Agave americana (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
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Big Blue’s Life and Demise

The largest succulent ever to grace my half-acre garden was an Agave americana we called “Big Blue.” With six-foot leaves lined with sharp teeth, it looked capable of eating guests who shot selfies with it. Agave americana is commonly called “century plant” because it seems to take forever to flower and die, but Big Blue’s lifespan was only 20 years.

Agave americana (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Big Blue at maturity, 2017

Big Blue and I didn’t always get along. It was armed and dangerous, and on occasion snagged my skin and drew blood. This was usually my fault. I liked to lean in and take photos of its bud imprints—scalloped lines caused by leaves that had pressed against each other before they unfurled.

It also tried to take over the garden, producing pups (clones) from its roots. These popped up in all directions, including uphill. This tendency for century plants to reproduce like feral dogs was probably why my neighbors put it out in the trash in the first place. But when I noticed the 2-foot pup, I knew it would look good in a pot, its leaves contrasting with terra-cotta orange.

Agave americana pup in terracotta pot (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Big Blue in a terra-cotta pot, 2003

That was seven years before the publication of my first book about succulents, and I had much to learn much about agaves. I didn’t think the pup would live because it had been severed at ground level. But after a few months, it plumped and thrived. I kept it in the pot—where it stayed small—and a few years later planted it in the garden.

Big Blue grew ever larger as other ornamentals came and went. A Bailey’s acacia planted near it in 2007 became a 20-foot tree. Every spring, while hosing fallen acacia flowers from the agave’s center, I admired how its guttered leaves funneled water to the roots.

Agave americana, half grown (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Big Blue commands the garden, April 2007

Agave americana loves irrigation but doesn’t need it, so early-on I capped nearby risers. Peevishly, Big Blue broke a pipe that, located beneath barbed leaves, was impossible to repair. (I should have seen that coming.) After shutting down the line, I spent countless summer afternoons hose-watering.

Big Blue in 2010. It’s about half its eventual size.

A landscape designer friend said, “You know, Debra, that americana is going to grow into the pathway.” That seemed unlikely—it was five feet away. I replied, “Then I’ll just move the pathway.” And six years later, I did.

We wore protective glasses when digging-up pups. I gave small century plants to whomever would take them. But because they came with cautions, most went without adoption and languished in 1-gallon nursery pots. Leaves shriveled, then swelled during winter rains. Some of the little rascals rooted through holes in their pots.

Agave americana and pups (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
In 2011, Big Blue’s pups had become large and tricky to remove.
Agave americana (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
In 2016, its lovely fan of azure leaves framed a new flagstone patio.

Big Blue and I made a YouTube video: “What You MUST know about Century Plants.” In it I explain “the pupping thing” and the mistake of not knowing how big an agave will get before planting it.

Agave americana in bloom (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Midsummer 2018: Big Blue’s bloom stalk added a temporary tree to the garden.

In February, 2018, Big Blue at last attained the sugar content needed for flowering—a grand achievement that produced masses of flowers followed by seed pods. That summer, the agave’s 30-foot flower spike hummed with pollinators.

Agave americana flower stalk (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
By autumn 2018, seed pods replaced flowers.

Keeping what remained of Big Blue wasn’t optional; its sailboat-mast spike was leaning at a 45-degree angle toward the street. I videoed the agave’s removal that October.

A few years earlier, knowing Big Blue’s demise was inevitable, I decided to keep a well-positioned offset. That pick-of-the-litter is maybe a fourth of its eventual size. I don’t get sentimental about succulents, but I am glad to have Big Blue Two…although (sigh) it’s started pupping.

Agave americana (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Spring, 2019: A stump is all that’s left of Big Blue. Its clonal replacement is at left.

See Big Blue’s chain-saw exit on my YouTube channel: “Agave americana Bloom and Removal” (4:44). Also: “What You MUST know about Century Plants”.

Related info on this site:

Agaves: What You Need to Know

No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens

Aloe mite (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
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How to Manage Aloe Mite

They seem everywhere this spring: mite-damaged aloes ranging from dwarf cultivars to tree ‘Hercules’. The microscopic pests (Eriophyes aloines) are not insects but spider relatives. They cause deformed flowers, a bubbly fringe on leaf edges, and orange-and-green growths where leaves meet stems.

Aloe mite (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Aloe mite on Aloe arborescens ‘Variegata’

Google “aloe mite treatment,” “aloe mite prevention,” “aloe gall” or “aloe cancer” and you’ll discover that distinguished experts, landscape designers, succulent societies and growers, and even federal agencies are aware of the problem. Yet they don’t agree on what to do about it. Environmentally-unfriendly chemicals supposedly help to some extent, but are expensive, come with cautions, and aren’t allowed in certain states (like California). 

Mites, protected within galls, are impervious to topical pesticides. To protect rare and valuable specimens, aloe growers and collectors may apply a preventive systemic—a miticide that’s taken up into the tissues of the plant via the roots—but it has to be applied before there’s evidence that it’s needed. 

Aloe mite (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Aloe mite on dwarf aloe

Here’s what to do: At first sign, excise affected tissues and bag them for the trash (do not put them in green waste). If an infestation is severe, dispose of the entire plant. After all, it’s a breeding ground. Even if you don’t mind the galls, do get rid of them before the pests inside them find your neighbors’ aloes…or mine. [Update: See expert Duke Benadom’s comment below.]

Mites inject a chemical that causes cancerous growth. They produce as many as eight generations a year, and each female lays 80 eggs a month. Mites travel via water, wind, garden tools, and people who find bizarre formations fascinating. 

It’s not the end of the world. These photos, taken in my own garden, show two different aloes six weeks after gall-removal surgery. I simply used a sharp knife to slice the plants well below any signs of infestation.

Aloe nobilis (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Aloe nobilis, new growth
Aloe rupestris (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
Aloe rupestris, new growth after gall removal

Other Pests and Problems

Lush green growth after winter rains means that insects of every kind—indeed, the entire food chain—are proliferating. Find out “What’s Wrong with My Succulent?” and what to do about it on my website, my YouTube channel, pages 76-77 of Succulents Simplified and 137-142 of Designing with Succulents

Succulent garden with fountain (c) Debra Lee Baldwin
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How to Redo an Overgrown Succulent Garden

Every three or four years I redo this succulent garden outside my office window. Last time was 1-1/2 years ago when I added the fountain. It’s an important view area because I spend so much time…uh…gazing outside instead of working. (I can’t help it. The fountain doubles as a bird bath.)

