Planting an agave is a thorny endeavor


Last weekend, after creatively wrestling this bad boy out of the car, my family helpers and I slid it onto a utility cart and rolled it into the back yard. This new whale’s tongue agave to replace Moby, while far from mature-size, is still large enough at 15 gallons to make planting — heck, even unpotting — a challenge. Especially as I would be planting it on my own, with everyone else at work or school.


For the uninitiated, whale’s tongue agaves, like most agaves, are well armed, with hooked thorns along the edge of every leaf and a sharp terminal spine at the end. The leaves are stiff (meaning they can poke you good) but also fragile; if you tip the plant on its side, the leaves can break and your beautiful plant will be permanently marred.

So how to plant it? First of all, you must wear eye protection. I recommend wrap-around safety goggles. You also need thick work gloves, sturdy and protective shoes, and, if you’re smart, a long-sleeved work shirt and pants. I wore short sleeves because it was hot, and I caught a few spines along my arm.


A mere flesh wound — no biggie. Definitely protect your eyes though.


After removing Moby last fall, I cleaned years of decomposing leaves out of the planting bed and added a yard of gravelly soil. It had settled over the winter, so it was prepped and ready for easy digging. I dug a hole just a little wider than the pot (since the soil was already loose, not compacted; otherwise, I’d have dug a wider hole to loosen things up for growing roots) and exactly as deep as the root ball. You don’t want an agave to settle deeper after a few rains; that leads to rot. So plant it high, but don’t leave the root ball exposed.


But first things first: how to actually unpot and plant this monster? I had to get creative. The plant was very heavy, but I was able to roll it close to the hole on the utility cart. I carefully slid it off the cart (this may have been when it bit my arm) and wrestled it over to the hole.

Tipping it over to unpot was impossible due to its weight and all those spines, plus I didn’t want to risk breaking the leaves. Instead I leaned the pot against a mound of dug-out dirt in order to access the bottom of the pot. Using tin snips, I cut the nursery pot off the plant, starting at the bottom drainage hole and working my way up. It cut more easily than I expected, and the pot was opened up in just a few minutes…


…revealing a mass of roots that had circled around the pot because there was nowhere else to go. I did what I do with all plants that are rootbound: I took a sharp tool (a shovel, utility knife, or pruning saw will work) and made deep, vertical cuts in four places on the lower half of the root ball. I also teased loose the roots circling around the top of the pot. It may seem like you’re hurting a plant to cut into its roots like that, but it actually encourages the roots to stop circling and grow outward into the soil.


Getting the agave into the hole proved tricky too. Because of its spines and weight, I couldn’t just pick it up and plop it in. I sat on the ground, leaned under the leaves (wearing my safety goggles!), and rocked the plant from side to side to edge it close to the hole. Then I leaned back and pushed with my legs to try to control its slide into the hole. Somehow it worked, and I didn’t even get stabbed! I backfilled soil, patted it firm, and stood back to admire Moby2. I’ll mulch this bed with gravel for good drainage — maybe after the live oak leaf drop, which seems to be starting early this year.

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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The upcoming talk with James deGrey David has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Container gardens at Vivero to banish the winter blues


I popped in at Vivero Growers in far southwest Austin last week and was smitten by their beautiful container plantings, like this absolutely stunning succulent pot. The owner tells me her niece created it while working at the nursery last summer. Of course they’ve protected it from our freezes this winter, but clearly cool weather agrees with these plants, which include aloe, sedum, echeveria, graptopetalum, and crassula (I think).


A close-up of succulents nestling together


By the greenhouse door, this container caught my eye, with lady slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) as the “thriller,” pink-flowering pelargonium (geranium) as the “filler,” and silver ponyfoot as the “spiller.” If you want to replicate it, lady slipper and silver ponyfoot will work year-round (with some freeze protection), but you’ll have to sub out the pelargonium once our weather heats up.


Here’s an easy plant for year-round enjoyment, come summer heat or winter freeze (in Austin’s zone 8b anyway): toothless sotol, also known as Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum). This is the plant I have in a steel-pipe container, and it grows beautifully if planted in fast-draining soil, given lots of sun, and basically left alone.


Did you know you can carve a design in a prickly pear pad? A star has been carved into this one for a Texas-style accent.

Vivero has many other beautiful containers and plants for sale, so if you need to banish the winter blues — although our winter weather has been pretty perfect lately! — head on down to see for yourself.

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.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get 24-hour advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Outdoors at The Domain’s Rock Rose


My mother and I had lunch in the new Rock Rose section of The Domain (a New Urbanist-style live/work/shop development in North Austin) last week and poked around in the shops afterward. Naturally, I yanked my phone out along the way to take pictures of cool landscaping features, like this steel planter that doubles as a patio retaining wall at The Dogwood bar. Foxtail fern, silver ponyfoot, and red roses make a pretty, sun-loving combo. I like their painted sign-mural too.


Here’s a simple idea, taken from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture store: a prickly pear pad (or two) stuck in contemporary pot topped with gravel. Why haven’t I ever done this with prunings from my opuntias?


A cloud-like arbor of aluminum or stainless steel floats over a public plaza near the Northside Lawn. It’s eye-catching as a sculptural element, and I suppose it offers filtered shade on hotter days.


A John Lennon song lyric mural is just begging to be used as a backdrop for engagement photos. It struck me as a hopeful message for these turbulent times too.

Rock Rose at The Domain, with a slew of local restaurants that we north Austinites formerly had to drive downtown or to South Austin to enjoy, feels a little like Disneyland, with its clean, walkable streets and idealized-Austin vibe. It has its haters, but it’s OK with me. A walkable shopping/dining area that’s not inside a mall (yuck) and that’s beautifully landscaped made for a nice day out with my mom. I’ll be back next time to try out East Side King’s Thai Kun.

Click for a look at the landscaping and public art in the original section of The Domain.

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

Need a holiday gift for the gardener, new homeowner, or environmentalist on your list?
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For a sneak peek before you buy, check out my book trailers!

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

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