I like finding cool and unique plants for my clients’ balcony gardens every season, so when I spotted two rather large Mangave plants at a local garden center, I had to grab them despite the price. I was excited to plant them in two large upright planters and I asked my husband to take a photo of me standing right behind the planters.
The mask wearing was on purpose, to show a timeline history of my plantings, and this had to be when masks for COVID were still required. Anyhow, I wore a pink mask and I loved how the photo came out. We were still required to wear masks at this time so I think it was 2020, or 2019.
Mangave is a Cross between Manfreda and Agave
I’m a big fan of Agaves, so when I spotted an article about the new Mangaves, which I read about prior to finding the only two available at a local garden center, it elevated my excitement of getting them and planting them as a unique and dramatic specimen at this location. I love the outlines of the plant, the speckling on the leaves (spines), and the fact it was not something commonly found at that time.
Here is some background information about it.
As stated in the article linked above:
Taking the best from both genera, Mangave have the accelerated growth rate, spotting and softer spines from manfreda, mixed with the durability and large architectural forms of agave. Mangave hybrids bring the potential of hundreds of new colors and habits not previously seen among agave in a product that’s more grower-friendly, with a quicker finish time and less prickly spines.
As the principal breeder of Mangave, Hans is the perfect source for the story behind the succulent, his experiences with the crop and how he sees it contributing to the world of horticulture.https://www.growertalks.com/Newsletters/View/Newsletter/?article=3103
Spines are not weapons, like with regular Agaves
It is true, the spines are less prickly than typical Agaves. In fact, spines on Agaves are so sharp, they could be used as a weapon! And the spotting patterns on these new Mangaves are very interesting on the spines, and it has a wonderful architectural form, and yes, they grow fast! My two specimens were already rather large so I knew they must have been growing somewhere at a growers for a while before making it to a local garden center in my area to be offered for sale. In fact, when I spotted them at the garden center, they were sitting on the floor in their large nursery pots under a bench, as if almost hidden from sight, near other succulents and cacti. I lifted them into my shopping cart at warp speed, let me tell ya. I knew I had to have them.
They served as wonderful candidates all summer long at the clients’ site, and I think the only downfall to these plants is the spines are extremely flexible and soft, thus with one bump, the tips break off. I don’t like that aspect because it feels like a break to the overall form and architecture of the plant, so they are somewhat difficult to move, especially when you are moving plants up to a high-rise, but the effort was worth it. When moving them, use caution to not break any of the spine tips when possible, as I did the more I experienced observing, growing, and using this plant. It turned out to be more useful than I had expected.
In September of 2021, I noticed a bloom coming up on one of the Mangaves, which I had returned home earlier from the client site. Sometimes plants are taken back, and in this case, one of the Mangaves at the client’s balcony had started experiencing growing issues, so I took it home, inspected the roots, and sure enough, there was some type of pillbug in the soil. Because I cherished this plant, I removed all the soil and repotted it in new fresh potting mix that is well draining and more on the coarse side. Agaves typically don’t like wet soil, and I suspected the soil was probably wet prior to even planting it. I watched it for a while outdoors to see if it would improve, which it did, then in the autumn season, before frost time here in Connecticut, I moved it into my greenhouse. It was around that time, in September, that it suddenly started to shoot up a bloom stalk.
A Bloom Stalk Surfaces in 2021
When the bloom started, I was super excited about this and posted a photo to my Instagram feed (seen above). As some plant people may or may not know, Agave plants do not commonly flower. Some will bloom after several years, while others may take as long as ten years or even a hundred years to produce a bloom; this is why Agave plants are referred to as century plants. And the flowers will grow on the tip of a very tall stem, solo rising up from the middle of the plant, and the stem/stalk will grow super tall, reaching for the skies, or in my case, reaching for the ceiling of my lean-to style greenhouse. Knowing this, I was pretty excited to see how long it would take the flower stem (referred to as a candelabrum or wand for Agaves) to grow and how high it would reach in my greenhouse before it would produce flower buds. The stem (or wand if you wish to think of it that way), has no leaves on it and to me, it resembled an asparagus stalk.
Photo Taken As It Kept Rising
Within 7 days, you can see from the next photo how much the stalk rose from the center of the Mangave. It was growing up, and every day, I’d walk in to take a look, and I started to have to move it around because as it got taller, it was reaching the lean-to style of the greenhouse’s roof. I wondered if it would soon hit the ceiling.
It got to the point, the stalk was so tall, I couldn’t get the whole thing in a photo. Here is a photo (above) where I moved it in-front of an old silver locker I picked up at a vintage shop, and it was about as tall as that cabinet by this point. As you can see, it definitely looks similar to an asparagus stem.
Then the next phase was starting to reveal. Side shoots on the top started to form with flower buds. I knew I was in for a big surprise soon. And fortunately, the very tip of the stalk was not touching the roof of the greenhouse. It appeared I had just enough space to keep it inside for the rest of the winter.
The flowers started to feel like a fireworks show to me. That is just how my mind works when it comes to nature’s surprises. The flower clusters started to form to the sides of the main cluster on the top and as they opened, pollen was visible and I thought it was a shame as it would not be pollinated inside my greenhouse during the winter months, but just the same, it was a fun experience to witness all the buds opening over time.
By December, 3 months after I first noticed the stalk rising from the center of the plant, it had buds and the stalk was about 10 feet tall. In reviewing some of the posts I was sharing, around December 11th, it was 6 feet tall. Later in December, it grew to ten feet. By the following spring, I decided to chop off about 1/3 of the stalk and it was time to get it out of my way so outside it went. I put it on my deck, and to my surprise later in the summer, more side plants formed at the top of the plant’s flower stalk (where I had cut it off). It also produced many pups on the sides at the base of the plant, which I decided to use to top off my succulent pumpkin centerpieces; it made a nice spikey looking thriller on the top of the pumpkins.
This plant ended up surprising me in many ways and kept on giving. It did not die off as some plants do after flowering for Agaves, and retuned to my greenhouse yet again this fall. Not only that, I repotted some of the pups earlier, and they grew rather quickly into larger plants (as noted by the breeder above, Hans, they grow quickly).
Agave and Mangave plants make wonderful specimen plants, are beautiful in larger pots, and they handle full sun and don’t require lots of fertilizer, and they may be kept inside the home over the winter, if not too large, or if they haven’t grown a major flower stalk of 10 feet tall, and they over winter well in a low-temp greenhouse too from my experience. It is pretty cool when you start off admiring something and witness many returns and uses which were unexpected, like how I used them on my succulent pumpkin centerpiece creations this season.
I like collecting various Agaves and now Mangaves and will continue to do so. I find they are easy care plants and you can obtain various sizes and styles if you keep your eyes open for special finds!
Broad Brook, CT
Date of Post: 10/26/2022