How to Grow Agave & Desert Plants


Cacti are magnificent desert plants that come in a variety of distinguishing features and interesting shapes of all kinds.  They create drama, structure, and texture to your display. Ideal for nice sunny windowsills, they are easy to care for and require little water. 

Make yourself an adorable miniature garden by planting a variety of cacti in a container, along with succulents that have the same low watering requirements. They come in such a wide range of shapes that you can always create a lively contrasting mix.

Although not all cacti have their origins in real deserts, the greatest number of species occur in the low rainfall areas of the south-western United States and Mexico. Cacti are mainly round or cylindrical in shape with a ribbed or fluted surface that allows them to expand and contract easily for quick water absorption after rain, followed by long periods of drought. The ribbed edges of cactus plants expose less surface area to the sun, which helps to reduce moisture loss. Waxy coatings on their outer surfaces also cut down on moisture loss in extreme heat.


Agaves are succulents with a large rosette of thick, hard, rigid leaves ending in teeth or spikes. Their leaf symmetry is eye-catching and some have prickly-edged leaves, while others display curious markings, wispy, curled threads, or striped leaves.

The agave root system is a shallow network of rhizomes and designed to help the agave efficiently capture moisture from rain, condensation, and dew.  Agave leaves store the plants water which is crucial to its continued existence, and the coated leaf surface prevents evaporation.

Along with plants from the related Yucca plant, various Agave species are popular ornamental plants in hot, dry climates, as they require very little to survive. They can be grown in the garden but need winter protection.

Growing Desert Plants


  • Agave and other desert plants must be planted in a dry environment with bright light and excellent drainage.
  • For growing indoors, a sunny window is an ideal location.
  • They thrive in warmer zones but can be placed outside in the summer months, providing a great focal point in a garden bed. When the weather begins to cool, moved them inside for protection.
  • When grown in a planter, ensure the container has drainage holes covered by a layer of pebbles to prevent the soil from clogging up the holes.

Planting tip

  • To protect your hands, wrap a folded strip of newspaper around the top of the plant. This will help you slide it out of its pot and move it into the larger planter without getting spines or fine hairs in your fingers.


  • Well draining soil is a must.
  • Use potting soil that is made specifically for cacti, because it has superior drainage and will dry out quickly after watering. This will help keep the roots and stems from sitting in moisture, which can cause rot.


  • Desert plants are able to endure prolonged drought conditions, but still need water to survive.
  • Water in the summer but let the soil dry out completely in between waterings.
  • Over winter, during its dormant season, water only occasionally to prevent the soil from completely drying out and shrivelling.
  • Keep in mind that you're better off under-watering, as too much can destroy the plant.


  • During the growing months of spring and summer, cacti can be fed about once every three weeks with a well-diluted liquid fertilizer. They grow slowly and generally require less fertilizer than other plants. You can use well-diluted tomato fertilizer for this purpose.

For More Information

Interested in desert plants?  We sell a variety of cacti and agaves, along with plant pots and other accessories. Come visit Art's Nursery to see our selection and talk to our knowledgeable staff. If you’re making a special trip, please call ahead to confirm availability: 604.882.1201.

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