Agave attenuata bloom spike (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave attenuata (Foxtail Agave) Care & Cultivation

How do I love foxtail agaves (A. attenuata)? Let me count the ways:

    • They've performed well in my garden for over 20 years. In pots too.
    • Rosettes eventually attain a manageable 5' in diameter.
    • Soft, flexible leaves lack barbs or points. Yes, a harmless agave!
    • They're trunk-forming unlike other agaves, so they serve as beautiful backdrop plants and lend height to garden vignettes.
    • Grown en masse, foxtails are useful as (and suggest) hedges of big green flowers.
    • They're easy to propagate (see how in the video) and grow in climates other agaves won't.
    • There's even a simple, fun and clever way to decorate foxtails for the holidays!

How Foxtails are Different (and Better)

The species name attenuata refers to the leaves, and means “tapers gradually to a point.” Well so do the leaves of all agaves. It might have been better to give it a Latin name that means soft-leaved, thin-leaved or lacking spines. Oh well.

Agave attenuata also is unusual in that it does well in humid, semitropical regions of the US. A photo in my book Designing with Succulents (2nd ed., p. 145) shows foxtails in Hilo, Hawaii.

And these I saw in a garden in Paradise Valley near Phoenix --

Foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata) in Arizona

Foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata) in Arizona

The farther east from the Pacific Ocean, the more these thin-leaved succulents are susceptible to frost in winter and sunburn and heat stress in the summer. In such situations, they’re best grown under trees that provide a lacy canopy and diffuse strong sun. To keep such understory foxtails tidy, hose the centers of the plants occasionally to remove fallen leaves. They'll appreciate the extra water, too.

Foxtails make a nice border for paths and driveways, but keep in mind they will grow in the direction of greatest sunlight. Since they're trunk forming, they may eventually lean where you don’t want them. In the video you'll see one being repositioned.

Foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata) growing on an ocean cliff (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Foxtail agaves naturalized on a Laguna Beach, CA cliffside.

That big, bushy stalk

Agave attenuata is from central Mexico and rare in the wild. Typical of agaves, it blooms once in its lifetime, then dies. Bloom stalks form in midwinter, attain maturity by spring, and are unbranched and arching. Their bushy look led to the name "foxtail agave." Buds that line a stalk that emerges from the center of the plant open into chartreuse flowers with long stamens and pistils.

Foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata) flowering (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

This streetside colony, shown in bloom in December, was later destroyed by the plants' main pest: agave snout weevil. To prevent snout weevil, drench agaves two or three times a year with pre-emergent insecticide. Learn more. 

In early December, my neighbors decorate the tips of foxtail bloom spikes when they’re still easy to reach. By Christmas, the ornaments are high overhead (I show them in the video).

Incidentally, you don’t have to let the stalk grow. Cutting it off won’t save the plant from dying, but you won’t have a long stalk to get rid of of later on. Moreover, a truncated stalk may produce a mass of offsets, which can look cool and also be harvested and planted.

How to Propagate Foxtail Agaves

Flowers along the stalk mature into miniatures of the mother plant. When they’re teacup sized or larger and come off easily, plant them in a tray of coarse potting mix. Keep out of direct sun in barely moist soil until the little plants root, then transplant them into larger pots.

That’s fairly easy, but there’s an even better way to propagate Agave attenuata, and you don’t have to wait for it to bloom. All you need is colony of the plants (if you don't have one, a friend or neighbor likely does). At any time of year, it’s possible to remove offsets that grow on the trunk or at the base of a rosette.

Agave attenuata offset growing on trunk (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

To remove Agave attenuata offsets along the trunk, gently wiggle them off. See how.

The larger these little clones are, the more likely they have aerial roots. In the video, I harvest one and get it off to a good start in a nursery pot. In six months or so I'll plant it in the garden. They make great gap-fillers.

When repositioning Agave attenuata, all it needs is enough trunk to anchor it. Typical of stem succulents, roots will grow from a stub. Also like most succulents, foxtails are not fussy about soil as long as it drains well.

The biggest mistake people make when moving or replanting Agave attenuata as a cuttting is assuming they need a long trunk (and consequently a narrow deep hole).


  • Trim off any dead lower leaves prior to taking a cutting (removing a rosette).
  • Cut the trunk straight across 4 to 6 inches below the lowest leaves
  • Prepare the soil and dig a shallow cylindrical hole the size of the nubbin of trunk below the rosette
  • Set the cutting upright in its new location.
  • Protect from excessive sun by draping it with shade cloth (important in the summer months).
  • Like most succulent cuttings, it'll feed off its tissues while forming new roots.
  • Discard the rest of the trunk.
  • New growth may form from the decapitated trunk if it's rooted in the ground. Remove it if that's now what you want.

Pests and Problems

Foxtails are seldom bothered by pests, except for one. I used to think that agave snout weevils left them alone, but unfortunately that’s not the case. You’ll need to treat your foxtails preventatively, as you routinely do your other agaves. Learn more about snout weevil treatment and prevention.

Deer may significantly damage foxtail agaves, especially when food is scarce. Snails can be a problem too. I use Sluggo snail bait, because it kills the pests but doesn’t harm pets or wildlife.

Beige patches on leaves indicate sunburn. If the weather suddenly changes from weeks of cool overcast to temps above 80 and full hot sun, drape foxtails that are out in the open with lightweight fabric or shade cloth. The plants typically acclimate in about a week.

Seasonal threat to foxtail agaves

Because they're not cold-hardy, frost will cause long-lasting damage. I’m in Zone 9B, between Southern California’s coast and desert. I cover my foxtails with frost cloth when freezing temps (32 degrees and lower) are forecast. Learn more: Cold-Weather Care for Succulents. 

