If you’re like a lot of people… you know the Aloe plant as an indoor plant growing on window sills – a small, cute succulent. Best known of all is the Aloe vera plant, trusted for its healing properties for sunburn, bites, minor cuts and skin irritations.
But Aloe is a huge genus, and there are so many interesting plants ranging from 6-inch tiny tots to tree and shrubs, like the photo (left) of Aloe arborescens (Torch Aloe) taken in San Francisco.
Because most Aloes are from South Africa and tenderness to cold is their main limiting factor – they’re not on everybody’s plant list. In warm and sunny Southern California, you’ll find Aloes to be a very popular plant. But if you’re gardening in a colder zone – I’m in Northern California – then, finding the hardier Aloes that do well and can handle mild, but not tropical winter temperatures, is the trick.
General Aloe Info and Small Aloes
Aloes are drought tolerant succulents so definitely use them along with other low water plants like CA natives, and plants from other mild Mediterranean climates. They are an excellent addition to any succulent planting; and if it’s a small planting area, look for solitary types, and those that are small in size. I like to use Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrids’ which is a small plant with narrow leaves and orange flowers. Another one, Aloe nobilis (Golden Toothed Aloe) grows in small clumps and also with orange flowers. Aloe aristata is a dwarf species, growing only 8 to 12 inches tall and wide; flowers bloom in winter and are orange-red in 1.5 inch tall clusters. And finally, the photo (right) of Aloe capitata – with its grey-green solitary rosetttes, and yellow-orange mixed flowers is unique; but going to be harder to find than the first three. This Aloe is hardy to 30 F.
Facts – Most Aloes make amazing container plants… Some species bloom every month…Watch out, leaves can be spiny and thorny…Biggest show is February – September
A Shrub and A Tree Aloe
Okay, moving on from the little Aloes … Here are examples of two bold big ones. Aloe plicatilis (Fan Aloe) and the cover photo, Aloe arborescens (Torch Aloe).
Aloe plicatilis (Fan Aloe) – Is an evergreen, shrubby tree which grows s l o w l y to about 4-8 feet tall x 4 – 6 feet wide. Named for it’s fan shaped leaves, you can plant it in
full sun by the coast, but give it more shade and protection inland where temperatures are hotter. You can definitely plant this guy in a large pot and enjoy its unique sculptural form. Flower time is winter and it’s Hardy to 25 F.
FYI: Hummingbirds insects and other birds love Aloe flowers which produce lots of pollen and nectar!
Aloe arborescens – ( Torch or Tree Aloe) – As you can see, below, this is a large shrubby plant with red flowers. It grows with branching stems that carry big clumps of gray green, spiny-edged leaves. Bloom time is December – March. Flowers are long, spiky clusters, ranging from red to yellow. This shrub is a great choice for the dry, easy care garden; and it flowers when practically nothing else is in bloom! Just make sure that you have the space because the leaves are thorny and hurt if you need to have too much interaction.
Aloes, like so many succulents, really don’t need much TLC. But, coming from arid parts – Madagascar to Yemen to S. Africa – these plants will do best planted in fast draining soils. Amending your soil, if it is clayey, with course grit, or planting in raised/mounded gritty soil is good for long term success. In containers, go with Cactus Mix potting soils. If you want to grow your aloe collection, most common propagation methods are cutting, pups or seed.