Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Agaves in my 'hood; part two of Agave Week

A little backstory on Agave Week. I, and many others I know, have experienced some pretty serious damage on our agaves this winter, agaves that haven't shown damage in previous (maybe even worse) winters. Phormiums and cordylines have also been hit hard, it's definitely a PKW—phormium killing winter. I chalk this all up to the three consecutive days below freezing (with strong winds, ice pellets and a lot of rain before and after) that we endured in December. Driving around town (and seeing Facebook posts) it was obvious the damage was rather hit and miss, not all parts of town (or all plants) were hit in the same way.

It wasn't until I dove by this planting, and stopped to look closer...

... that I decided I needed to delve deeper and try to make some sense out of what and where damage was showing up. Obviously these phormium are toast, I could see that from the street. 

The agave damage wasn't evident until I walked closer. These are Agave ovatifolia and have been in place for a few years.

This planting is very close to my garden, a block and a half north and 10 blocks east. 

I will be keeping an eye on it to see what happens. I can't imagine the agaves will be left to grow out of it. But we'll see... 

This planting is just three blocks away. As I walked up to it everything looked fine.

Looking closer though I see there is some rot in the center of this agave...

And some spots on the lower leaves of another, it doesn't look good.

An Agave montana looks good at the center, although some of the lower leaves will be lost.

I couldn't make an assessment of the other agaves as they were too far back from the sidewalk for me to get a good look.

Same for this ovatifolia across the street, it looks great, but I couldn't really get close enough to see for sure.

Up the street a bit more is this NOID. I think when I originally spotted it, it was in a container, nice to see that it's in the ground and looking solid.

I've been keeping an eye on this large Agave ovatifolia, as the house recently sold and the smaller agaves nearby were removed. I suppose I should tuck a note in the mailbox offering to remove this beauty if the new owners don't appreciate it.

I think the only damage it's experiencing is from the moving van.

This planting makes me both happy and sad. Did they tuck the plants in knowing they wouldn't make it thru the winter, but wanted to enjoy them over the summer? Or did they think they were going to last long term?

On the left side planter: I suppose this cactus might make it, as long as the rot isn't allowed to spread further. The agave looks solid, I wish I'd had my long tweezers to pull out that leaf litter though.

On the right: that bromeliad it toast, as are the echeveria and aloe (when I say "toast" I mean the visible parks of the plant, might they grow back from the roots? Dunno/doubt it). The opuntia looks a little questionable, but it might pull thru.

This spiky little guy is the super star though, look how good he looks!

We've visited this garden a couple times. They once had a Fouquieria splendens (ocotillo) planted here, which sadly didn't make it.

I am amazed at how great their Agave americana 'striata' looks. 

As does everything else I could see from the sidewalk.

This garden is about seven blocks from me, what they have going for them is that the garden is south facing and the house (and several others) block the east winds. My front garden is east facing with a park at the end of the street and land that drops off toward the Columbia Rover Gorge from there, in other words, it's a wind tunnel.

Walking on to the next garden I passed this small Agave parrasana 'Meat Claw' with a nicely engineered downspout. Water run away dammit!

Next up is this sweet front garden with a trio of Agave ovatifolia.

As near as I could tell the one on the far right front looked good.

A little lower leaf damage to the one on the upper right...

And some top center damage to the one on the left. All damage seems to be just cosmetic though, nothing cause for real concern.

I am jealous of that nice little greenhouse soaking up southern exposure heat on the side of the house, and the last time I shared pictures of this garden several of you got excited about that palm at the corner, maybe a Butia capitata? It's not looking so good right now.

Heading back towards home I swung by this planting. The phormium is a bit sad but the yucca look good.

As do the agaves, Agave parryi here...

Agave ovatifolia (the strange shapes at the center are just leaves blown in from surrounding trees).

And Agave parrasana 'Meat Claw'.

Damn this one looks great!

Even closer to home now is this tiny front garden in front of one of Portland's "skinny houses"...

Agave ovatifolia with a little damage, none of which looks to be winter caused.

The second A. ovatifolia looked great.

And the 'Meat Claw' only had some small damage on one leaf.

How are you doing? Getting bored? Just two more gardens, first... McMenamins Kennedy School. Have I shared this fun pleated nolina here before? I keep expecting those crimped leaves to straighten out, but they aren't.

The agaves that line up along the north side of the parking area all look nice and solid.

There's an Agave 'Sharkskin' hiding out under that protective layer.

This massive Agave ovatifolia is on the south side of the building. 

At first it looked to only have a few lower leaves with damage.

But once I walked around to get a look at the center of the plant I could see it too was suffering. This had me thinking back to all the others that looked good from my vantage point on the sidewalk. 

What would I have been able to see if I'd gotten closer to all the agaves?

This small planting island is sandwiched in between a pair of driveways.

The Agave parryi looks good.

As does the Agave utahensis (I think).

I know there are a few other agaves in that garden, although I've lost track of most of them.

Uhm, I think there's another Agave utahensis in there in front of the yucca somewhere.

Ah! There it is. There's some ugliness but over all it's solid. Interesting.

Agave exploration continues on Friday!

—   —   —

All material © 2009-2023 by Loree L Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. A lot of Agave heartache in Portland. For those you couldn't inspect up close, a second visit in late summer will reveal the survivors.
    I thought those large Phormium could come back from that kind of damage...
    The "sandwiched" island between the driveways is so charming. A wonderful idea.