White spots on foxtail agave (Agave attenuata) (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

White spots on foxtail agaves result from impact damage, typically hail

The question I get asked most often about foxtail agaves is what these tiny white spots are. It’s hail damage, which people generally notice a week or more after a storm. Such pitting won't heal, but it doesn’t hurt the plants and in a few months will be barely noticeable. Typical of rosette succulents, new leaves that grow from the center of the plant hide imperfect older ones.

Gorgeous Variegates and Cultivars

Forms of Agave attenuata with blue-gray leaves include Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue' and 'Nova'. These may (but not always) have shorter, broader leaves and erect rather than pendant flower stalks.

Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue' (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue'

Variegates of Agave attenuata are prized by home gardeners and collectors alike. Just know that light-colored or striped plants tend to be weaker due to less chlorophyll. Named hybrids of Agave attenuata ‘Variegata’ include ‘Kara’s Stripes’ and ‘Ray of Light’.

Agave attenuata 'Kara's Stripes' (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave attenuata 'Kara's Stripes'


Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light'

Plants started from seed resemble their parents and each other, but will vary just as no two siblings are alike. Agave attenuata variegates seldom offset, are tricky to tissue culture, and take a decade or more to bloom (if ever). Such propagation challenges make them rarities, but eventually---due to consumer demand---we'll likely see more of them in nurseries.

In the early 1960s, hybridizer David Verity of UCLA's botanical garden crossed Agave attenuata with Agave shawii, resulting in Agave ‘Blue Flame’. Its smooth, flexible leaves lack teeth on their margins and curve inward, making the terminal spines less treacherous.

Later on, San Diego hybridizer Kelly Griffin crossed Agave attenuata with Agave ocahui, resulting in Agave ‘Blue Glow’. It's become one of the most popular landscape succulents, often planted in multiples because of its manageable size (3 feet in diameter), painterly colors, perfect symmetry, and solitary, nonpupping habit.

Agave 'Blue Flame' and Agave 'Blue Glow' (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave 'Blue Flame' (top) and Agave 'Blue Glow'

Here both are shown together at Succulent Gardens nursery south of San Francisco. Btw, this is one of my favorite photos ever. If you love it too, it's available as a note card and stretched canvas print at Succulent Chic, my online store.

Do you grow Agave attenuata? Agree it's a near-perfect plant? Kindly tell us in the Comments below or on my YouTube channel.

Related Info on This Site

Agave snout weevil damage (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment

Agave snout-nosed weevil is a half-inch-long black beetle with a downward-curving proboscis that enables it to pierce an agave’s core, where it lays its eggs. Grubs hatch, consume the agave’s heart, then burrow into the soil to pupate.

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Agave parryi 'Truncata' bloom (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Your Agave’s Blooming–Now What?

Your agave is blooming! Now what? In my new video, Q&A and photo gallery you’ll find expert advice, agave IDs and how to start the plants from seeds and bulbils.

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Frozen agave (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Protect Your Succulents From Rain, Hail, Frost

Prolonged damp and cold are death to succulents. Rot begins in the soil and goes up the trunk. Tissues soften, turn dark, and leaves fall off.

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Agaves: Uses, Photos, IDs and Varieties

With the exception of a few soft-leaved and variegated varieties, agaves want sun—the more the better in all but desert climates. Most are hardy to the mid- to high-20s F, and some go a lot lower. Sharp points at leaf tips and along leaf edges can make agaves treacherous. I snip about a quarter inch from leaves’ needlelike tips with garden shears.

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  1. Marilyn Chaffee on October 3, 2023 at 7:40 pm

    Hi Debra!
    I love this agave, especially for its *tropical* sensibility. In RB I gave up growing it on our unprotected slopes, but I love the potted versions on the covered patio. Keeping the plants in smaller pots also controls the size for me. I do like to underplant the agave with a low-growing succulent ground-cover. About every 2 years I cut the trunks and repot. (No “foxtails” yet …)
    Thanks so much … really informative video!
    Marilyn Chaffee

    • Debra on October 4, 2023 at 7:55 am

      Thank you Marilyn — I completely agree. Sounds like you understand Agave attenuata perfectly and are making it work in your microclimate. So interesting about cutting the trunk and repotting about every two years. Great idea. Seems counterintuitive (nurturing gardeners worry about harming plants), but hey, they don’t mind!

  2. Donald Wood on October 15, 2023 at 6:40 am

    I received a packet of mixed agave seeds which I grew for use as houseplants here in Illinois but was a little disappointed with this variety because of the plain, thin, pale leaves as opposed to others. As they grew I found that the leaves easily tattered and tore in moving pots around but I can see the potential in growing a large, perfect specimen plant in a large pot.

    • Debra on May 8, 2024 at 9:49 am

      Hi Donald, I admire your perseverance, and I hope that seed-starting is fun for you. After all, it could take years to get a decent-sized specimen. Here in CA we’re way too impatient, and we have the luxury of agaves everywhere, all sizes, kinds and rarities. I don’t say that to make you envious. But I’m curious, what with mail-order nurseries that offer agaves, and if it’s a large, perfect specimen plant is your goal, why you don’t simply order a pup or small rooted specimen online.

  3. Elaina on May 8, 2024 at 8:32 am

    Hi Debra,

    What do you do with an agave that has partly fallen over with a large pup off to the side of the parent plant ?
    Do I cut and remove the main plant or cut off the trunk and replant the parent plant like you did in the video?
    I will have to move the pup to a pot since I don’t want a huge group of agave A.

    Thank you..

    • Debra on May 8, 2024 at 9:44 am

      Hi Elaina — You can do any of that. Agave attenuata is very accommodating. I’d base the decision on the space you have to fill and the aesthetics of how it looks. Sort of like a living floral arrangement.

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