Skip to main content

Everything you need to know about caring for the fascinating, hardy century plant

Your comprehensive guide to growing and propagating this popular agave plant

Sometimes, the most striking plants are the ones that you can readily find at a nursery or in a commercial landscape. A common fixture in warm-weather landscapes and gardens, the succulent century plant is as beautiful as it is intimidating with its octopus-like form lined with sharp edges and spikes. If you've ever wondered about its origins and how to give it the best care possible in your garden, here's what you need to know.




30 minutes

What You Need

  • Century plant

  • Cactus soil

  • Trowel

  • Planter (optional)

Blue gray century plant in the background with cream-edged century plant in the foreground
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What makes the century plant so special?

Formidable in stature, the century plant, or Agave americana is native to Mexico and the southwestern region of the U.S. What's most remarkable about these plants is that they can grow up to 10 feet across and develop leaves that stretch 6 feet long. In addition to their gargantuan size, they grow in a rosette form, featuring saw-edged foliage with dagger points on the ends.

Often, century plants come in a uniform blue-gray color. However, you may find the marginata variety with yellow edges, or the medopicta cultivar with a cream body and green edges. When handling this plant, note that the sap is mildly toxic — but really, it's the spines that you should watch out for.

Flowering Agave americana
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How often does the century plant bloom?

There's a prevalent belief that century plants only bloom once in a century, hence their namesake. It's true to that century plants only bloom once in their lifetime, but they usually bloom when they are 10 to 30 years old, not once every 100 years. During the blooming period, a tall flowering stalk emerges from the center of the agave's rosette, featuring 3- to 4-inch blooms that are yellow-green in color.

Century plants typically die after blooming. However, the good news is that they put out a lot of pups, which makes them easy to propagate and share.

Green Agave americana in planter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How do you care for a century plant?

Hardy in climate zones 8 to 10, century plants can only be kept indoors when they are very young. Because of their size and naturally sharp leaves, these agave plants don't do well in small homes where human inhabitants might inadvertently bump into them. They're also succulent plants, which means they flourish outside in the sun. In order to keep your century plant thriving, here's what you need to know about maintaining it.

Step 1: Repotting

Keep your century plant in a gritty, well-draining cactus soil. While it will tolerate drought, it will experience root rot if you're heavy-handed with watering. You can keep it in a container during its early years of life, but bear in mind that it will be more convenient down the line to find a spot for it in the ground.

Step 2: Lighting

Place your century plant in an area that receives full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day.

Step 3: Temperature

Keep your century plant in an area where it gets no colder than 20 degrees Fahrenheit — century plants are not frost hardy, so you should plan to overwinter small plants, if possible, when the temperature crosses under that threshold.

Step 4: Watering

Water your plant when at least 1 inch of soil feels dry to the touch — you can even let the soil dry out completely. While century plants appreciate a drink during the hottest days of summer, you definitely don't want to make them susceptible to root rot.

Step 5: Fertilizing

There is actually no need to feed your century plant as long as you're mindful of its watering and lighting needs. In fact, overfertilizing may encourage blooms, which will speed up the plant's life cycle and lead to its untimely death.

Variegated agave pup
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How do you propagate a century plant?

After some time, century plants develop pups at the base of the mother plant. Getting cuttings is very simple, but you'll definitely want to be careful not to stab yourself with the sharp points.

Step 1: With gardening gloves on, get as close to the base of your mother plant as possible.

Step 2: Carefully pull up the pup, tugging the plant gently.

You may need to go in with a trowel to sever the pup at the root area where it connects to the mother plant. Make sure to get as much root as possible.

Step 3: Allow the pup to form a callus for about a day or two.

Step 4: Fill a container with cactus soil or a well-draining potting mix and then place the pup in there.

You can use a plastic or a clay pot — the latter may be better if you tend to overwater.

Step 5: Water your plant whenever the top inch of soil dries out. Now you have a new plant — and there's no need to repot it until the following year.

As unnerving as it may look, the century plant is actually quite easy to care for and even easier to propagate. With plenty of sunshine and well-draining soil, you're pretty much set. Just keep an eye out for the sharp edges and points when caring for it and you'll be able to appreciate its beauty without facing the consequences of those unwanted pokes!

Editors' Recommendations

Stacey Nguyen
Stacey's work has appeared on sites such as POPSUGAR, HelloGiggles, Buzzfeed, The Balance, TripSavvy, and more. When she's…
How often should you water your grass seeds? Here’s what we know
Tips for watering grass seed to get the lawn of your dreams
Grass with dew on it

A beautiful, lush green lawn is something that many homeowners strive for, but sometimes cultivating that lawn can be quite the headache. Growing the grass from seed complicates matters further, since young plants are naturally more fragile. Ensuring your grass seed survives to become the lawn of your dreams involves many factors, but watering your grass seed correctly can solve many problems before they arise.

Read more
If your yard gets a lot of afternoon light, these are the afternoon sun plants for you
How to choose and grow plants that will thrive with afternoon sun
Sunlit garden path and flowers

There are many challenges regarding the sun when it comes to gardening. There's too much, then there's too little. For example, some fruit trees thrive in shady backyards — except most trees do require full sunlight. This is why pruning is necessary. And then there are those conditions where too much sun can affect our plants.

Afternoon sun is challenging. Direct sunlight between midday and sunset is the most intense exposure. Although some plants are labeled for "full sun," extended exposure in that hot afternoon sun may be too much — not all these are suitable as afternoon sun plants. This is especially so if the sunlight is further intensified by a wall or fence that traps and reflects the sun’s heat during the day, then continues to radiate heat after sundown. These tough areas require tough plants.

Read more
Gooseneck loosestrife might be the perfect plant for your pollinator garden – here’s what to know
Tips on taking care of your gooseneck loosestrife
Gooseneck loosestrife flowers with a fly

Pollinators come in many sizes and shapes, from beautiful butterflies to fuzzy bees, and even less loveable varieties like wasps and beetles. Pollinators play an important role in our ecosystem, letting fruit grow and seeds develop, and many gardeners enjoy having a pollinator garden to attract and support them.

There are many terrific options you can choose from when planning your pollinator garden, but gooseneck loosestrife is one you may not be familiar with. Aside from its delightfully goofy name, this flower is pretty and pollinators love it. Here’s what you need to know about growing it.
What is gooseneck loosestrife?

Read more