Small Container-Sized Agaves Perfect for Urban Spaces

By Noelle Johnson, Houzz

There are more than 200 species of agave, ranging in size from 6 inches to more than 12 feet wide. Due to their modest size and compact root systems, smaller agave species make an excellent choice for growing in containers. They require only infrequent watering and do well in summer, even in the heat. Their spiky shapes add dramatic interest to many garden spaces, big or small, along with patios, poolsides and entryways and as outdoor table centerpieces.

Related: More Ways to Spruce Up Your Patio 

Here are 10 agave species that are perfect for smaller areas, with varying cold tolerances, exposure requirements and sizes to ensure there is one right for you.

agave
Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting, original photo on Houzz

1. ‘Compacta’ Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae ‘Compacta’) Native to Mexico

This smaller version of the slow-growing Queen Victoria agave barely reaches 12 inches wide. The dark green leaves with bright white margins make this species highly desirable. This miniature native of Mexico doesn’t produce offsets (volunteers) like many other species of agave do, and it looks great when planted in groups of three or five.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 12 degrees Celsius (USDA Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full sun is best, but it can handle filtered shade for a few hours a day
Mature size: Up to 8 inches to 1 foot tall and wide

agave
Curtis Horticulture Inc, original photo on Houzz

2. ‘Blue Glow’ Agave (Agave ‘Blue Glow’) Hybrid of Agave attenuata and Agave ocahui 

Every few years there is a new plant arrival that takes the gardening world by storm. In the succulent world, ‘Blue Glow’ agave has done just that. While it doesn’t resemble its parents, the mixing of their genes created an agave that has dark blue-green leaves with yellow and red margins that seemingly glow when backlit by the sun.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 6.7 degrees Celsius (Zone 9)
Light requirement: Full sun is best, but it can handle filtered shade for a few hours a day; filtered sun is best in low-desert zones
Mature size: 2 feet tall and wide

agave
Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting, original photo on Houzz

Totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii var. monstrosus) adds height behind a globular golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and a spiky rosette of black-spined agave

3. Black-Spined Agave (Agave macroacantha) Native to southern Mexico, including Oaxaca

Black-spined agave’s powder-blue leaves and maroon tips provide great color contrast in the garden. This agave produces numerous offsets, creating a clumping appearance. Its narrow leaves and open rosette growth habit add welcome texture in containers.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 3.9 degrees Celsius (Zone 9)
Light requirement: Full sun to filtered shade
Mature size: 10 to 16 inches tall and wide

4. Agave Schidigera (Agave schidigera) Native to Mexico, including Chihuahua and south through central Mexico

The curly white fibers that grace this small agave’s bright green leaf edges capture the attention of passersby. White markings on the leaves increase Agave schidigera’s visual appeal.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full sun or light shade; filtered or afternoon shade is recommended in low-desert gardens
Mature size: 1 foot tall and 1 foot to 2 feet wide

agave
Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting, original photo on Houzz

5. King Ferdinand Agave (Agave nickelsiae syn. Agave ferdinandi regis) Native to Coahuila, Mexico

The resemblance of this agave to Queen Victoria agave is unmistakable, as both have dark green leaves, similar white margins and sharp terminal tips. At one point, it was thought that King Ferdinand agave was a naturally occurring hybrid of Agave victoria-reginae; however, this is no longer considered to be true. Its unusual shape and open rosette form make it look great planted singly in containers.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 12 degrees Celsius (Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet tall and wide

6. Agave Lophantha (Agave lophantha) Native to the Rio Grande area of Texas and adjoining Veracruz, Mexico

The leaves of this succulent are a lush green color, with curved maroon teeth along the edges. The center of the leaves often has a lighter stripe that runs the length. There are several varieties of Agave lophantha, including ‘Quadricolor’, which has yellow margins on bright green leaves. Plant it with other succulents for maximum effect.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 12 degrees Celsius (Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full sun to light shade
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet tall and wide

agave

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting, original photo on Houzz

7. Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi var. truncata) Native to central Mexico, including Durango

Wide blue-gray leaves with maroon spines bear a striking resemblance to artichoke leaves, hence this Mexican native’s common name. Prized by many for its beauty, artichoke agave is a popular choice for container gardening, whether used in rows of three in a long, narrow container or singly in a modern pot. It does produce a few offsets, which can be used elsewhere in the garden or given to friends.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 12 degrees Celsius (Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full, reflected sun or filtered shade
Mature size: 3 feet tall and wide

8. Twin-Flowered Agave (Agave geminiflora) Native to Nayarit, Mexico

The finely textured leaves of this bright green agave set it apart from most other species. Twin-flowered agave tolerates a range of exposures, from full reflected sun all the way to full shade, which makes it an asset in most situations.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full reflected sun to full shade
Mature size: 3 feet tall and wide

agave
Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting, original photo on Houzz

9. Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata) Native to Sonora, Mexico

The decorative leaves of this midsize agave species are loaded with interesting features, including well-defined imprinted patterns and deeply toothed edges, which add a wavy texture to the landscape. Mescal ceniza’s blue-gray color adds a visually cooling element to hot outdoor spaces.

Related: Cool Down With a New Ceiling Fan

Where it will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (Zone 8)
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: 2 feet tall and wide

10. Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae) Native to the Chihuahuan Desert region of Mexico

Often described as the most beautiful agave, this one, named after Queen Victoria, lives up to its queenly name with dark green coloring and vibrant white markings. The tight rosette shape and smooth leaf edges that terminate into a single spike add to Queen Victoria’s visual appeal.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 12 degrees Celsius (Zone 8) Light requirement: Full sun Mature size: 18 inches tall and wide

Agave growing tips:
• First select a pot, with a drainage hole, that is a little larger than the root ball, as agaves do better when their roots are slightly crowded. No saucer is needed, and is in fact discouraged, as sitting water can lead to overly moist soil.
• All agaves require well-drained soil, which can be created using one part compost, one part sand and one part perlite or pumice.
• Water when the top two-thirds of the soil has dried out. Water deeply, until water runs out the bottom. Watering should be done weekly in summer when temperatures are above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and very little in winter.
• Fertilize once a month during the growing season, which is typically late spring and summer.
• Repot every three years or so once the roots have little soil left to grow in.

Content Tools