Blue Weber Agave, Agave tequilana
A daring husband and wife team in Sonoma county—Laurie and Adam Goldberg, co-founders and owners of Stargazer Spirits—is experimenting with large-scale agave farming by planting test blocks on approximately six acres of varying soil types, with blue Weber as one agave variety. They are deep in the learning stage, so I reached out to Laurie for advice and insights into growing blue Weber agave, a historically significant succulent.
Please keep reading to learn more about this drinkable plant and this adventurous couple.
Photography by Adam Goldberg, courtesy of Stargazer Spirits.
First, a little backstory about blue Weber agave: The Greek word that agave comes from is Agavos, which translates to illustrious; in Greek mythology, Agave was the goddess of desire. Blue Weber agave is native to Jalisco, Mexico, and was considered sacred by the Aztecs. The first alcoholic agave beverage was pulque (potentially dating back to 1000 B.C), made from the fermentation of the plant’s sap. When Spanish settlers entered the scene, they began experimenting with the distillation process, eventually using the pulque to make tequila and mezcal. Today, Jalisco remains the source of the best and the majority of tequila.
The Goldbergs’ mission is to create top-notch agave spirits in California. (Side note: in order for a drink to be called tequila, it must be made from blue Weber agave in Jalisco or other limited municipalities in Mexico.) They are among the first to grow agave for spirits production outside of Mexico. “We have around 3,000 tequilana (including several heritage varieties) and approximately 6,000 plants total. We’d hoped that Agave tequilana would be a low-water, low-maintenance, set-it-and-forget-it plant for us, but in fact it requires more water than any of our other agaves (though still around 75 percent less than what grapes need on a per-acre basis),” shares Laurie. The Goldbergs continue running a number of soil amendment, mulching, and watering experiments. “The bottom line is that this agave is likely to thrive in warm areas in full sun without winter frost. It requires 70 to 80 gallons of water per plant in the summer months, though water requirements will depend on location and soils. Lastly, it likes loose, sandy soils in which its roots can spread out.”
The Goldbergs are also trying to see what thrives in what soils without significant amendment. “We have run soil and fertilization experiments with potash, fermented stinging nettle, kelp, biochar, wood ash, sand, rock mulch, and compost (among other experiments). We don’t have a clear winner, though many of the plants seem to enjoy a nitrogen boost. The hope is to have mature agaves in around two to three years and then process and distill on-site, but given their remote location it is possible they’ll need to distill nearby.”
The home gardener should know that blue Weber agave is a fast-growing evergreen succulent, quickly reaching approximately five feet tall and wide, sprouting three- to four-foot-long blue-gray leaves that are armed with a dangerously sharp terminal spine and nasty margin teeth. In its hometown of Jalisco, this agave grows in sandy, well-draining soil at altitudes of 4,500 feet or higher. Make sure your climate can support this plant as it won’t tolerate temperatures below 25°F. If you live in a colder climate, consider growing this succulent in a pot that you can bring indoors during the winter. Watch out for wayward pups popping up near the base and, surprisingly, several feet away. Also give this plant Plenty (with a capital P) of room to reach maturity. Seriously, this is not a plant you can prune to keep its size contained.
- Great for water-conscious gardens and adventurous gardeners.
- A fabulous focal plant due to its bold, architectural shape.
- Pairs well with other succulents, palm trees, and cacti.
- The eventual tall flowers that bloom in the summer are hummingbird magnets.
- Deer-resistant but not resistant to gophers. Pro tip: Consider installing gopher cages prior to planting.
- It has a clumping growth habit. Just remove the pups, making sure that the offsets have some roots attached before either replanting the pups or gifting them to friends.
Keep It Alive
- Hardy in USDA Zones 9 and 10.
- Full sun for best growth and color. In extremely hot climates, some afternoon shade is appreciated to prevent leaves from getting sunburned. The ideal temperature is between 70°F and 80°F.
- Loose, well-draining soil that mimics its natural rocky habitat is best. If planting in pots, use a specialty succulent potting mix. If planting in the ground, add red lava or another gritty material.
- When you first plant your agave, water it deeply once a week for a month, then taper off to two times a month. Come winter when it is dormant, keep this plant dry. Pro tip: Pay attention to the leaves—if they are firm and plump, then the plant is hydrated. Wrinkled leaves could indicate dehydration.
- Provide good air circulation and avoid overhead watering to prevent fungal diseases. Drip irrigation is smart choice.
- Can be grown indoors, but provide a very sunny spot and watch for mealy bugs and scale. As for humidity, it is adapted to arid environments so it can take low humidity levels.
- When you do need to trim the leaves, handle with extreme care. Pro tip: When planting, pruning, or transplanting this agave, use rose gloves to protect your hands and arms from scary sharp points and spines.
- Overfeeding this plant will lead to a weak plant. In fact, this agave is adapted to nutrient-poor soil.
Frequently asked questions
What is Agave tequilana Blue Weber?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber, commonly known as Blue Agave, is a species of agave native to Mexico. It is primarily grown for the production of tequila.
How does Agave tequilana Blue Weber look?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber has blue-green, spiky leaves that form a rosette shape. The leaves are thick and succulent, with sharp teeth along the edges.
How big can Agave tequilana Blue Weber grow?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber can grow up to 5-7 feet tall and wide, with the leaves reaching a length of about 3-5 feet.
How to plant Agave tequilana Blue Weber?
To plant Agave tequilana Blue Weber, choose a well-draining location with full sun exposure. Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball, place the plant in the hole, and backfill with soil. Water thoroughly after planting.
How often should I water Agave tequilana Blue Weber?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber is drought-tolerant and only requires watering once every 2-3 weeks during the growing season. It is important to let the soil dry out between waterings to prevent root rot.
What kind of soil does Agave tequilana Blue Weber prefer?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber prefers well-draining soil with sandy or gravelly texture. It does not tolerate heavy or compacted soil.
Can Agave tequilana Blue Weber withstand cold temperatures?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber is hardy to USDA zones 9-11 and can withstand temperatures down to 20°F (-6°C). In colder regions, it is best grown in containers that can be brought indoors during winter.
Does Agave tequilana Blue Weber produce flowers?
Yes, Agave tequilana Blue Weber produces a tall flower stalk called a 'quiote' as it matures. The stalk can reach up to 20 feet in height and is adorned with yellow flowers.
How long does Agave tequilana Blue Weber take to mature?
Agave tequilana Blue Weber typically takes around 8-10 years to reach maturity and produce flowers. However, its leaves can be harvested for tequila production before it flowers.
Can Agave tequilana Blue Weber be grown in pots?
Yes, Agave tequilana Blue Weber can be grown in pots or containers. Ensure the container has proper drainage holes and use a well-draining potting mix. It is important to provide ample sunlight and occasional fertilization.