Potting up agave bulbils


My whale’s tongue agave, Moby, came down last week. This week I’ve been sorting and planting bulbils (baby agave clones) from the bloom stalk. I’ve never had an agave bloom before, much less harvested its bulbils, so I looked online for advice and found Len Geiger’s helpful post at Married to Plants and followed his instructions.


First I used hand pruners to remove clusters of bulbils from the bloom stalk. Mine looked different from Len’s in that short flower stalks were coming up from the bulbil mass. I don’t know why. I picked through each cluster, pulling away and discarding the flowers and trying to find easily removable bulbils, as Len advised.


Many of the bulbils came loose in clusters, which makes it hard to separate tightly connected bulbils without breaking them. I tried gently pulling them apart and discarded those that broke off too high, keeping those that had little nubs of roots.


Mid-sort, the green tub on the right contains unsorted bulbil clusters. The red tub contains the best of the harvested bulbils.


The final harvest. Most are very small, but a few bigger ones stand out. I’ll keep a half-dozen of these as insurance, in hopes that I get 2 or 3 well-rooted plants to carry on Moby’s legacy.


Next I set up my potting supplies: bagged cactus potting soil, bunches of old 4-inch nursery pots, rooting hormone and a dish to put it in, a cup of water, and a trowel. My potting station? A brand-new Gorilla Cart that I won in a raffle at the Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling! It made a perfect set-up, as I can move it around for more or less sun very easily (and in and out of the garage when it freezes in a few months), and the mesh sides will help keep squirrels from digging in the pots while the agaves root.


Here’s what an ideal bulbil looks like: a clean break at the bottom with a little nub of root, already hardened off in a shady, dry place for a couple of days.


Per Len’s instructions, I dipped the bottom of each bulbil in a cup of water before dipping it in rooting hormone (the water helps it stick). He said rooting hormone may be unnecessary, but he uses it, and I thought it couldn’t hurt, especially since many of the bulbils are very small, with less root than this one.


Then I made a small hole in a soil-filled 4-inch pot and stuck the bulbil in, gently pressing the soil around it.


One Gorilla Cart filled! Len didn’t mention how often he waters his baby agaves while they root, but I’ve been misting mine once a day because it’s 100 degrees out. I’m keeping them in bright shade under a live oak, where they’re getting a bit pelted with acorns, but the Death Star is too much for them right now.


Here’s the final result. I ended up planting about 120 bulbils. (Sharp-eyed readers will notice a few squid agave pups in there.) Many are teeny tiny, and who knows if all of them will root. I’ll know in a couple of months. Meantime, I’ve wrapped rolled wire over the pots to discourage squirrels, who at this time of year are burying acorns like treasure-hoarding pirates. I can just picture them yanking out agaves and filling the pots with acorns.

You may be wondering what I will do if all 120 root. Well, I’m giving many of them away to agave-loving blogger friends in Austin and beyond, although I’ll probably wait to mail them until next spring, when they’ll be established and I won’t have to worry about them freezing in transit as they go through Denver or wherever. If I have leftover Moby Jr.’s at that time, I’ll have a giveaway of them here at Digging, so stay tuned!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Austinites and native-plant shoppers, I’ll be at the member’s day Fall Plant Sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on October 14, and I hope to see you there! I’ll be signing books between 1 and 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. If you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. Hope to see you there!

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Goodbye, Moby: Removing a dying agave


It was time. Moby, my 11-year-old whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), valiantly hung on for months after flowering, eventually making bulbils at the top of the bloom stalk. I’d been anticipating the leaf collapse that has occurred with every other agave I’ve ever seen in bloom, and yet Moby continued to remain upright. Still, after that spree of reproductive energy, he was now looking distinctly unhealthy, with yellowing, rotting leaves on the sunny side, although on the shadier side he still looked fine.


I took these two pictures on Sunday as a final farewell, as I’d scheduled a landscaping crew to come remove him on Monday morning. And then one of our cars wouldn’t start (bad alternator), and we had to have it towed to the repair shop, and Moby got a last-minute stay of execution — or should I say euthanasia?


Yesterday, though, the ax finally fell.


These two hard-working guys came over after lunch and worked on the removal for several hours in 93-degree heat. They were surprised when I said I wanted to keep the stalk intact, which made cutting it down a bit trickier. First they cut out Moby’s upper leaves. Then they began sawing through the stalk.


That stalk is huge — and heavy! Worried it would fall onto our string lights or the bottle tree, my husband and I rustled up a rope so they could pull high on the stalk and sort of control the fall. One last cut with the saw, and the stalk fell with a tremendous thud onto the gravel path along the fence, crushing nothing except a few of Moby’s precious bulbils.