Succulent garden with fountain (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

I’m pleased at how plants have filled in and how little maintenance it needs. (Well, maybe I should get after that ivy.) The planted clam shell at left repeats the fountain’s basins, and a pot at upper right echoes the red of the aeoniums.

In my YouTube video, How to Refresh an Overgrown Succulent Garden, I show this area’s transformations, starting with how it looked 6-1/2 years ago (below). Shocking, isn’t it? It goes to show that succulents—all plants for that matter—grow when you’re not looking.

Overgrown succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

In my YouTube video, How to Refresh an Overgrown Succulent Garden, I take you through this garden’s transformations. Here’s how it looked in Sept., 2012

Ratty to lovely in 12 steps

Keep in mind: The window, pathway or sitting area from which you’ll view a space is where you’ll stand back and evaluate it as you redesign it.

1. Off with their heads: Snip succulent rosettes, leaving one to two inches of stem to anchor each cutting. Yank out the old plant, roots and all, and discard it.

2. Create a blank slate: Remove weeds and anything overgrown and untidy. Prune remaining plants as needed. Get rid of pots and other clutter. (I know, I have it too.)

Succulent garden preparation (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Prepare the planting area by sifting out roots and rocks, then adding fresh soil.

3. Shop for statement plants: These might be agaves (ideally non-pupping), an aloe that gets tall, a plump-trunked ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)—whatever lends drama, fits the area, and that you’ve been longing for.

4. Create a staging area. Since succulents come in every hue, I like to sort them by color and size. Keep in mind that anything without roots needs to be kept in shade or it’ll sunburn.

Palette of succulent cuttings (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A palette of cuttings and nursery plants ready to go into the ground.

5. Know your microclimates and plant accordingly. I delve into this in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) The entire book—which (ahem) happens to be my proudest achievement—is about creating beautiful succulent gardens.

6. Check or install irrigation: It’s a pain to add pipes and risers once a garden is planted. Don’t skip this not-fun step—unless you enjoy hose-watering on hot days.

7. Rework the soil: Spade and turn it, remove rocks and clumps of roots, and mix in compost and pumice. If the ground is hard to dig, simply top it with planting mix.

Mound the soil: Use more than you think because mounds settle over time. Pack firmly and arrange rocks around the base to retain the soil.

Get creative:  Include focal points and delightful discoveries such as a large pot, a water feature, an outdoor sculpture, or a mini-trail amid small cacti and euphorbias.

Add a dry creek bed or path (optional): Have it meander between mounds and—on the practical side—give access into the garden so you won’t squash plants.

Succulent cuttings (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Leave just enough stem to anchor the cutting. You don’t need the rest.

Plant cuttings: Cluster and combine them in ribbons and vignettes, with larger in back, smaller in front. Set cacti atop mounds and thirstier succulents lower down. Use green in the background. Position aloes and crassulas in sunny spots so they’ll redden.

Apply topdressing: Use crushed rock or decomposed granite to inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, conserve moisture, and give your redone garden a finished look.

Learn more on my site and YouTube Channel:

Articles:
Great Ideas from Patrick Anderson’s Garden. This renowned garden in Fallbrook, CA is an outdoor gallery of sculptural plants and art pieces.
Ten Succulent Front Yard Essentials. Find out how homeowner/designer Deana Rae McMillion orchestrated her lawn-to-succulents transformation.
— Succulent Design Essentials. An award-winning garden by Michael Buckner has beautiful mounds and a small but impressive dry creek bed.

Videos:
Succulent Garden Design, with Laura Eubanks A video that Laura and I made together shows how this celebrity designer tackles an overgrown garden.
Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase  Get ideas from a Los Angeles garden owned by a retired MD who is also a plant collector and ceramic artist.
Why You Really Need Rocks, with Steve McDearmon  A landscape contractor explains how he selects rocks and irrigation for succulent gardens.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin
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What You Need to Know About Dudleyas

Recently a writer with The New Yorker asked me what people need to know about dudleyas and the plants’ likelihood of survival out of the wild. She was researching the recurring thefts of Dudleya farinosa, a succulent native to the Northern CA coast.

Dudleya farinosa poachers. Photo courtesy of CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

It seems that in Korea, China and Japan, succulents are hugely popular among housewives, students, and other residents of small spaces. Dudleyas, related to echeverias (rosette succulents from Mexico) are collectible novelties that sell for up to $100 apiece. Some say their appeal is their resemblance to lotus flowers.

No plant—succulent or otherwise—is free for the taking, even from public land. Yet poachers fly into San Francisco, rent cars, and stop by Home Depot for cardboard boxes on their way to California’s rocky seaside cliffs. They slither through mud, dislodge boulders, rip silvery succulents from near-vertical perches, then scurry off to a post office.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dudleya farinosa in habitat

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dudleya farinosa grows on near-vertical rock faces.

The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has increased its vigilance, and with the help of the CA Native Plant Society, has been keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior—like people emerging from hiking trails carrying ropes and bulging backpacks from which telltale stems and roots protrude. But by the time the poachers are caught, the damage has been done.

“It’s senseless,” I told the The New Yorker‘s “California Chronicles” columnist. “It harms our coastal ecology, makes it easier for weeds to become established, and kills beautiful plants.” Instead of flourishing where people can see them for years to come, “those stolen dudleyas will just turn squishy and rot.”

It’s not easy to replant a dudleya, even in its own habitat. Photo courtesy of CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

How to Keep Dudleyas Alive

The common name for dudleya is “liveforever” because some can live 50 to 100 years—in the right spot. Wild plants, like wild animals, do best in their native habitats.

Dudleya farinosa, like many Dudleya species, requires near-vertical rocky hillsides, plenty of sun but not too much, and no summer water. It also likes moist ocean air. Most noticeable in larger species such as D. brittonii (native to Mexico)and D. pulverulenta (Southern CA), flowers that form on the tips of long bloom spikes produce seeds that fall far enough away from the mother ship that her offspring don’t compete with her for nutrients.

By summer’s end, after months without rainfall, a dudleya’s oldest, lower leaves have dried. They still cling to the stem, protecting it from heat, sun and desiccation. The plant hunkers down, goes dormant, and folds its upper leaves over its vital core. A dudleya during the season of Santa Ana winds looks like a pile of withered foliage, maybe with a few dry flower stems sticking out. It’s tempting to try and revive a sleeping dudleya, yet if you water it, you risk it rotting.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A dudleya’s older leaves dry and cling to its stem.

