Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Transplanting a Six Foot Agave

Agave and Ceanothus

Striped Agave and Ceanothus

What do porcupines say after they kiss?


This is largest, spiniest plant I’ve ever transplanted. It had been planted too close to a path and had reached a point where walking in the garden required a delicate, sideways, dodging step to get around it. There was talk about consigning it to the green bin of life, and less serious talk about homegrown tequila or mezcal, but it had been the most striking element in this garden for years and it was much much cooler than anything else that could have been brought in to replace it. You can’t really come up with a better focal point than a large agave. So I agreed to try moving it.

It was kind of fun, actually; certainly more interesting than anything else I’ve ever transplanted. I wrapped it in burlap and wore two pairs of gloves, but the thorns pretty much laughed at that (local seller of succulents Cactus Jungle Nursery recommend using pieces of carpet when you move a cactus and if anyone asks you to move one of these agaves, “just tell them no”), though I actually got most of my pokes while I was cleaning out the pups growing all around it. 

The real challenge was the weight of the thing. I don’t know what it weighed, but it was much more than a hundred pounds; boulders seem easy to move in comparison. I couldn’t lift it, the only way I could move it was to grab the top of it and kind of leverage it around while my client’s landscape architect friend rather tentatively pried at it with a rock bar. He didn’t seem to find the process as charming as I did.

Fortunately, we were only moving it three feet, to the center of the planting bed; I don’t think I could have moved it much further.  We moved it in early October, which I think is a little late — you want it to heal and put out new roots before the cold and wet of the rainy season — but the plant didn’t seem to mind and it’s still looking healthy now, a year later. And if it grows a few feet wider and blocks the path again? Well…


12 Responses to “Transplanting a Six Foot Agave”

  1. October 12th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Pam/Digging says:

    That’s a monster. I moved a 4-foot agave a year ago when we were moving and I wanted to take my favorite agave with me. It was a chore but worth it, as it looks great and anchors the new garden.

  2. October 13th, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Jennifer AKA Keewee says:

    My goodness, that was quite a job.

  3. October 14th, 2009 at 9:07 am

    anne says:

    Ouch! but it was interesting to read of the experience; now i’ll know what to expect!

  4. October 14th, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Ross says:

    Eina! (the Afrikaans word for Ouch!) We’re also in the process of splitting and moving about 60 smaller Agave to spread them out on a verge – its a bit of a painful job to say the least…

  5. October 17th, 2009 at 9:25 am

    ryan says:

    Moving a four footer to another site sounds like a lot of work. They are worth it, though, like you say.
    Eina, indeed. I’m sure my pronunciation would be all wrong. The little agaves will get you as much as the big ones, less space to grab them between the thorns.

  6. October 17th, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Les says:

    At least boulders don’t normally have spiney thorns. Thanks for stopping by my blog, and I really enjoyed reading about some of your hikes. Those landscapes are so alien, but beautiful, to what I get to see.

  7. October 19th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    Moving it was the way to go. My parents had a house where some blue agaves had encroached on the walkway. My grantfather came to visit and gave the plants a thorough Ohio-farmer pruning. (Never having encountered an agave before I guess he thought the thing would grow back like any random shrub he was used to dealing with.) Nothing is more unattractive (or long-lasting) as an agave that’s had its leaves cut flush with the edge of the sidewalk. Ugly ugly ugly. My mother almost cried. A nice specimen like yours is definitely worth saving!

  8. October 20th, 2009 at 9:55 am

    ryan says:

    An Ohio-farmer pruning, huh? We sometimes talk about a Tibetan sherpa pruning. A friend’s client hired a visiting sherpa to prune his plants while he was out of town and the guy hedged everything violently. It took two three years for the garden to recover. Apparently, Tibetan sherpas know a lot about climbing mountains and not so much about California shrubs. Who would’ve guessed.

  9. October 23rd, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Christine says:

    I’m sure that sherpa pruning sounded like a good idea at the time… like saying “sure” when your client asks if you can move a 4ft agave. That’s quite a feat- congratulations on making it out of there alive!

  10. November 27th, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Diana says:

    I have an agave americana that’s around nine feet tall and wide sitting around ten feet above and ten feet back from my 45 degree sloping leach field. Nothing else on my property grows like this except the Canary Island Palm that’s gleefully growing next to it. A knowledgable person at a nursery said not to worry because the roots don’t go far. I’ve been combing the internet for root info but so far no luck. Since new leach fields cost $$$ ($50,000), I’m concerned. However, cutting the agave out will be a horrible job plus I don’t like killing it. It’s beautiful! I’m guessing it’s around 7-9 years old. I wonder how old they have to be before they flower and die? I welcome an information! Thank you.

  11. November 27th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Diana says:

    There’s a correction on the last response and that’s that the
    agave and the canary island palm are 8 feet high and more like 9-11 feet wide.
    I also meant to add that yes, you’re very brave to move your
    agave and I’m sure it appreciates your courage!

  12. November 27th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    ryan says:

    Sounds like a great pair of plants. The nursery person is right, they don’t have large roots. They’re kind of like an iris, which sends out new roots each rainy season and then lets them dry out and wither during the dry season. I’ve heard they flower somewhere after ten years, sometimes many years after, but it varies. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about leach fields, so I don’t have any idea how an agave would affect one.

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