Agave karwinskii (The True Mezcal Agave)

Agave karwinskii

Agave karwinskii, or the True Mezcal Agave, is one of two types of agave (the other being the Blue Agave) that can be used to make Mezcal, one of Mexico’s national treasures.

This plant hails from Oaxaca and has been used by Mezcal producers in Mexico for generations to produce tequila-like liquor without making tequila, due to some legal distinctions between the two spirits.

Agave karwinskii (True Mezcal Agave) is one of the most popular types of agave in existence, used to make Agave Mezcal and other spirits.

Origin and distribution

Agave karwinskii was originally from southwestern Mexico. However, today it is grown all over Mexico and in various parts of Central America and South America. In fact, it is becoming popular for use as a medicinal herb as well as a food flavoring in many places around the world.

This agave has been planted extensively in Hawaii since 1996. The plant can grow to be up to 5 meters tall with leaves that are up to 2 meters long. The flowers bloom at night and close during daylight hours. They have white petals with yellow centers that are very fragrant.

The fruit that grows after flowering takes about 10 years to mature before it can be harvested for its sap or juice which is used to make mezcal or tequila liquor.

Agave karwinskii propagation

Agave karwinskii

The propagation of Agave karwinskii begins when new shoots are collected from mature plants. After these shoots have had their spines removed, they are planted in containers to be grown for one year in a nursery until they reach about three feet in height.

They are then taken to the field where they will be replanted every six months until an established root system can support them without help. Once that occurs, there is no need for replanting as long as enough rainwater is available.

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Agave karwinskii care information

Agave karwinskii

Take care of your true mezcal agave plant so that it can flourish. Water lightly, but once a week and place in a shady location. You should also ensure that there is adequate airflow around your plant, as stagnant air will cause rapid leaf drop. It’s best to check on your agave every few days and water when you find the soil has dried out completely.

Light requirement

If a plant is going to produce good mezcal, it needs lots of sunlight. In its native highlands, agave karwinskii receives around three hours of direct sun each day. It’s not uncommon for mezcal producers to move their plants daily to a new location in order to get them maximum exposure.

Soil/potting mix

Any good potting mix should work, though some are better than others. It’s best to do a little research before choosing which one you’ll use, and find out which have added fertilizer and anti-fungal/anti-insect chemicals.

If you’re planning on making your own potting mix, be sure to add water-retaining granules like perlite or peat moss, as well as plenty of compost.

Watering

Don’t let your Agave karwinskii dry out but make sure to not overwater it. This species is drought tolerant as long as you allow it to dry out between watering. Keep in mind, however, that during wintertime or when temperatures drop below freezing, a little extra TLC might be necessary to ensure your plant survives through the cold months.

Water only when you see dry patches on the soil surface and place the pot on a tray filled with rocks and water for better drainage.

Fertilizer

Using too much fertilizer on your Agave karwinskii can be harmful to your plants, so be careful. If you’re buying a liquid fertilizer, try to get one that lists just one ingredient: nitrogen.

Some fertilizers also include phosphorous and potassium on their ingredients list, but these nutrients aren’t necessary for growing agave as long as you have excellent soil drainage.

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Temperature

It’s crucial to maintain a proper temperature for fermenting agave. Temperatures under 85 degrees Fahrenheit inhibit fermentation, while temperatures higher than 100 degrees start to kill off microbes and inhibit fermentation, so it’s best to keep it under 90. Fermentation takes about a week, but when left in the open air at room temperature it can finish in as little as five days.

Humidity

Most agaves are native to arid regions. Karwinskii, however, hails from a mountain region in Mexico and requires humidity and shade if you’re going to successfully grow it indoors. It also grows much larger than most agaves, you may want to research whether your home is big enough to house a specimen as large as Karwinskii will eventually grow.

The ideal humidity range is 40 to 60 percent. If your home tends to get especially dry, you can create a humidifier using a large plastic tub, water, and pebbles. Put a layer of pebbles at the bottom of your tub, fill it with water and let it sit for a few days. This will allow moisture to seep into your air and raise its relative humidity level.

Pruning

Aside from propagation, pruning is a great way to keep your Agave karwinskii thriving. Pruning also increases the production of root mass and plant size. The best time to prune is during late winter before early spring when temperatures are stable and not fluctuating too much between night and day.

Before you begin, it’s important to note that there are two main types of pruning: hard and soft. Hard pruning involves cutting back whole branches or large portions of a tree while soft pruning only involves trimming back small portions of leaves or branches. It’s recommended that you start out with soft pruning since it’s less invasive than hard pruning.

When to repot

Agave karwinskii

Repotting an Agave karwinskii should take place at least once a year. The optimal time is when you see new growth on your plant, which will be in early fall, right before it goes dormant for winter.

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You can also repot during spring or summer if your plant has outgrown its current pot. But don’t go more than two years without repotting; agaves tend to grow very slowly and need lots of room to spread their roots.

A good rule of thumb is that if your agave is taking up less than one-third of its pot, it’s time to move up to a larger container.

Dormancy/Winter rest

Many people think that Agave karwinskii doesn’t have a dormancy phase, but that’s only partially true. The genus does have a period where it enters into a dormant phase, it just happens to be in the winter months.

Although many people see agaves as plants with eternal summer, they do rest during the colder months of late fall and early spring. But that’s not all: For some species, like Agave karwinskii, winter rest is required for growing and flowering properly.

It’s also possible that these periods are necessary for certain parts of their life cycle. This means that if you want to grow an agave from seed or start one from a cutting, you should wait until after its winter rest has passed before transplanting it into your garden or starting a new plant.

And if you want to harvest an agave, remember that it will be easier when its leaves are fully expanded after its dormant period is over!

Agave karwinskii flower & fragrance

The first thing that you’ll notice about Agave Karwinskii, is its spectacular flower arrangement. The stems of these magnificent agaves are covered in bright red and yellow flowers from top to bottom.

Unlike other types of agaves, many of which can take up to a decade or more to flower, Agave Karwinskii often begins flowering within two or three years after reaching maturity.

Growth rate

The plant has a slow growth of 0.2 to 0.3 meters per year is typical for these plants, though faster growth occurs in their first two years of life. Plant height can reach 4 meters or more when healthy and growing in a good location but are often smaller at maturity.

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It takes about 10 to 15 years for an agave to mature and begin producing flower stalks with flowers and subsequent new seeds, though some plants can take up to 25 years.

Toxicity

The genus Agave is known to contain high levels of substances toxic to humans and livestock, such as cyanogenic glycosides, phenols, and alkaloids. In fact, it was a large dose of cyanide that killed actress Marilyn Monroe after eating mezcal with her last meal at Mexico City’s La Santisima Catholic church in August 1962.

USDA hardiness zones

Agave karwinskii thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 8-10. It can be grown outside of these zones, but will require a lot more attention and may not survive winter temperatures. This plant is succulent and therefore requires very little water to thrive.

If you live in an area with low rainfall, you will need to provide your agave with extra water or it will die. If you live in an area with high rainfall, you should make sure that your agave has good drainage or it may rot from too much water.

Pests and diseases

Because Agave karwinskii is a succulent plant and therefore has evolved to retain water, agaves can be susceptible to certain pests and diseases. One of these pests is called mealybugs, check out our post on how to prevent and get rid of them here.

Other common pests you’ll find in your greenhouse are spider mites and whiteflies, which thrive on overwatered plants, so make sure you’re watering properly! And remember that chemical pesticides should be avoided whenever possible.