Dudleyas grown by nurseries are domesticated compared to those on Cliffside’s and better suited to residential gardens. Plant them in a rock wall or at an angle in gritty, fast-draining soil like decomposed granite, so water drains away from their roots. It’s best not to grow dudleyas in pots because water can pool around their stems. Inland, protect them from hot afternoon sun in summer. The powdery coating (farina) that makes certain species silvery-white acts as a sunscreen by reflecting UV rays, so it’s best not to touch the leaves. Not to mention that doing so will leave fingerprints.

Kelly Griffin’s Dudleyas

I suggested that The New Yorker interview dudleya expert Kelly Griffin, succulent product development manager for Altman Plants, the largest grower of succulents and cacti in the US. Griffin, a renowned breeder of aloes and agaves, is also an avid dudleya hybridizer. In my recent YouTube video, he shows the Dudleya cultivars he’s testing in his own garden.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dudleyas in Kelly Griffin’s garden

They’re indeed beautiful: Large, lush, floriferous and full of vigor. Should the unthinkable happen and native dudleyas become rare, Griffin’s hybrids are certain to live on in cultivated gardens. This isn’t unprecedented, in fact it’s the case with other widely grown succulents no longer in the wild, like Aloe vera and Echinocactus grusonii (golden barrel cactus). However, it’s uncertain whether Northern CA’s plundered dudleya population will ever be the same.

There are two distinct types of dudleyas: Those that form colonies of multiple rosettes with pencil-like leaves, and those with solitary, wide-leaved rosettes. This is Dudleya greenii, native to the Channel Islands off the CA coast.

 

Roadside Dudleyas

In San Diego County where I live, dudleyas are fairly easy to spot. Steep, rocky escarpments within a few miles of the Pacific are potential habitats. After winter rains, the plants plump and produce new growth. They do best where they don’t have to compete with weeds, and they tend not to face south because it’s too hot in summer. When driving the Del Dios Highway between Escondido and Del Mar, look for silvery stars clinging to rocky outcroppings. It’s gratifying that dudleyas within sight of thousands of daily commuters are out of reach. There’s almost no place to park, and even if a poacher dared, drivers whizzing past would be witnesses.

Related Info:

Read the New Yorker article: Succulent Smugglers Descend on California. 

See my latest YouTube video: How to Keep Dudleyas Alive.

Listen to my interview on Radio New Zealand—a result of The New Yorker article.

Sherman Gardens succulents
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A Garden of Collectible Succulents in Corona

Do you collect special succulents that you’d like to grow outdoors in your garden? If you’re in Southern CA, do visit the cactus and succulent garden at Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona Del Mar, CA. It offers so many great tips and ideas!

Sherman Gardens succulents

Pat Roach and I pose in Sherman’s succulent garden.

Imagine…a dear friend who lives in LA had never been to Sherman Gardens! I’m in San Diego, so an Orange County botanical garden was the perfect place to meet. We were celebrating the fact that we’re finally the same age. (She’s a math teacher but kindly didn’t say that I’m six months older and always will be.) So on a bright early-spring day, Pat Roach and I were ladies-who-lunch at Sherman’s la-dee-dah garden cafe.

Originally a home that later became a nursery, Sherman’s 2.2 acres now are a venue for weddings and other upscale events. It includes lathe houses, beds of annuals and roses, fountains, a koi pond and tropicals. It’s on busy Coast Highway, but once beyond the fence, you’re in a different world. Outdoor areas are themed and make smart use of every square foot.

Pat and I first met when she took my design class, so at Sherman we spent most of our time in the cactus and succulent garden. It beautifully blends specimen plants with rocks and boulders. The designer, Matthew Maggio, is a horticulturist knowledgeable about how the plants grow in habitat—always a boon to effective placement and cultivation. Matt redesigned and replanted the 1,200-square foot area 12 years ago, and helps it stay looking good.

One of the focal points would work in any size garden: a large, shallow terra-cotta pot set amid boulders. Burro-tail sedum and Senecio repens cascade out of it, and echeverias surround a lovely agave in its center. Photos I’ve taken of the pot over the years show a succession of agaves, each variegated, no doubt to echo a Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ nearby.

Agave 'Joe Hoak'

2007: The wide, shallow terra-cotta pot showcases Agave ‘Joe Hoak’.

 

Sherman succulent garden

2011: Same terra-cotta pot, redone with variegated Agave vilmoriniana. Notice the furcraea in the background (the two plants visually blend together), and the addition of red bromeliads.

 

Sherman Gardens succulents

2019: Now large, the furcraea appears to explode behind the pot. In it, with wavy leaves, is variegated Agave gypsophila.

My photos from earlier visits also show a large Dasylirion wheeleri midway down the garden’s long, narrow bed. It has since been replaced with bromeliads, aloes and agaves. This enables visitors to better appreciate how blue Senecio serpens forms a meandering river that visually unifies the bed’s diverse plantings.

Sherman Gardens succulents

2005: Dasylirion wheeleri dominates the long, narrow bed, which doesn’t yet include Matthew Maggio’s succulents-and-stones mosaics.

 

Sherman garden succulents

2011: Although the long bed now has colorful rocks, succulents and bromeliads, the dasylirion still shouts, “Look at me!”

 

Sherman gardens succulents

2019: Bromeliads and agaves have replaced the dasylirion, and mature tree aloes lend balance, height and interest.

 

Sherman Library and Gardens is at 2647 E. Pacific Coast Hwy, Corona del Mar, CA. Hours: 10 to 4 daily. Closed major holidays. Free parking. Adults $5.

On My YouTube channel:

Succulent Design Ideas from Sherman Gardens

Sherman Gardens succulent garden

In this 4-min. video, I take you on a tour of the highlights of Sherman’s succulent garden

Plant IDs:

Agave attenuata 'Variegata at Sherman Gardens

Agave attenuata ‘Variegata’ sparkles at one end of the long bed.

 

Euphorbia cooperi at Sherman Gardens

Stems of Euphorbia cooperi suggest a series of bells.

 

Dioscorea elephantipes at Sherman Gardens

Dioscorea elephantipes, lower right, resembles a turtle’s back.

 

Senecio rowleyanus at Sherman Gardens

String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) appears to flow into balusters below it.

 

Agave nickelsae at Sherman Gardens

Agave nickelsiae (formerly Agave ferdinandi-regis)

 

Ice plants at Sherman Gardens

The garden’s climate and proximity to the ocean make this collection of ice plants (mesembryanthemums) possible.

Euphorbias at Sherman Gardens

Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’ in Sherman Gardens’ euphorbia section

 

Red aloe at Sherman Gardens

Plenty of sun and growing amid rocks help to turn Aloe dorotheae red

 

Haworthias at Sherman Gardens

Haworthias at Sherman Gardens include (clockwise from top): H. cymbiformis ‘Variegata’; H. truncata; H. limifolia ‘Variegata’; H. retusa (or possibly bayeri).

