Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ – When it Flowers, I’ll need a Shot of Tequila

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Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ (Century Plant) is a tough and beautiful ornamental succulent plant for container gardens. The plant has a strong form growing in a tight symmetrical rosette.  It has more coloring than many other species of Agave plants.  It bears creamy light yellow coloring adjacent to the blue green centers on its leaves.  And the spines at the tips are cinnamon colored but prominent enough to be used as a color echo in a mixed container garden.

Original Plant

Original Plant

Besides being beautiful, it is a really easy to grow plant.  Low-maintenance, it will last for years and potentially bloom (if you are lucky), and then die.  Yup, croak.  However, it will offer up Mini-Me’s over time as offshoots from the base prior to its death.  And if the plant lasts at your home long enough for it to offer its flower stalks as its final gift to you, you may in turn want to honor its life and eventual passing by downing a shot of tequila — because, as many folks know, Agaves are used to produce the strong elixir.

Rosette, Spines

Rosette, Spines

Mini-Me’s from the Mother Plant

When mine was sprouting offsets (Mini-Me’s) at the base, I decided it was time for it to be re-potted. I grabbed a couple special gardening tools and selected an urn I had in my stock (perfect as it was one size up from the former pot).  Collecting up some tools, I did my propagation routine which was easier than I expected.

Getting Ready to Repot

Getting Ready to Repot

Tools:

  1. Beach towel
  2. Large grill tongs
  3. Fish tank gravel
  4. Potting mix amended with some coarse gravel and sand
  5. Thick garden gloves, the type with rubber fingers and palms
  6. Coarse airy stones for the top of the soil

The beach towel was used because I was lazy, and wanted to grab something quickly to put on my table to collect any fallen soil as I worked.

The grill tongs used because I couldn’t think of what else was handy to hold onto the Agave, but it turns out I didn’t really need those cause the plant easily shook out of the pot onto the towel.

The fish tank gravel was from a fish tank years ago.  I knew I’d find a use for it.  It was washed and rinsed prior to filling the base of the urn with it, to about a 1/3 of the way up from the base for drainage.  Remember, well-draining soil is critical for this plant.

The thick garden gloves, well – for obvious reasons. To protect my hands from the Agave’s spines at the leaf tips.

And lastly, coarse porous black stones were for the top of the soil.  Agave plants sit so close to the soil line that putting some barrier material between it and potentially wet soil will help to avoid rot situations.  Also, the soil mix used must be porous.  You can look for the type used for succulents or cacti if you don’t want to amend it yourself.

Pulling away offshoots

Pulling away offshoots

Each little baby plant or Mini-Me (a.k.a., sucker, sprout, offsets or offshoots) at the base of the Momma plant were easily pulled away and re-potted.  Given to special gardening friends with a word of caution:  Not hardy, avoid cold wet rain situations (early spring, late fall), and watch your hands or butt should you walk by this plant – the spines are sharp.

Mini Me's

Mini Me’s

The pot should be relative to the size of the current plant.  It thrives in tight conditions and is a slow-grower so it won’t overtake a pot or container garden quickly. Select a pot that is form fitting if you plan to grow it solo, or in a mixed planting situation, you can go somewhat bigger if desired.

Repotted into Urn

Repotted into Urn

There are plenty of succulents and alpine type plants you can use to mix it up in a container garden for a real show.  Want some ideas of what those are? Visit my Succulent Sensations Pinterest boards and attend my May 24th class in 2014.

There is much to know including how easy it is to give birth (propagate) new plants (Mini-Me’s) from the mother plant. Because, as I said earlier, this plant is easy to grow, you should have grandchildren from Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ in a two to three years.

Mixed container

Mixed container with Senecio and Sage

Celebrate its Birth and Size with Tequila

This plant will grow to about 15″ or so, slowly.  However, other Agave species grow rather large. If you want to see a really big blue agave plant being dug out of the soil by a strong farmer, check out this video.  I’d like to hire this guy to dig out some yucca plants in garden beds, equally tough to remove.  And then have a couple tequila shots with him, because the plant he is harvesting is used to make tequila.  And, believe me, he’s earned a shot or two if he does this process for the whole field of plants.

Fortunately, Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ is far more manageable, and it will not grow as large as shown in the video above.  It is perfect for container gardens and for people who are a little negligent with their watering routines because the plant enjoys desert to semi desert conditions.  

As mentioned above, the only thing you can do wrong to it is let it sit in cold wet conditions – this usually leads to rot on the leaves. My recommendation is to put it outdoors in the early summer after the early cold spring rains are done, and it is warm outside regularly.  And to move it back inside for the winter before the cold autumn rains hit.  It likes to stay warm.  Most people fail with this plant because they think it will be okay if it gets rain at that time period because you still have warm days between cold rainfall, but I say avoid that cold rain situation all together for success.