    1. Yes, the phormium "can" regrow from the roots, if you don't mind an ugly cut back bunch of foliage and an empty spot for a few years. Most people give up long before they ever begin to amount to anything. They're just too slow growing.

  2. That ochre-painted craftsman house is beautiful. I'd like to see some Uncina or orange Carex in the garden. And a Manzinita too.

    1. Oh yes, an arctostaphylos would be a great addition.

  3. It's good to see that there are survivors but OUCH! It's too bad we can't calibrate the optimal microclimates to see our plants through that kind of adversity.

    1. Indeed. Up here at least there are just too many variables.

  4. >> some pretty serious damage on our agaves this winter, agaves that haven't shown damage in previous (maybe even worse) winters.<<

    Same down here in the Sacramento Valley although we were only below freezing for maybe 6 hours at a time. In our case, the record amount of rainfall made the situation even worse. Variegated agaves were affected much more than non-variegated ones.

    My Agave ovatifolia 'Killer' (variegated) looks very similar to the ones near your house. I do think there's at least a 50% percent chance they'll live and outgrow the damage.

    I checked on some of the Agave ovatifolia on the UC Davis campus, and they look perfectly fine. I'm really happy about that, but it makes it very difficult to identify a pattern. It all seems so random.

    Moving beyond agaves, I had two aloes last year whose center completely rotted. Instead of dying, they grew multiple new rosettes right from the center. Not sure if that's an aloe thing, but maybe some of these agaves will do something similar?

  5. Agave report from my west Seattle garden: I have two of these blue beauties from San Marcos ( fully lost its core and I think is perma-toast, while the other is still holding on but seems to be getting mushier by the day. Their description warns of a hatrid of wet winters, but I thought I had mounded them up enough...maybe not so. 2 of my 3 Ovatifolia have lower leaf damage but solid centers, while 1 of the 3 has discoloration on the core so I'm trying to tactfully remove sections as best I can. All bractosea look okay, some showing lower leaf damage but not spear pulling yet, and lastly my darling little agave schotti looks unphased!

    1. Spoke too soon...just gave the agave schotti center growth a teeny little tug and it unraveled like an old sweater. Also...I think I'm done trying beschorneria in the PNW. A few of mine seem okay, but most are blackened mush. I'm not sure how Cistus got theirs to establish so nicely. Maybe the key is not enduring back to back winters as young plants where temps drop below 20.

    2. Damn! This is not a happy report. I too have given up on beschorneria, the one at Cistus and the one in my friend Lance's old garden taunt me, but I will hold strong. There is a lot to your last sentence though. Lucky timing for planting plays a huge role.

  6. I admire gardeners who push their zones, but I'd be too depressed by the losses.

    1. I don't know that this could be called zone pushing, as many of these are rated to cold temperatures far below what we experienced. Maybe climate pushing? Ah! Winter wet denial. Maybe that works.

  7. In my experience Phormiums seem to suffer mechanical damage more than plant killing damage during cold, snowy spells. Problem is you have to cut all of the damaged leaves off and then they look naff for a good few years until they put out a decent number of leaves.

    The Agave damage is quite different for such a small area. Is it due to differences in soil/drainage/sun? Or maybe it is due to the Agave having slightly different parents that are better at dealing with that kind of cold?

    Yuccas are very tough. Bad Scottish winters can still kill them though, sigh!

    1. The Portland area has many different microclimates. Parts of the city experience windchills the other parts do not. The thaw is delayed in some parts too (sadly mine), some of the city remains snow or ice free while others are covered. That plus the difference in species, soil prep, location (sun) all plays a part.

  8. Zone pushing is not for the faint of heart -one must be prepared for loss. I have to say, there are maybe 2 gardens in my neighborhood that have Agaves in the landscape. Kind of ironic for zone 9. More fake lawns than Agaves. I wonder how many of your neighborhood peeps will be discouraged and switch things out ?

    1. There is nothing zone pushing about most of these plants, as they're rated for far colder temperatures. I'm calling it Winter-wet Denial.

  9. Here by Mt. Tabor I’m seeing a lot of hurting agaves. Even my parryi J.C. Raulston looks roughed up, but mostly around perimeter leaves. Bracteosa is fine. Aleoiomopsis striatula isn’t mush, but its leaves looked thinner, darker, and curled. Still hopeful for regrowth from the roots. Schefflera tawainiana, despite losing 1/3 of its leaves late December, has stabilized like you predicted. Echiums…little to no hope. Come on spring we need you!!
    Jim N. Tabor

    1. So glad to hear that about your Schefflera tawainiana! Now if mine would only fall inline too...

  10. And I love your neighborhood, nice to see modest homes. Very similar to mine; 1940's-1960's small houses on narrow but deep lots.

  11. As Tracy comments, sweet neighborhood. Homey in the best sense.

    Interesting survey--enjoying it. Beschonerias didn't do well here, either--probably for very different reasons. All that were around here quickly vanished.

    I kid you not, but a friend's son takes a drill and makes drainage holes in some of his Agave leaves. Friend says it works! I was pondering that because parrasana and ovatifolia will hold water in some of their leaves for weeks, months even, though it hasn't killed any of them here yet.

    Any pattern noticed as to Agaves planted at an angle (so water drains)? Better chance of survival?

  12. I'm going backwards through your posts and I have to say, I'm a little shocked about just how many agaves there are in Portland. It's blowing my mind a little bit. This is flipping amazing! (Ignoring the heartbreak, of course).


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