Aloes form a large genus of over 400 species of plants with rosettes of thick, juicy leaves which help them survive seasonally dry climates. Succulent Aloe leaves have a somewhat waxy surface, and vary in color from grayish blue to bright green, sometimes striped, spotted, or mottled.
While some aloe species have tree-like stems, many form low, spreading colonies. Their tall flower bloom stalks are topped with very beautiful red, orange, yellow, or pink tubular flowers in summer, fall, or winter, which are favorites of hummingbirds.
A short aloe with shiny, bronzy-red or orange leaves, 'Sunset' forms rosettes of foliage. Best coloration occurs in full sun. One- to two-foot flower spikes appear in mid to late winter. Plant in partial to full sun. Mature height: 6-12 inches. USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11
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A rare aloe with a spiral form, a mature polyphylla can have up to 5 rows of blue-green leaves growing in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Mature width and height: 6-12 inches. A native of the Maluti Mountains in South Africa, polyphylla aloe doesn't tolerate extreme heat. Give it full sun; in desert locations, plant in shade. Hardy to USDA Zone 9B.
As semi-tropical plants, most aloes are cold-hardy only to USDA 10, so in cooler climates they're typically grown indoors, where they seldom bloom. Aloe needs lots of bright light for best growth and flowering; if you live in a frost area, try moving the pot outdoors just for the summer to a location where it will get maximum light and minimal rainfall. Make sure that the potting soil is very well-drained.
Aloes, especially the smaller kinds, do well in rock or hillside gardens, raised borders and beds, groundcovers, wall plantings, and containers, both indoors and out.
Common Aloe Succulent Types
Who can possibly narrow the list of great garden Aloes?
The “burn plant” (Aloe vera) is probably the most widely-grown species for its durability as a potted plant and the folk medicinal use of its thick, gelatinous sap. The slow-spreading clump of easy-to-divide offsets, each getting up to two feet tall with many long, thick light green toothed leaves sometimes flecked with white spots.
Blue Aloe (Aloe glauca) makes a thick clump up to about 8 inches tall and wider, with narrow, upright gray-blue leaves, while Sunset Aloe (A. dorotheae) turns bright reddish orange when given sun.
Soap aloe (A. maculate. or A. saponaria), also known as zebra aloe because of its stripes of leaf spots, forms a foot-tall spreading clump of rosettes. Tiger Aloe (A. variegata) is a small frost-tolerant plant with triangular, lightly toothed leaves with irregular bands of raised white spots; it looks very much like Haworthia. These three can tolerate frost and short mild freezes, and are often grown in sandy soils along southeastern Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
The multiple-trunk Torch or Tree Aloe (A. arborescens) grows to eight feet or more tall with downward curved leaves and brilliant orange-red fall flowers. It and the short-trunked Cape Aloe (A. ferox) can tolerate down to the lower 20s.
The unusual climbing aloe (A. ciliaris) is vine-like with long, narrow, toothed leaves that curve downward to help the plant clasp to supports. Its stems can grow over 20 feet long, and flower mostly in the spring. The plant climbs palm trunks, and can tolerate quite a bit of shade.
Several Aloe species tolerate cold weather, down to the teens. Hardy Aloe (A. striatula), lace Aloe (A. aristata) and the incredibly beautiful spiral Aloe (A. polyphylla) are cold hardy to 10 F, and are often grown outdoors all year even in well-drained pockets in English garden walls where they sometimes get covered with snow.
How to Plant and Grow Aloes
Aloes thrive in full sun, some with protection from mid-day sun; larger kinds grown in mild, frost-free areas tolerate the most sun, but in hot climates they all need protection from intense mid-day sun or they will scorch or burn - especially the smaller species which in nature grow in the shadows of rocks and other vegetation. In shade they tend to lean towards light.
Succulent Aloe species grow well with occasional watering, but can easily rot in areas with high rainfall or if they are kept wet in pots. Increase garden or potting soil drainage by adding generous amounts of sharp sand, pumice, perlite, grit, or expanded clay soil conditioner.
While single-trunk aloes can grow perfectly well for many years, those that spread with offsets should be divided regularly to keep them healthy and strong.
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