Spiders Visit the Plant on Summer

Spiders Visit the Plant on Summer

Death after Flowering

If you don’t kill it, or die from doing too many tequila shots – great – the plant (and you) will last a very long time, and even perhaps a beyond a few centuries. They grow so slow that many won’t produce a flower spike until after 15, 20 or even 30 years when it reaches maturity.  The flowers rise on tall stalks and put on quite a show.  In this video, you can see how a flower stalk reaches to the heavens.  It is quite spectacular, requiring years and then just the right conditions to come out into the open.

Some Agaves will grow flowers regularly, but I must confess, I am not sure if Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ is one of them.  There are some confusing references on it but not a concern, if I see a flower stalk appear, I’ll let you know immediately.  In fact, I’ll be sure to brag about it.  And then do a tequila shot to celebrate my success and to honor plant’s eventual passing after giving so much to its life.

Want to join me when this happens?  I’ll get the good kind.

Cathy Testa

Agave_0005

Plant Details:

Agave (Century Plant)
Agave sp. Kichokan
Agave potatorum ‘Variegata’
Zones 9-10 / Full Sun
15″ Tall Rosette

Useful Links:

http://www.plantdelights.com/Agave-Kissho-Kan-for-sale/Buy-Lucky-Crown-Century-Plant/
Plant Delights

http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/3155/lucky-crown-century-plant/
Monrovia

http://www.logees.com/Agave-Kissho-Kan/productinfo/S7713-4/
Logee’s Greenhouses
See my blog post about this place HERE.

Click to access temperennials.pdf


Proven Winners

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Juncus effusus is a Low-Maintenance and Highly Versatile Plant – And it looks like Chives!

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Common rush or soft rush (Juncus effusus) is a grass-like plant which resembles the foliage of chives with dark green cylindrical stems and a vase-shaped habit.  Although its green stems appear stiff, they are soft to the touch. The plant grows from a clump at the base and each green stem grows up to pointy tapered tips.  Because the plant has a strong dark green color and a vase-shaped upright habit, it is a nice thriller in a container garden or a sharp accent in a garden bed.

Photo by Simon Howden, Freedigitalimages.net

Chives, similar to the look of Juncus effusus is shown blooming purple flowers along a garden path with dark green spiky foliage.  [Photo by Simon Howden, Freedigitalimages.net]

Easy to Grow in Versatile Conditions

This plant is also very easy to grow, experiences little to no disease or insect problems, and is flexible with its soil conditions.  It can take moist, wet, sometimes dry, and difficult areas.  It won’t flop, bend, or topple over as it matures, even when it is sticking out of water or snow.  It’s adaptable to many conditions, making it easily-useful in the garden or in a container garden.

Juncus in water and snow [Photo left by Christian Fischer Wikimedia; Photo right by Cathy Testa]

Juncus in shallow water.  Juncus poking out of the snow  [Photo left by Christian Fischer Wikimedia]

For years, I assumed Juncus effusus (common rush or soft rush) was an annual plant and used it commonly in container gardens or patio pots during the summer, but seeing it return in a garden bed one year, I later realized my error.  As I searched for the plant’s origin and genus, it was interesting to see how it is described by different references on the web and in some gardening books, as follows:

  1. A clump forming wetland plant
  2. A slow-spreading, clump forming, grass-like perennial
  3. A plant loosely referred to as an ornamental grass
  4. A rush from the plant family Juncaceae
  5. A useful solution for wet-moist-sometimes-dry landscapes
  6. A species which is mostly perennial, rarely annual
  7. A warm-season grass
  8. A cosmopolitan rush species
  9. An annual, perennial herb, general from rhizomes
  10. A grass-like, rhizomatous perennial
  11. A perennial wetland plant

It is indeed a plant in the Juncaceous (rush) family, and it’s a monocotyledonous plant, which means it has a single cotyledon in the seed as in grasses.  It looks more like a grass than an herbaceous ornamental perennial, but it is perennial for it returns every year. Although it can be described as a type of ornamental grass, it is technically not classified as such. My favorite description spotted on the web for this plant has to be # 8 listed above: A cosmopolitan (Watch out, Vogue).  However, this term means its range extends across all of most of the world in appropriate habitats.

Stiff Stems are Soft to the Touch

The foliage on Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) is made up of individual leafless stems grouped together growing from a clumped base.  Because the stems stand firmly together, the plant won’t flop over as it grows larger.  Unlike typical ornamental grasses, it doesn’t tend to sway in the wind easily or become scraggly looking over time.  Adjacent plants in a mixed garden bed or container garden won’t be buried by it either.  Its spikey form is bold looking, tough, and vertical.