These guys were such good sports, posing for the crazy lady who kept taking pictures of the decimated agave and fussing over the bulbils. They placed the severed stalk in the lower garden, and I’m planning to harvest the bulbils tomorrow and see how many viable ones I’ve got.


Not quite as many as I’d hoped (much of what you see here is flower stems on bulbils that are blooming — how weird is that?), but enough to keep some and share with friends.


A cross-section of the massive bloom stalk. The base has a diameter of 5 or 6 inches.


The guys went back to work on the agave, using a machete to chop off the fibrous leaves.


They wore gloves, which was smart, but they forgot or didn’t know to wear long sleeves to keep the agave sap off their arms. Soon their forearms were red and blistering from the toxic sap, and I ran inside to get soap and wet towels so they could scrub it off. Thank goodness they didn’t get it on their faces. That has happened to me.


This is why Agave ovatifolia is called whale’s tongue. Just look at the size of those wide, cupped leaves.


At last Moby was “pineappled”…


…and they started digging and sawing underneath to sever Moby’s tenacious roots.


Finally free


At this point several big cockroaches scurried into the open, like rats off a sinking sink, sensing, I guess, that their home under those spiny leaves was no longer safe. Gross.


After several tries, straining with effort, the guys were finally able to roll Moby out of the garden bed and up onto the patio. I bet that agave heart weighed 350 pounds, maybe even 400.


Somehow they got it up into the wheelbarrow and rolled it out to their trailer.


Goodbye, Moby! You will be missed. But hello Moby Jrs! Stay tuned to find out how many clones Moby made.

This is my September post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness or changes are happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Got a pot with no drainage hole? Drill it, plant it, enjoy!


Wrinkled skin and all, this green elephant pot caught my eye at Barton Springs Nursery a few weeks ago. As I looked it over, I noticed it lacked something important: a drainage hole in the bottom. A drainage hole is essential to a potted plant’s health, even its survival. Without a hole, a pot’s soil gets saturated when you water it, and the plant essentially drowns. Not good. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to drill a drainage hole, even in a ceramic pot like this one.


A masonry bit and an electric drill are all you need. Masonry bits, like all bits, come in different diameters. For drainage, a bigger hole is better, but it all depends on the size of your pot. I usually keep two sizes of masonry bits tucked in the package shown here, and the one I used is probably a 1/4-inch bit, not 1/8-inch. To ensure good drainage, I drilled three holes spaced an inch or so apart.


Turn your pot upside down to drill it. If the top is uneven, as with my elephant pot, have someone brace it for you so you can drill straight down (not sideways as shown in my quick-snap illustration). If your bit slips when you start drilling, stick a piece of masking tape on the bottom and drill through that. Don’t lean on the drill, lest you break the pot. Just apply regular pressure and let the bit slowly work its way through.

If you notice heat build-up during the drilling process, turn off the drill and occasionally wet the pot bottom to cool the ceramic, especially if the pot is thick and it takes a while to drill through. This wasn’t a problem with my thin-skinned elephant pot.


I decided on a ‘Dragon’s Blood’ sedum for the elephant because its rusty red and green coloring harmonized with the pot color. I put a couple of broken shards of terracotta in the bottom to keep soil from washing out of the new drainage holes. When I pulled the sedum out of its nursery pot, I found it was too big to fit in the little elephant pot, so I pulled off about a quarter of the soil on the bottom (taking off some roots in the process, but succulents are tough) and a little around the sides as well. I popped it in the pot and filled the gaps with a fast-draining cactus potting mix I bought at the nursery.

Finally, I topped the soil with a thin layer of pea gravel for a finished look and to keep soil from splashing out. For small pots like this, you can also use aquarium gravel or vase-filler pebbles found in the home-decor aisle of stores like Target.


Ta-da! You might think of it as a dragon riding an elephant.


Once you feel confident using your masonry bit, you’ll probably find all kinds of containers that can be turned into succulent planters. Years ago, I drilled this two-piece chip-and-dip set and planted it with a variety of succulents, accented with turquoise glass beads and chunks of blue slag glass.


It’s gone through various replantings over the years, but I still love it.


While rooting around in the garage for the masonry bit, I unearthed this old frog pitcher, and now I’m wondering if it would make a good planter. What do you think? Maybe string-of-pearls senecio dripping out of his mouth?

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

I’ll be speaking on April 30, noon-12:30 pm, in Cedar Park, Texas, at Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery’s Lily Blossom Festival. My free talk is called “How to Garden Water-Wise, Not Water-Wasteful.” An old proverb reminds us that The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. Don’t be a water-guzzling frog! I’ll be sharing my tips for making a garden that is water-wise, not water-wasteful. Stick around after my talk for a book signing, with autographed copies of Lawn Gone! and The Water-Saving Garden available for purchase.

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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