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:

    • This highly popular succulent looks equally good in pots or in the garden.
    • Rosettes attain a manageable 5' in diameter over time.
    • Soft, flexible leaves lacking barbs or points make foxtails totally harmless.
    • As the only trunk-forming agave, it lends height to garden spaces and makes a beautiful backdrop.
    • En masse, plants suggest a hedge of huge green flowers.
    • Plus Agave attenuata is easy to propagate and grows in climates that other agaves won't!

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 (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 agaves are susceptible to frost in winter and sunburn and heat stress in the summer. They’re usually fine under lacy trees, but you’ll need to hose the centers of the plants occasionally to remove fallen leaves. The plants do appreciate the extra water.

Foxtails make a nice border for a pathway or driveway, but keep in mind they grow in the direction of greatest sunlight. Since they're trunk forming, they may lean where you don’t want them.

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

Foxtail agaves have naturalized on a cliffside in Laguna Beach, CA

About that big, bushy bloom stalk

Agave attenuata is from central Mexico and is rare in the wild. Plants bloom once in their lifetimes, in midwinter. The unbranched, arching, bushy stalk is why it’s called foxtail agave.

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

This streetside colony, shown in bloom in December, was later destroyed by agave snout weevil

Buds line a stalk that emerges from the center of the plant. These open into chartreuse flowers with long stamens and pistils. My neighbors decorate the tips of foxtail bloom spikes when they’re still easy to reach. By Christmas, the ornaments are high overhead.

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. A truncated stalk may produce a mass of offsets, which look kinda cool and also can 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 and come off easily, plant them in a tray of coarse potting mix. Keep out of direct sun and barely moist 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 a friend or neighbor with a colony. 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

It's easy to remove Agave attenuata offsets that grow along the trunk. See how in the video. 

Little clones may already have 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 use it to fill a gap in the garden.

When repositioning Agave attenuata, all it needs is enough trunk to anchor it. Roots will grow from a stub. Like most succulents, foxtails are not fussy about soil as long as it drains well.

Pests and Problems

Foxtail agaves are seldom bothered by pests. 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 eat foxtail agaves when food is scarce. Snails can be a problem too. I use Sluggo snail bait, because it 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 acclimate in about a week.

The biggest threat to foxtail agaves

By far, the biggest threat to foxtail agaves is cold. I’m in Zone 9B, between Southern California’s coast and desert. I cover my foxtails with frost cloth when freezing temps are forecast. Go to: Cold-Weather Care for Succulents. 

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

White spots on foxtail agaves result from the impact of hail

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

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, but 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 exactly alike. Agave attenuata variegates seldom offset, are tricky to tissue culture, and take a decade or more to bloom (if ever), so don’t expect see a lot of them on the market.

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 terminal spines less treacherous.

Later 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 of succulents ever!

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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Frozen agave (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

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