It has a Nice Effect in Containers and Garden Beds

Stored pot will return Juncus effusus each season

Stored pot will return Juncus effusus each season

From a designer’s point of view, this plant makes a nice effect in a composition of mixed plants because of its shape and habit, serving as a nice thriller in containers elevating an arrangement, or as a center focal point in gardens, especially when placed near a lighter green color or bolder leaf texture.  Perhaps it can even be massed or grouped in landscapes to help with soil erosion or as an alternative to turf grass in select areas with the right exposure (sun is preferred).

And, as mentioned above, Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) prefers moist-sometimes dry landscapes. And this particular variety is a dark green color, which remains dark green during the season but eventually turns a muted brown in the fall and winter.  It will remain standing during the winter months and the stems’ pointy tips will poke out of a snow covered area without bending or breaking, adding interest in the winter months.

Summer Flowering is More Interesting than Showy

Juncus flowering [Photo by Frank Vincentz Wikipedia Commons]

Juncus flowering [Photo by Frank Vincentz Wikipedia Commons]

It flowers in summer (typically around June), but rather than shooting out flowers from the top, the flowers seem to extend from the sides of the stems opening up like a side curtain.  Unlike the purple balls of chive’s flowers, this plant’s yellowish flowers are not super-attractive, but they still add character to the plant in summer.  The flowers are clustered together in batches, and turn a bit brownish later in the season as they mature.  They are the type of flowers which are more interesting to look at than showy or floral.

For Water Gardens and Low-Wetlands

Photo Christian Fischer, Wikipedia; See Attributions Below

Photo Christian Fischer, Wikipedia; See Attributions Below

Because of its flexible nature in regards to soil conditions, this is a great candidate for water gardens in decorative pots, or in low wet areas in your landscape.  It is also a great choice for rain gardens which fill up with water during a rainfall, but then later dry out when there is no rain occurring.  Another benefit to using it container gardens is this will control its potentially spreading roots (rhizomatous in nature), so it can be also used as a “troublemaker turned star” plant.  However, although it can spread under ideal conditions in the landscape, mine has not caused any sneak appearances elsewhere as of yet.  Besides an occasional watering with the hose in the summer, my plant has been growing well in dry-sometimes “wet” soil, a little opposite to description # 5 above.

Curly Cultivars with Twists and Turns

Not only is Juncus effusus (common or soft rush) a plant with formal looking, straight v-shaped look, there are also cultivars with more funky foliage traits, such as J. effusus ‘Frenzy’ (variegated corkscrew rush), J. effusus ‘Unicorn’ (giant spiral rush), and also J. effusus ‘Spiralis’ (corkscrew rush).  Unlike their upright cousins, the foliage on these varieties bear stems with twists and turns, resembling untamed curls in otherwise straight hair or the spiral metal rod of a corkscrew.  The curly varieties add a bit of whimsy to fun containers, such as head shaped pots.  And are great for kids to enjoy because of the plants’ playfulness and irresistibility to touch.

Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) is a plant with many uses able to take varying conditions and is a long performer in the garden.  These benefits make this candidate a low-maintenance and high versatile plant.  Remember to take notice of it and consider its uses next time you are out shopping for plants, which hopefully will be in 30 days when spring arrives!

For more information, refer to these useful links:

http://www.northcreeknurseries.com/plantName/Juncus-effusus-
NorthCreek Nurseries

http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_juef.pdf
USDA NRCS fact sheet

http://www.finegardening.com/plants/qa/grasses-rushes-sedges.aspx
Fine Gardening

http://www.eeob.iastate.edu/classes/bio366/families/Juncaceae.pdf
EEob.iastate.edu

http://www.provenwinners.com/plants/juncus/quartz-creek-soft-rush-juncus-effusus
Proven Winners

http://www.floridata.com/ref/j/junc_eff.cfm
Floridata

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=z200
Juncus effusus ‘Unicorn’ (corkscrew, or giant spiral rush), Mobot.org Plant Finder

http://hoffmannursery.com/plants/juncus-effusus-frenzy/
Juncus effusus ‘Frenzy’ (variegated corkscrew rush), Hofftmannursery.com

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=v930
Juncus effusus f. spiralis (corkscrew rush), Mobot.org Plant Finder

Plant Details:

4 feet tall with flower (June)
Sun exposures
Low water spots (0-6 inches)
Planting Zones 4-10

Photo of.
Attributions:

Juncus in snow
(http://instagram.com/p/kXIlxosJND/)
by Cathy Testa
Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy Cathy T

Up the Garden Path photo by Simon Howden
freedigitalphotos.net

Juncus in nursery square pots
Forest & Kim Starr [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Juncus flower clusters
By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Juncus by water
Christian Fischer [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Written by Cathy Testa
www.cathytesta.com

Please don’t forget to share this post with your gardening friends!

Photo take Feb 2014

Photo taken Feb 2014