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Q&A: How do I ensure that agaves will survive the winter?

On a recent trip to the Southwest, I fell in love with agaves. I've found some that are marginally hardy in my zone and I'm thinking about purchasing them next spring. Is there anything I can do to ensure they survive our winter?

Growing Agaves in Cold Climates

Pushing the plants' limits takes tenacity and luck. These tips can help.

1. Pick the location carefully. Avoid northern exposures, low spots and areas below roof runoff.

2. Shelter plants from wind. Where high wind is common in the winter, plant agaves near a dense wind break, or cover securely for the winter.

3. Plant agaves near large rocks—the rocks build up heat during the day and release it slowly overnight.

4. Plant with extra drainage. Dig a hole the size of the root system but fill it with a mixture of equal parts soil and pumice or gravel. Overfill the hole to create a small mound and plant the agave at the top of the mound.

5. Cover plants for winter. Make a frame of wood or other available material that will cover the plant. Staple plastic to the frame or lay a sheet over it, securing it well. Leave the frame on all winter. Be careful that the plastic does not touch the plants. Snow can work like a blanket to protect plants but it comes at a price—the effects of thawing and a cool spring can be more damaging than the cold. Even in nearly tropical areas, cold-tender agaves benefit from some form of overhead protection, whether from a tree, port overhand, blanket or cardboard box.