Friday, February 5, 2010

Agave propagation by drilling

Am I the only one who didn’t know about this? I first read about the concept in Scott Calhoun's book ‘The Hot Garden: Landscape Design for the Desert Southwest’ evidently his wife was watching an episode of Martha Stewart and the guest was Tony Avent, of Plant Delights nursery. On the show Mr. Avent took a drill and proceeded to drill down through the center rosette of an agave. His purpose was to “destroy the central nervous system” of the (poor) agave which would cause it to “propagate more agaves.” Yikes!

Mr. Calhoun reports that he checked it out and found this to be a “nearly sure-fire method to spur an agave into making pups.” He mentions talking to Greg Starr (whom he calls an “agave guru”…obviously someone I need to meet!) who confirmed that this method works. On small agaves use a ¼” drill bit and on larger ones up to a ½” – unfortunately you have to destroy the mother plant by cutting off the top of the central rosette and then drilling straight down into the plant. Sounds awful doesn’t it?

Looking this up on Martha I found this information:

How to Propagate Agave
You propagate by drilling out the center of the agave, releasing the internal hormone control that tells the plant not to pup. With its central nervous system gone, it will pup like crazy. New plants form in six to nine months and can then be potted. The technique will also work on yuccas and hostas.
And there is even a link to a video where Martha ogles the pricy orchids, Mr. Avent shows off several beautiful Colocasia, and then he actually drills into a little agave! (‘Kissho Kan’ I believe) The horror, I had to cover my eyes!

Next, because I was curious about this agave guru guy Greg Starr, I looked him up. That’s when I discovered his Starr Nursery! OMG! More beautiful agaves! And learned about a must have book…Agaves of Continental North America by Howard Scott Gentry, described by one reviewer on Amazon as “the Bible for Agave enthusiasts” …oh no, another book for my wish-list!

So, back to the topic…drilling agaves. Have you ever done this? Could you even bring your self to pick up the drill? I know I couldn’t.


  1. That's crazy! I've never heard of this before. The first pup my americana shot out was so exciting. The fifth and sixth... starting to get a little irritating, but I love it anyways :)

  2. I've heard of this with Haworthia but hadn't specifically heard about it with Aloe or Agave, but I suppose it makes sense. Once you destroy the growing tip the plants going to try to produce offsets to survive (in some form anyway). Haven't tried it on anything either.

  3. Hi Loree, You know last summer a fellow blogger wrote a post on those upside down tomato bags. I had this to say after seeing the photo: "Plant Abuse." Heck, who wants to be hung upside down for their entire life? Anyway, drilling an Agave for the sake of propagating is way worse than the inverted tomato plants! Quintessential plant abuse. Gives new meaning to the term: PUPpy mill. Not for me, thank you. I haven't watched Martha in ages but as I recall she has a lot of enthusiasm for plants. [Kindred spirit maybe?] I remember a show she did with Dan Hinkley when he was still a heronista. Very enjoyable.

  4. I enjoyed watching Tony drill the agave on Martha. It seems extreme, but he know what he speaks of. After the seminar I attended in Jan. I heard a couple of people complain that while they like Scott Calhoun's photography, they didn't get a whole of of information out of his presentation. I disagreed, for the most part design ideas can be used anywhere, you just need to manipulate your plant selection.

  5. Pretty cool. Thanks for posting this! I'm going to have to try this.

  6. I've never tried this either. The horror! And yet, more agaves are a good thing.

  7. I first red about it in the hot garden. Don't think cold bring myself to do it!

  8. Okay, the scientist in me is seriously annoyed that he used the term "central nervous system" which makes zero sense when talking about a plant. It is called the apical meristem!
    But really, it is the EXACT same thing as when you pinch a plant back to encourage branching -- the agave has a stem, with leaves, and a bud at the tip. Cut of that tip bud (with a drill) and you get branching -- aka, pups.

  9. I hadn't heard of this and haven't tried it. I suppose a plant that dies after flowering would probably be okay with getting drilled. I can't say I've ever had a lack of pups, though, so I doubt I'd ever do it, though it's an interesting concept.

  10. faroutflora, I live for the day that agave pups become irritating. Somehow I don't even think that is possible!

    Andrew, my only Haworthia became horribly infested with mites. Otherwise I might just have tried it!

    Grace, PUPpy mill...good play on words!

    Les, I agree about Mr Calhoun's writing...most not directly relative to my garden but that doesn't stop me from being inspired by him.

    Jared, I hope you will report on your experiments!

    Pam, true, I would never say no to more agaves but I just can't conceive of destroying one intentionally. Maybe I'll get brave and try it if I have one that is obviously on the decline. I wonder if then it would be too late?

    Nicole, I'm with you!

    Greensparrow, my husband shares the annoyance. He almost wouldn't watch the rest of the video he was got so upset when Mr Avent used that phrase.

    ryan, good point about the fact that it will die anyway, I suppose. But it still seems so wrong!

  11. Oo, another must-have book! Thanks for the link!

  12. Loree, I agree, I would have a hard time with the decapitation/drilling. I do tend to anthropomorphize my plants and that just seems cruel. Then again, I have left many to die of underwatering or neglected them in potbound state, so maybe it's a cruel to be kind thing, since you get so many more out of the deal. Great find on the book!

  13. Yowie! I have to look away during the graphic scenes in House. I'm all for waiting for the plant to give up offspring willingly...and what would you do with all of those plants unless you had a nursery?

  14. My thought process went like this
    I could never do it to one of my agaves in my small collection.
    But, if I had enough agaves to spare, maybe I'd try it.
    But wait, if I have enough agaves to spare, why would I try to produce more pups?
    I can't think of a situation where I'd have the guts to try it, and would also have a home for more agaves. But it's good to know, just in case.

  15. Several of my precious potted agaves and cacti were smashed when a tree branch fell on them during a storm. All of them went into overdrive to produce pups and each pot now has dozens of young plants (and at least one older, rather sad-looking but obviously not lonely, mangled plant.)


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