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Newport Beach succulent garden
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Critique: Newport Beach’s Grand Succulent Garden

If you’re planning to design, revamp or evaluate a succulent landscape, find out what I like and what dismays me about Newport Beach’s grand Civic Center succulent garden. It’s large-scale, but its plusses and minuses apply to waterwise gardens of any size.

Opened in 2013, the Newport Beach Civic Center graces a coastal community of homes with an average value of $2,000,000. The complex cost $140 million and is a masterpiece of modern architecture within sight of the Pacific. Overlapping, S-shaped awnings atop a series of sleek buildings suggest ocean waves. The multi-acre succulent garden along the complex’s north side is a public park.

It has a nice layout, with wide, serpentine paths that invite strolling and rolling (everything from baby carriages to wheelchairs). There are multiple plantings of large specimens—Dracaena draco, Aloe bainesii, Beaucarnea recurvata and columnar cacti. These likely were mature at installation in order to be in scale with their setting, and doubtless were craned-in at no small expense. Filler plants include agaves, dasylirions, aloes, puyas (a succulent bromeliad), golden barrels, aeoniums, Senecio mandraliscae, and silver-leaved Cotyledon orbiculata. Warm-toned gravel enhances the design, holds moisture in the soil, inhibits weed growth, and lends visual continuity. In light of the fact that structures across the street have water-thirsty lawns and tightly pruned shrubs (landscaping that doesn’t make sense on so many levels), what’s not to love?

Newport Beach Civic Center garden

Silver and blue succulents dominate the Newport Beach Civic Center garden

Highly toxic euphorbia

Well, Euphorbia resinifera for one thing. I like the mounding growth habit of this African succulent, which suggests a short-spined cactus consisting of squarish, columnar green stems. It grows slowly into ever-expanding colonies. However, this cool-looking plant is quite hot…and not in a good way.

Suggestions for the Newport Beach succulent garden

Euphorbia resinifera has short, sharp spines and—typical of the genus—milky sap.

Its milky, resinous sap contains resiniferatoxin, which is similar to capsaicin in peppers but a thousand times hotter. On the Scoville scale, resiniferatoxin ranks at 16 billion units, 4.5 million times hotter than a jalapeno. So if the sap should enter an open wound or eye, the sensation would be like a blow torch. Of course that’s only possible when Euphorbia resinifera grows where someone could fall on it, break its stems, and get scratched by its thorns…like along the downward curve of a pathway in a public garden frequented by kids on scooters, skates and bikes.

Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

Adding a curb would create a barrier that keeps kids from careening into Euphorbia resinifera. 

A missed opportunity

Another succulent in the garden, prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.), is far from pathways…which is no surprise because it’s obviously unfriendly.

Newport Beach succulent garden

Prickly pear cactus (lower center) grows well away from foot traffic.

Yet Opuntia species that lack spines are nowhere to be found, and they would have been suitable anywhere. Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’, shown below at a nursery, grows tall (upwards of 6 feet), offers a pleasing silhouette of ever-branching ovals, forms a sculptural green backdrop, starts readily from cuttings, gets by on rainfall alone, and is entirely harmless.

Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

Spineless paddle cactus at a nursery

Silver swords and serrated leaves

Spare-no-expense plants such as Puya venusta (a succulent bromeliad) and Cleistocactus strausii (a fuzzy columnar cactus) blend together in a surreal, silvery harmony of starbursts and snowy poles. But IMHO they’re a bit too texturally inviting to be at toddler-level.

Suggestions for the Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

Silver swords combine with bromeliads near Civic Center windows. From my video: “Newport Beach’s Grand Succulent Garden”

Yes, of course, parents should teach children not to touch unfamiliar plants, especially any that are spiny, thorny, toothed or bristly. But what about plants that touch kids? Over time, the puyas have become crowded and some, seeking light, have grown horizontally. Here’s one that had to be cut back from the pathway. Doing so has destroyed the plant’s symmetry and bloom potential.

Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

A truncated Puya venusta at the Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

I also wonder if the area that this silver grouping occupies—north-facing, close to the building and beneath its wavy eaves—is sunny enough for puyas to bloom. After all, that’s what they’re known for: eye-catching, truly-blue flowers.

Suggestions for the Newport Beach Succulent Garden

Big silver puyas bloom blue.

Best-ever beaucarneas

On the plus side, the garden showcases how to mound and topdress soil, use planted islands, and how just a few sculptural succulents can create an intriguing, low-maintenance, low-water landscape. This is best illustrated by a grouping of Beaucarnea recurvata. (Its common names “ponytail palm,” “elephant’s foot palm” and “bottle palm” are misleading—these tree succulents aren’t palms.) Like many agaves and cacti also in the garden, beaucarneas are from Mexico. They’re easy to come by, inexpensive even in 5-gallon pots, grow fairly rapidly when in the ground (about a foot a year), tolerate mild frosts, and have intriguing Dr. Seuss-like forms. What makes each “succulent” is its bulbous, water-storing base (caudex). In summer, the trees’ topknots produce feathery sprays of cream and pink flowers.

Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

Beaucarnea recurvata in bloom

Out-of-control agaves

But for me, the most perplexing aspects of the garden are its rows of century plants (Agave americana) that occupy large beds between walkways and street. I suspect that what must have seemed brilliantly economical six years ago has become a maintenance nightmare. Though quite common and often free for the asking, century plants eventually get as big as Volkswagens and produce numerous offsets (“pups”) from shallow roots.

Newport Beach Civic Center succulent garden

Trimming a century plant like a pineapple removes problematic foliage, but it’ll pup regardless

These large agaves’ thick leaves are wickedly toothed along their margins and tipped in sharp spines. I suspect that after a few years, century plants began encroaching on walkways. The need to prune some of them likely led to the aesthetic decision to trim all of them so they look the same.

Agave americana in habitat

As shown in my YouTube video, “Do’s and Don’ts of Growing Century Plants,” Agave americana produces pups (clones of the mother plant), which in turn spawn grandpups.

 

Newport Beach succulent garden

These pineappled century plants are in my YouTube video, “Newport Beach’s Grand Succulent Garden”

En masse these agaves resemble a pineapple plantation, but that doesn’t offend me. What does, is that agave leaf pruning and pup removal are labor-intensive. Moreover, many municipalities won’t accept agave green waste—the plants are too fibrous, spiny and slow to decompose. I’m curious how thousands of sliced-off century plant leaves, each nearly as large as its machete-wielding gardener, have been (and will continue to be) disposed of.

