couple of weeks until your agave has had the chance to re-acclimate.  Do this by moving your agave to the sunny area for a few hours at first and then returning it to its former area.  Slowly increase the amount of time until it remains in the sun permanently.

Watering Requirements

As long as you always remember you are dealing with a desert plant, you will be okay when it comes to the agave plant.  You should give it a substantial watering, then, wait until the soil is close to completely dry at every time of year except for winter.  In the winter, the agave goes into hibernation.  You should wait for the soil to completely dry out during this period before giving it an intense shower and waiting again.


You will need to repot your agave every two to three years as it grows.  Repotting is simple as long you remember the ratio to keep.  Add two thirds potting soil to one-third course sand.  This will mimic the agave’s natural environment.

The Hundred-Year Agave

The agave plant’s moniker as the hundred-year flowering plant is not wholly true.  If you are a very diligent caretaker and if you provide it with perfect conditions you will find that the agave will flower more often than once a century for you.  However, it has never been known to do so indoors in an apartment.