Wherever you garden, even in cooler climate zones, you can have hot, dry areas in your garden. Those places that bask in the sun all day, perhaps with sandy or rocky soil that dries out quickly and leaves your plants looking sad and droopy. Sometimes too, if you have wide eaves, there are dry areas at the foot of a south or west-facing wall, that are almost perpetually dry.
You might also live in an area that naturally has low rain-fall, and if you do, you know the problems of creating a garden. Especially today, there is great interest in xeric gardening – growing plants that do not need supplementary watering. In an increasing number of areas there are restrictions being placed on watering your garden.
No matter what your personal reason, many people need plants that don’t just survive in heat and dryness, but that thrive in it. Agave and Yucca are two plants that give us lots of options for these difficult locations. Combine that with striking plant architecture and bold coloring, and you have plants that you are going to want to grow – even if you have no special need for xeric plants.
Growing Agave & Yucca
Both plants grow best in dry soil, although Yucca will grow well in any well-drained soil. These plants are salt-resistant, and will grow in almost pure sand, so they are wonderful choices for coastal areas. They are perfect for a summer beach cottage, since they need no care – certainly not watering! They are also resistant to deer and rabbits, and they have no noticeable pests or diseases – the only thing they can die off is too much water. In pots it is best to use a clay pot and plant in soil blended for cactus plants – make sure that pot has a drainage hole. Never leave them standing in a saucer of water.
For stunning garden architecture, you can buy an expensive statue – or you can grow an Agave. These striking plants have a unique look, and create a very stylish atmosphere in any space, especially in a courtyard or in a space with few other plants. For that hot, sunny, dry spot, they are ideal, thriving with no watering at all for months, and continuing to grow. In fact, they will not enjoy richer, damper soil at all, so find the driest place in your garden and plant an Agave.
The most commonly-grown Agave is a true American plant – the Blue American Agave, Agave americana. It grows naturally all across the southern parts of the country, from Florida through Texas and across into California. It is hardy from zone 8, and it can be grown in a pot in cooler areas and brought indoors for the winter months. Plants in pots will not grow as large as in the ground, but you do need room indoors, and a sunny spot. Bring your Agave indoors, with little or no watering, whenever the temperatures are close to freezing.
The Blue American Agave grows as a large rosette of leaves, each one thick and leathery, so that even a large plant may have only 10 or so leaves. The leaves rise out of the center as a cylinder, and then gradually unroll into a broad leaf that can be two feet across and 3 to 5 feet long. On the tip, and at intervals along the leaf edges, there is a large, sharp spine. The leaf color is an amazing blue-green, with a grey coating over the surface, giving a striking matt texture, and a silver tone to the blue. It is a classic desert color, instantly making us thing of hot dry places. There are also forms with bold yellow stripes on the leaves.
Besides choosing the hottest and driest place for your Agave plant, give it plenty of room. Small plants look so ‘cute’ that it is easy to forget that a mature plant will be 6 to 10 feet across. With so few leaves it is hard to trim without disfiguring the plant – something that is often seen and is the last thing you want to do. Be sure to give your Agave lots of room and let it show you its amazing appearance unblemished.
The Blue American Agave is very long lived – some people call it the Century Plant for that reason. It also takes a long time to decide to bloom – although not usually a century. When it does bloom, the result is spectacular. A flowering stem up to 25 feet tall thrusts out of the center, with many large, yellow, cup-shaped flowers on branches in the upper section. Not something you see very often, but certainly worth waiting for.
If you live in colder parts of the country you will have to settle for seeing Agave when you travel south, but you can grow Yucca plants almost anywhere in the country, if you choose a suitable type. These plants also thrive in the hottest, driest places, and are similar in appearance to Agave, but with more leaves, which are still leathery, but thinner. Yucca plants grow as a rosette on the ground, but usually in clumps, so they look more like a cluster of large leaves thrusting upwards.
Yucca grows in any sunny place, even in zone 4, with winter temperatures of minus 30, and just as well in zone 10, in the hottest parts of the country. This plant is a hot favorite for xeric gardening – and no wonder, because it will grow in the poorest soil, in the hottest and driest places. It is also adaptable, and it will grow well in any sunny place in well-drained soil, so you can grow it even in an ‘ordinary’ garden.
The most popular Yucca to grow, because it is so tough, is Adam’s Needle, as it is often called, or Common Yucca, Yucca filamentosa. It too is an American plant, growing wild from Florida all through Texas. This plant forms a dense clump of upright leaves to about 3 feet tall, spreading out to about the same width. They are plain green, although there is an exciting color form called the Color Guard Yucca, with leaves that are striped vertically in green and bright yellow. This form is often preferred, because it is so much more colorful than the natural plant. Each leaf has a sharp tip, and along the edges are thin, curling threads – the ‘filaments’ that give this plant its name.
It doesn’t take too long for a Yucca plant to flower. In a few years you will be able to enjoy the wonderful white flowers that grow on a spike up to 6 feet tall. This emerges in summer, and the white, pendulous, bell-shaped flowers are carried in profusion, and give out a lovely perfume too. No wonder gardeners grow this plant even if they don’t have dry soil.