Gardening Tips and Tricks : Agave Care and Fun Facts
One day your prized agave is reaching for the sky and the next morning you discover it has drooping leaves and a center that has turned into mush. You may suspect overwatering, which can hasten the development of your plant, while also shortening its life, but that is not the case in this instance. The culprit in the death of your agave is the agave snout weevil. Using their pointed snout, they chew a hole in the center bud of the agave while at the same time depositing an enzyme into the plant. The enzyme softens the agaves’ inner tissues. The soften tissue is more susceptible to bacteria, fungi, and disease. The female snout weevil then lays her eggs, which hatch into white grubs that devour the plant from the inside out. The cycle of egg, to grub, to adult weevil takes 60 to 90 days.
By the time you discover the damage, it is too late to save the agave. Prevention is the only cure. If you are forewarned of the agave snout weevils’ presence in your neighborhood by noticing other plants that are fine one day and look diseased the next, you should act quickly to save your plants. You can check your agave for holes or a brown colored scratch marks. This would indicate that your agave is already infested and there is nothing you can do to salvage it. Otherwise you need to apply a systemic pesticide. These are applied to leaves or roots of plants. They are absorbed and fill the plants inner structure with poison. When bitten by an insect, the insecticide is passed on to the parasite.
Tequila is made from agaves and the white worm, or to be more precise, grub, traditionally found in bottles of tequila is actually the immature agave snout weevil. Before modernization, when smaller farms produced tequila, the ingenious Mexican farmers developed an agave species that was resistant to the snout weevil. Modernization duplicated the plant, creating the sub-species, Agave azul. In the process, the newer version lost its immunity, and thousands of dollars worth of crop was lost, forcing a price increase in imported tequila.
Over-watering can also kill an agave. With agaves, less is more. Frequent watering will make an agave grow larger, faster. This also causes it to mature faster. Once it inflorescences, it has reached the end of its life span. Inflorescening is when the agave produces a tall stalk from the center of the plant. Cutting, or otherwise removing the stalk will not prolong the agaves’ life. The stalk provides seeds and in some cases, such as with the octopus, angustifolia, and desmettiana varieties the stalk produces bulbils which can be transplanted to grow new agaves. Most all agaves also provide “pups” grown from their tuberous roots to replace the mother plant.
In general, agaves live between 5 to 25 years. To prolong their life, water once a week in the summer, and once a month during winter months. Following these watering guidelines can double its life expectancy.