Agave alternatives

There do exist large, statuesque agaves that are not especially treacherous and don’t pup like feral dogs. Two that would have worked well here (if it were possible to source them in quantity) are Agave guiengola and Agave ovatifolia. But using better-behaved agaves is just one alternative. Also from the Southwest US and Mexico are low-maintenance, low-water succulents such as yuccas, dasylirions and hesperaloes. They’re dynamic planted in multiples and don’t bloom-then-die like agaves do.

If I were to give the Newport Beach Civic Center’s succulent garden a letter grade, it would be a C+. I’d like to give it higher, but online info indicates that numerous large and expensive specimens (like Aloe thraskii, a tree succulent) that had been planted early-on, died. Perhaps they couldn’t tolerate being transplanted or were sited incorrectly. Regardless, my sad conclusion is that inadequate horticultural research prior to the installation of this grand succulent garden wasted time, taxpayers’ money and potentially terrific plants.

Related Info:

On this site…

Succulents for Coastal Southern CA Gardens (plant list)

No-Water Succulents for Southern CA (garden of Mark and Cindy Evans, Laguna Beach)

On my YouTube channel…

Video, Newport Beach Succulent Garden

Watch the video of my visit to the Newport Beach Succulent Garden

 

About century plants

Don’t miss my video about the pros and cons of a large succulent that’s often free: Agave americana

 

Great agaves for gardens

Agave expert Kelly Griffin and I show half a dozen lovely, non-pupping agaves.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Mangave 'Red Wing'
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Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Tony’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives, and offers more than 1,400 kinds of perennials via mail-order.

Plant Delights’ Spring ’19 catalog includes two dozen recently introduced Mangave cultivars. “The parade of amazing new mangaves hasn’t slowed,” Tony says. “Once people see and grow mangaves, they realize how fantastic they are.”

Here’s more from Tony Avent on these intriguing ManfredaAgave crosses:

Breeding Mangave

“It started back in the ’90s on a visit to Yucca-Do Nursery in Texas. They’d collected seeds from a manfreda in Mexico, and two of the seedlings were five times as big as they should be. They had spots like manfreda but were enormous, and their structure was agave-like. The blooms were just not right. Agave celsii had been growing in the next valley, and we realized, OMG, we have a Mangave!

Agave celsii

Agave celsii

“We started breeding them at Plant Delights, and after five years of crossing, we could see the potential. It’s like when Dan Heims got started with Heuchera.

We do a lot of trials, but taking on mangaves was just too much. We gave all our breeding stock to Hans Hansen, an incredible plantsman and hybridizer at Walters Gardens in Michigan. The mangaves sat unnoticed in the back of a greenhouse until the cover came off the building. When exposed to ultraviolet light, they turned all these incredible colors.

Hybridizer Hans Hansen is Director of Plant Development at Walters Gardens, Zeeland, MI.

“We send pollen off of every agave that flowers to Hans. What he’s done is create agaves with purple and red spots. They’re fast growers with hybrid vigor. A mangave plug grown from tissue culture takes 12 to 16 weeks to fill out a quart container, then another two weeks to fill a gallon. Agaves, in comparison, take 63 weeks. Hans grows a thousand seedlings, selects 100, then 50, then 25. Then he picks one or two to keep and sends us a few discards to trial. That way we have the advantage of knowing what the crosses will do.

“I’ve never felt the need to second-guess Hans. He’s very keen on what he’s created and understands what’s cool and how to use the plants—their garden value. It’s been challenging for him. He’s in Michigan breeding for the West Coast, but he realizes how good these plants are, and he’s persevered.

Mangave characteristics

Mangave 'Bloodspot'

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

“So far we haven’t seen any mangaves that are monocarpic like their agave parents. ‘Bloodspot’ flowered and produced 50 offsets. We’ve never lost a mangave to flowering. Manfredas, if it’s too cold—upper 30s, low 40s—become deciduous. They also may go summer-dormant where temperatures are high.

“Mangave roots tend to conform to the pot size, like agaves. They may be screaming, but they’ll stay small in a small container. Leaf fragility…some are more brittle than others. Early ones were incredibly brittle. The way we solve the breakage problem when shipping them is to let them dry down. Leaves that become flaccid don’t break.

Manfreda virginica

Manfreda virginica is insanely hardy.” — Tony Avent

“Mangave cultivars are not necessarily winter hardy. It depends on their parentage. Manfredas are found in Zones 4 through 8, from the Midwest to southern Illinois, central North Carolina, Florida, central Texas and central Mexico. They’re dry-land plants, but are more tolerant of overwatering than agaves. Even in a hurricane, a mangave will keep on going. As for extreme drought, mangaves are probably not as tolerant as agaves, but again, it depends on the parent. You can’t say of any genus, ‘They’ll all do this.’

“Mangaves are fantastic in containers. They’re not great indoors—they lose their color without UV light. If need be, overwinter them inside, then take them outside in the spring.

Mangave 'Blue Mammoth'

Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ is among the most hardy.

“Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ has been the most hardy in our trials, to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s an Agave ovatifolia hybid that forms a 2-foot-tall by 4-feet-wide rosette of jagged blue leaves with olive spots. Other mangaves that go to Zone 7 are ‘Falling Waters’ and ‘Bad Hair Day’.

Another new genus: Hansara

“We offer Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks,’ the first tri-generic hybrid, which we named after Hans. Agave, Manfreda, Polyanthes and Hosta are all closely related. So Hans started making tri-generic crosses, aiming for highly fragrant flowers, Mexican color, and hardiness. Crosses of Hosta and Agave are the most difficult to make.

Hansara 'Jumping Jacks'

Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks’ combines the genes of Agave gypsophila ssp. pablocarrilloi, Agave macroacantha, Manfreda maculosa, Polyanthus tuberosa, and Polyanthus howardii.

“‘Jumping Jacks’ forms a 14-inch-tall by 27-inch wide clump of narrow, succulent, gray-green foliage, sparsely spotted purple. When mature in 2 to 3 years, it produces a 6 foot-tall, highly branched flower spike of lovely yellow flowers but with an insignificant fragrance.

Mangaves in the stratosphere

Mangave 'Red Wing'

Mangave ‘Red Wing’

“Mangaves like ‘Red Wing’ have foliage colors that don’t look real. Variegated manfredas as parents will launch mangaves into the stratosphere. What’s been done so far is maybe 2 percent of what can and will be done. In California and Mediterranean climates this is an opportunity to rewrite what people do with their landscapes.

