Agave plants (Agave spp.) thrive in desert gardens and in sandy soils with little moisture. They grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, depending on the variety. Although agaves die after flowering, they have a long flowering cycle and can live for eight to 60 years. These desert succulents transplant well and tolerate disturbance, so you can move the plants to a new area at any time during the spring and summer growing season.
Most agave varieties have sharp spines along the edges of the leaves. The sap is also a common skin irritant and can cause allergic reactions. Before handling the agave, protect your skin and eyes. Heavy leather gloves, long sleeves and long pants provide skin protection. Wear eye protection so sap doesn't get into your eyes. Protecting the plant is also necessary. Disinfect any knives, shears or spade blades you will use to prune and cut through the plant to minimize bacterial soft rot and other disease problems. Wiping them with a cloth soaked in isopropyl alcohol kills any disease pathogens or pests.
Small plants, called pups or offsets, often grow up around the base of the main mother plant. Each of these pups grows into a new agave if you separate it from the mother. Cut these off just below the soil surface with a knife or the edge of the spade. Removing the outer leaves of a large agave plant lessens the weight during transplanting and results in a healthier looking plant. Peel the outer ragged leaves off the plant and dispose of them, leaving only the intact, healthy looking rosette of leaves in the center. Tie a string loosely around a remaining leaf on the west side of the agave to mark it, but avoid tying it too tightly and cutting into the leaf.
A shovel lifts the entire plant and keeps you well away from the spiny foliage. Insert the shovel blade into the soil around the outer perimeter of the root zone, working around the plant until the soil is loosened. Slide the shovel under the root system and pry the agave out of the ground. Some roots will break, but this doesn't cause any long-lasting harm. After lifting the agave, dust any exposed wounds with sulfur powder to ward off infection. The wounds on any removed pups also benefit from a sulfur dusting before you replant them.
A site with sandy, fast-draining soil that receives all-day sunlight provides the best location for an agave or agave pup. Transplant at the same depth the agave was growing at previously and set it so the string-marked side is facing west. Planting agave so it faces the same direction prevents the side used to shade from sun damage. Spacing requirements vary depending on the agave variety, so leave enough room between plants so they can reach their full size without crowding. If you can't transplant right away, set the agave in a shaded location for two or three days and let any wounds dry over. After planting, cover the agave with a shade cloth to protect it from the direct sunlight as the roots establish in the new site, but remove the cloth as soon as new growth becomes apparent. Watering isn't usually necessary, but you can water just enough so the soil is barely moistened if the soil is completely dry and the plant has resumed growth.