Growing Agave Attenuata in a Pot
Agaves are plants that lend themselves to be easily grown in pots and Agave attenuata is no exception. Because of it’s drought tolerance it’s a plant that won’t drop dead if you forget to water it every second day over summer. Another great thing about Agave attenuata is that it’s really easy to propagate from cuttings and the one I’m about to show you is one that I propagated from a large cutting about 18 months ago.
I’d been meaning to repot it for sometime as when I propagated it I placed the cutting in the pot to about 3/4 of the depth of the pot and I could now see the roots starting to appear at the surface of the potting mix so I knew it was starting to get a bit root bound.
The other thing I’d done was place the old black plastic pot I planted in inside a slightly larger clay pot. This is something I commonly do as black pots aren’t the most appealing pots and I don’t always like to plant straight into clay pots as they are porous and can dry out the potting mix before the plant gets the chance to take advantage of all the moisture. My theory is that because the black pot has vertical ribs on the inside it makes the roots grow straight down and stops coiling. It also has better drainage holes at the base as most clay pots only have one small hole in the bottom than can clog with roots after a while (you can drill extra holes in clay pots with a masonry drill which is something I’ve also done).
Also when you want repot your plant the plastic pot usually pulls quite easily out of the clay pot and then the plant pulls easily out of the plastic pot. Well that’s the theory anyway……………but not in this case.
So when it came time to repot my Agave attenuata I couldn’t get the plastic pot out of the clay pot. The roots had coiled so tightly inside the plastic it had expanded so much that it was jammed inside the clay pot. Now normally with most plants I would have had to break the clay pot to get it out but I decided that I was going to put this Agave attenuata to the test and see just how strong those roots were.
My solution was to pull on the short trunk as hard as I could and just pull it out (shock, horror). Now I have to say that there aren’t many plants that I’d do this to but I’d decided that the worst case scenario was that I’d just rip the roots right off the end of the trunk and I’d end up with a stem with no roots, which was pretty much exactly where I was with this plant 18 months ago when it was just a cutting.
So that’s exactly what I did. Pull on the trunk as hard I could. First though I did loosen as much potting mix as I could in an attempt to get it out of the plastic pot. This though, wasn’t going to happen as the roots had grown through the drainage holes and the only way to get it out of the plastic pot was to cut the roots off the bottom. Unfortunately though these were still inside the clay pot so they were inaccessible. So once I’d loosened as much potting mix as possible I pulled on the trunk as hard as I could and eventually with quite a bit of effort, the Agave still attached to it’s roots, plus the plastic pot, came loose from the inside of the clay pot and here’s what it looked like. A tangled mess of roots (and just after 18 months).
Now the decision I had to make was what to do next. For me this was a pretty easy decision.
If you’ve ever watched gardening programs on TV I’m sure you’ve heard the presenter tell you that when planting a plant that you should “take it out of the pot and then carefully tease the coiled roots so they’re nice and straight”.
Well I’d have to say that this is good advice as roots will continue to grow in a circle in the ground if this is what they’d been doing in the pot but I’d also say that there’s no need to be careful about it.
I treat roots like I do branches and limbs and if they need to be pruned then that’s exactly what happens, they get pruned. Now I’d have admit that this is a pretty extreme example of a plant that’s root bound but I also do this to any plant that I plant that has roots that have coiled around the inside of the pot.
Therefore the first thing I did was cut off the excess roots to get the plant out of the black plastic pot. This then exposed the extent of the roots inside the pot. As you can see it was quite root bound inside the pot as well so the next step was to cut off any coiled and crooked roots which was exactly what I did.
This then left me with a nice tidy root ball that was ready to be replanted. The other thing I did was soak the rootball in a diluted seaweed extract mixed with water for a few minutes to help it recover from “it’s surgery”.
It was then a case of either replanting it in the ground or back into the pot. I chose the later and I used the same pot the second around time around again as well. I will have to keep an eye on it though and maybe repot it in 12 months this time instead of 18.
So if you’re growing Agave attenuata in a pot don’t leave it too long to check out if it’s getting root bound and if it is, hopefully you won’t need to go to the same extent I did to remedy the problem.
Agave attenuata has a very extensive root system so I suppose at the end of the day it’s just as well, as that’s just one of the reasons why it’s such a drought tolerant plant.
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