“Every day there’s something new and exciting with plant hybridization. It’s a great time to be alive.”

Learn more about mangaves…

Testing Mangaves in My Garden

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ in my garden

On my page, “Testing Mangaves in My Garden” you’ll learn about the Mangave cultivars I’m trialing in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago…[Continue reading] 

See the mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen on his Facebook page: “Mad About Mangave”.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well but some better than others. I evaluate their progress and consider how to help each attain its full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera.

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'
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Testing Mangaves in My Garden

I’m testing more than 30 Mangave cultivars in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago from Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens, a wholesale perennial grower in Zeeland, MI. Hans is the world’s leading breeder of mangaves, and the first to reproduce them via tissue culture.

The hard part for breeders is selecting the true champions. Like a litter of puppies, plant crosses may look terrific, but how will they behave? It may take years to find out, and reports (like this) from gardeners far and wide provide important data.

Mangave is an intergeneric cross of Manfreda and Agave, and in the list below I’ve included each cultivar’s parentage (if available). All have speckled, dotted or blotchy leaves unless otherwise noted.

A bit of horticultural backstory

Mangaves

Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’
From Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin. Garden design by Michael Buckner.

The first mangave arrived on the gardening scene 15 years ago: the cultivar ‘Macho Mocha’. According to San Marcos Growers: “…reported to be hardy to 9° F by Tony Avent in North Carolina. This 2004 Yucca Do Nursery introduction…was from seed collected by Carl Schoenfeld while on a plant exploration trip into Mexico.” It attains 2 to 3 feet in height by 4 to 6 feet in diameter.

Mangave

The best guess is that Agave macroacantha x Manfreda maculata = Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

Next came Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (2008; 1 foot high by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy to 20-25 degrees.) The origin is unclear; San Marcos Growers suspects Japan.

In my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed, 2015, pp. 224-225), I show both ‘Bloodspot’ and “Macho Mocha’ and say, “If plants can be fashionable, the latest stars are mangaves.” I still feel that way. Mangaves are new, beautiful, interesting, as easy to grow as any succulent—and as for hybridization, the sky’s the limit.

When the mangaves arrived, it was Christmas in January

I don’t grow many exotic succulents. I’m into creating a beautiful garden with those easy to come by. If common succulents don’t thrive, there’s no great loss. My few rarities are in pots where I can keep an eye on them. So when the box of mangaves arrived, into pots they went…for the most part. In hindsight, that probably protected a few of them but kept others from attaining their full potential. Regardless, two years later, I’m pleased to report all are alive and well.

I’ll never forget opening that shipment back in 2017. The plants had been greenhouse-grown, and boxing and shipping had caused broken leaves. That made me groan, but I quickly became caught up in identifying their agave parentage. I said aloud to a plant with wavy leaves that looked trimmed with pinking shears, “I’ll bet you’re from Agave gypsophila.” To the spitting image of a very common green agave that was a surprising lavender, I murmured, “Surely you’re not related to Agave attenuata?” All in all, those mangaves were the best gifts I’d ever received from someone I hadn’t met.

Manfreda cultivar

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’

I knew nothing about manfredas, the lily side of mangaves, so I was pleased that Hans had included two.

Manfreda cross

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is a variegated sport of Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chip’.

One manfreda went into a pot, the other, into the ground. The latter started out glorious and stayed that way. In fact, Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is now among my favorite plants.

I sheltered all 14 as best as I could from extremes of sun, heat and cold. As it turns out, that may not have been necessary.

How to grow mangaves

Not taking any chances, I potted and shaded my new mangaves.

That first assortment from Walters Gardens included two manfredas and 12 mangaves.

The list below describes plants from the first shipment and coincides with my January, 2019 video: “Mangaves in My Garden.” Some need repotting or a better location, which I’ve done since or soon will do.

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ (introduced 2017, photo above), has floppy, wavy, narrow leaves. It was beautiful in a pot for months, then seemed to suffer in the summer heat. A section (perhaps a separate plant) bloomed and died back. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery says the rest may have simply gone dormant after blooming and will come back. [See my mangave interview with Tony.] It also may have needed more water than I was giving it, or it wanted to be in the ground. In summer, leaves lost their sheen, and tips dried and shriveled. In fall, ants colonized the container. Above is how it looks now, revived by winter rains.

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ (photo above) looks delicate but isn’t. (Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity. Zones 7b to 9b?) It has done well in a sheltered bed alongside a wall that bounces sunlight onto it, doubtless helping its color. Spider-shaped with tapering, rippled, ribbonlike leaves, it’s fascinating, as are its red blotches and creamy white margins. I’m thinking of removing any blooms to keep the plant strong.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Carnival’ is a Mangave ‘Jaguar’ cross. Its variegation is the reverse of Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’.

Mangave ‘Carnival’ exhibits the best and worst characteristics of the new genus: Wonderful rosy-red dots blend with pink, green and cream (the best) and leaves that are too fragile for the plant to exist unscathed in the open garden. It also doesn’t like the summer heat of inland southern CA.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ in my garden (top) and as shown on the Walters Gardens website. (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave colorata

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ (2017) has languished in a too-shady spot in my garden, growing and even offsetting, but producing no color other than silvery-blue. Its leaves have elongated, and their pie-crust edges hearken to its A. gypsophila parentage. I may have to move it into greater light to get it to look more like the photo on the Walters site.

Mangave hybrid

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ has long, narrow, flexible, dark green leaves thickly dotted with inky blotches that give it a reptilian look. It’s not be a thing of beauty, but it’s interesting.

Above: Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ given the right amount of sun.

 

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

The same plant after being transplanted into an garden bed that gets too little light.

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ (2016; variegated sport of Mangave ‘Jaguar’. Sun to part shade, 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide at maturity.) ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a fast-growing, stunningly striped and mottled, large multicolored succulent that glows beautifully when backlit. I first planted it in a pot which it quickly outgrew, then transplanted it into the ground where it probably needs more sun. Rather than replanting it a third time, I’ll just trim the tree that’s shading it.

Mangave hybrid

Agave attenuata x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (2017. Sun to part shade. 12 inches tall by 20 inches wide at maturity. Frost tender.) Having grown both parents, I was truly delighted to meet their lavender-gray offspring. I’ve had it in a pink pot for two years, possibly stunting it. I’ll soon find it a place in the garden—one that’s frost-free, because this lovely cultivar lacks hardiness.

Mangave 'Man of Steel'

Agave stricta x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Man of Steel’

Mangave ‘Man of Steel’. I’m familiar with both parents, so unpacking this beauty was like a family reunion. Both ‘Bloodspot’ and A. stricta are stiff-leaved, so not surprisingly their offspring is, too. On the plus side, ‘Man of Steel’ is not as delicate as other mangaves. Its thin, silvery, downward-curving leaves offer an elegant and symmetrical—if pointy—silhouette.

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (Manfreda jaliscana x Agave lophantha) x Agave shawii.

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (2017. Anticipated to be 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity, Zones 9a to 11?). I’m unfamiliar with its manfreda parent but it must be red and soft, because its agave parents are green, gray and stiff-leaved. The hybrid’s many red blotches nearly cover any green, but in my garden some leaf tips have shriveled. What it lacks in symmetry and form it makes up for in color…pretty much. I should dig it up and see if it does better in a pot.

Mangave 'Moonglow'

Mangave ‘Moonglow’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Moonglow’. Showing the best of both parents with soft, wavy-edged and curling slender leaves, this suggests ‘Inkblot’ with more of a bluish cast. Dots are thick and maroon. I have it in a blue pot that suits it.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Mangave ‘Jaguar’) in my garden.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ on the Walters Gardens website

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’. In catalog photos this looks like the foliage atop a pineapple, only speckled. The one I planted in a pedestal pot doesn’t have a pronounced, stacked-leaf growth habit. It has stayed fountainlike and nicely dotted, but yellow-green. I’ve since removed it from the pot and expect good things from it in the ground.

Mangave 'Silver Fox'

Agave gypsophila x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Silver Fox’.

Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ (2017. Sun to part shade. Zones 9a to 11? Eleven inches tall by 22 inches wide at maturity.) Nursery photos show a compact, wavy rosette that’s distinctly silvery-purple and rosy-dotted. Mine looks more like a short-leaved gypsophila, minimally freckled. It’s happy but possibly needs more light.

Mangave 'Spotty Dotty'

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave bovicornuta.

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’. This has performed well in my garden and colored up nicely. Its gently twisting, soft, greenish-yellow leaves are well freckled with red. A favorite.

Mangave ‘Whale’s Tale’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave ovatifolia.

Mangave ‘Whale Tale’ (2018. Sun to part shade. Zones 7b to 11? Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity.) Mine has no speckles and simply looks like a nice silver agave with darker areas that lack pulverulence. It’s a lovely plant but again, it probably needs more sun to enhance its color. In my garden, that’s invariably a trade-off: More sun equals greater danger of beige sunburned patches and brown, dry leaf tips.

What is a manfreda?

If you’re into succulents, you’re well aware of agaves. But chances are you’ve never heard of the genus Manfreda. After all, it’s not in the Sunset Western Garden Book. There exist 35 species of these lilylike succulents. Like AgaveManfreda hails from Mexico, but also ranges much farther north and east. The genus is closely enough related to Agave that the plants can cross, although this rarely happens in nature.  Manfreda is also related to Polianthes. Plants in both genera are commonly referred to as tuberoses.

Tuberose leaves form rosettes from a short stem and send up fragrant flowers along slender stalks. Flowers are tubular and whitish, yellow, green, or brownish, with long stamens. Some are wonderfully fragrant. Manfredas, unlike agaves, don’t die after flowering—a nice characteristic they pass on to their intergeneric crosses, the mangaves. Leaf margins of manfredas are smooth or slightly serrated and lack spiny tips.

Manfreda maculosa

Manfreda maculosa is the progenitor of numerous crosses

Spotted manfreda, (Manfreda maculosa, commonly called Texas tuberosehas silvery-green leaves covered with purple spots. It’s the one most often seen in cultivation. 

According to Plant Delights Nursery: “Like its Agave daddy, x Mangave are evergreen (above freezing) and like its Manfreda momma, it is polycarpic (doesn’t die after flowering) and attracts hummingbirds. The agave parent contributes the evergreen nature and the form, while the manfreda parent contributes the purple spotted pigment. Both parents contribute drought-tolerance and an aversion to winter moisture.”

[See my mangave interview with Tony Avent of Plant Delights.]

Mangaves in My Garden 

Back in 2017, before my first shipment arrived, mangaves were not entirely unknown to me. I’d seen two cultivars in high-end gardens by San Diego designer Michael Buckner. I considered the plants expensive rarities and suspected they probably wouldn’t thrive in the comparatively rigorous conditions of my own garden. Located in the foothills of inland San Diego County on a steep, terraced, east-facing slope, it gets frost every winter (down to the high 20s F) and near-desert heat in late summer (into the 90s for weeks). Although I’ve been amending the soil for decades, the substrate is decomposed granite (not a bad thing, it’s well draining) and clay (never a good thing.) Fortunately there’s not a lot of clay—about enough to build an adobe dog house.

The succulents that thrive out in the open in my garden are those that aren’t picky. Full-sun, frost-prone areas are OK for agaves and cacti, and those Southwest succulents that store water in their trunks, such as dasylirions, yuccas and beaucarneas. I have every kind of aeonium in the dappled shade of native oaks and beneath lacy trees, and quite a few aloes, although it’s a balancing act to give the latter adequate protection from weather extremes yet enough sun to bloom.

Tender succulents such as jades, kalanchoes and euphorbias grow in frost-free microclimates beneath eaves, where they bask in half a day’s sun. Apart from shade succulents like sansevierias and toughies like graptoverias and Mexican sedums, others (like echeverias, haworthias and stapeliads) are in pots that I move or shelter as seasons change.

So what about your garden? 

Manfredas prefer full sun, short of scorching; well-drained soil that’s kept on the dry side; and room for their root systems to expand. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep. I’ve noticed that mangaves with established rootballs can be difficult to remove from pots. Some sources say that Mangave is a slow grower; others, that it’s much faster than Agave. So far, with the exception of ‘Kaleidoscope’—a mangave on steroids—they seem about the same.

Late spring and summer is the growth season. Like most succulents, mangaves appreciate a dose of diluted fertilizer when emerging from dormancy. They’re fine outdoors in mild climates with minimal rainfall, typical of Southern CA. Elsewhere, overwinter them indoors. Keep them cool and the soil barely moist. In spring, return them to the garden and reintroduce to full sun gradually. They’re not great indoor plants because they need ultraviolet light to color-up.

As for garden design, the aesthetic uses of mangaves are only beginning to be explored. I anticipate that they’ll become commonplace in low-water landscapes throughout the Southwest, likely with a broader range than South African succulents, but not venturing into desert gardens. I could be wrong about that, but mine don’t seem to like late-summer heat. The plants’ soft, arching leaves and interesting spotting and striping will likely make them collectible novelties, beginning in California and spreading worldwide.

By the mid-’20s, mangaves will doubtless be commonplace. The certainty of new cultivars selected for desirable colors, variegation, toughness, growth habit and size means there’s no limit to what’s possible—from upright, spiky, speckled, stiff-leaved, agave-lookalikes to ribbon-foliaged lilies that are languorous, loopy, crenellated, freckled and noodle-soft.

Mangave drawbacks

The main drawback to early Mangave cultivars, especially those bred not to “bite” (i.e. they lack the needlelike tips and barbed teeth of their Agave parents) is soft, flexible, thin and brittle foliage that’s prone to tearing or breaking, and is easily damaged by snails or impact. Place such plants out of harm’s way to avoid compromising their beautiful symmetry. Although they’ll outgrow breakage, mangaves are succulents that shouldn’t be stepped on, even by a chihuahua.

They’re also vulnerable to agave snout weevil infestation.

Find out more about mangaves…

Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves 

Mangave expert

Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Avent’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives…[Continue reading] 

Visit the Mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.

Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen by following his Facebook “Mad About Mangave” page.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well and some better than others. I evaluate the plants’ progress and how to attain their full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera!

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulent garden
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New Videos, Great Takeaways from Jeanne Meadow’s Garden

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

Wavy-leaved ‘Cornelius’ is Jeanne’s favorite agave. “It doesn’t get too big, can handle full sun and cold, and always looks good,” she says.

I’m pleased to announce the release this week on my YouTube channel of two fun new videos: Jeanne Meadow’s Succulent Garden, Tips and Tour, Part One and Part Two.

You know how people say that after they die they want to come back as so-and-so’s dog, because it’s so pampered? Well, I want to come back as a succulent in Jeanne Meadow’s garden. No one celebrates succulents quite like Jeanne. She’s gleeful about their shapes and colors, delights in adding them to garden beds, and collects art pots to showcase choice specimens. Each one is a special pet.

Here for your entertainment are some great takeaways from the new releases.

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

Plant an aloe outside your dining room window so you can enjoy its blooms and watch hummingbirds flit from flower to flower.

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

Unlike many gardeners, Jeanne doesn’t consider “mother of thousands” kalanchoes to be weeds. “They pop up everywhere, but they’re easy to pull,” she says. “And the flowers are gorgeous.”

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

Assemble a palette of topdressings to choose among. Collecting and displaying them is part of the fun. At right, a stack of planted pots appears to be tipping over—a whimsical illusion. They’re aligned on 3/4-inch rebar that goes into the ground four feet.

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

To successfully grow a succulent prone to rot like Echeveria agavoides ‘Black Knight’, plant it atop a mound of rocks so its roots never sit in water.

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

If you have a magnificent specimen like Jeanne’s large Agave nickelsiae (formerly Agave ferdinandi-regis), give it stand-alone space so it can be seen and admired.

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

“If dead leaves don’t pull off easily, it means the plant wants to keep them,” Jeanne says of her Aloe marlothii. “The trunk is sensitive and they help protect it.”

 

Jeanne Meadow's succulent garden

If you’re lucky enough to have a colorful mangave with translucent leaves (like ‘Kaleidoscope’), put it in a tall pot so sunlight will make it glow and it’ll be seen from all directions.

 

Related Info on This Site:

Make a Low-Light, Scooped-From-the-Garden Succulent Dish Garden 

Succulent dish garden

This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window. Owner Jeanne Meadow displays it on her covered patio and waters it…[Continue reading]

Use Crushed-Rock Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Crushed rock topdressing

In the ground or in pots, your succulent compositions will look and perform better if bare soil doesn’t show. Top dressing lends a finished look, and plants benefit from the way…[Continue reading]

On My YouTube Channel:

Jeanne Meadow’s Succulents (Playlist) 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulents and rain
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Succulent Rainstorm Checklist

Yay! Rain’s on the way! Are your succulents ready? Succulents love rain but some may be in danger of getting too much. Here’s my own Succulent Rain Checklist:

In-ground succulents:

— Channel runoff away from low-lying garden beds.

— Turn off automatic irrigation. Leave it off until the weather warms and the soil dries in spring.

Succulents in containers, outdoors:

— Check to make sure drain holes aren’t clogged. This sometimes happens when pots sit on the ground instead of atop rocks or pavement. Use a chopstick to test the hole (push upward from underneath).

— If soil is already wet, move potted succulents under cover. A bit more rain probably won’t hurt, but if succulents (especially rotund euphorbias and cacti) stay cold and wet for prolonged periods, they may rot.

Rotted haworthia

My fault. I’d forgotten that the container didn’t have a drain hole.

Succulents in containers indoors and on covered patios:

— Place them where they’ll get a good soaking. Rain provides dissolved minerals and nitrogen, washes away dust that inhibits photosynthesis, flushes harmful salts from the soil, and boosts spring growth and flowering.

— Set out buckets and pitchers to collect rainwater. Use it to water succulents you can’t or didn’t move.

— It’s seems obvious but is worth emphasizing: Don’t set succulents in non-draining containers out in the rain.

After the rain:

— Don’t let sunshine scorch plants you’ve moved into the open. Haworthias, sansevierias, and anything variegated are especially vulnerable.

— Check the forecast. If nighttime temps are predicted to drop to 32 degrees F or lower, late in the afternoon cover vulnerable succulents with bedsheets. Or use a lightweight, non-woven fabric sold in garden centers as “frost cloth” or “floating row cover.” Succulents along walls or under eaves and trees are less likely to freeze than those beneath open sky.

What about hail?

There’s not much you can do. In several seconds, soft-leaved succulents can get pitted by hail’s impact. The good news is that spring growth usually hides the damage. You can try protecting soft-leaved succulents (like Agave attenuata) with frost cloth. I place an old window screen atop my thin-skinned, juicy-leaved Glottyphyllum linguiforme because hail makes it look terrible forever.

Hail protection for succulents

Related info on my site:

How rain benefits succulents  Don’t be surprised if after a good rain, your succulents look brighter and more vibrant. Here’s how rain benefits succulents…[Continue reading]

Oh, No, My Succulents Froze!  Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s how frost-tender succulents looked before temps dropped into the mid-20s F, and after…[Continue reading]

Caring for Your Succulent Garden After Rainstorms, Checklist  Rain at last! Could the California drought finally be over? Well, no. It’ll take hundreds of years for underground aquifers…[Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel: 

Why Rain is Good for Potted Succulents

Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens

Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It

Did you find this newsletter helpful? Feel free to forward it to a friend! ~ Debra

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin