My fascination with Aloes began during visits to the San Diego Zoo with my grandchildren. Most of you know that both the San Diego Zoo and the Zoo Safari are homes to collections of plants as well as animals. I was drawn to the variety of colors and sizes I saw. I have since learned that the 600 species that exist range in size from a few inches to 20-foot Aloe trees. Their sensitivity to frost limits garden usage to frost-free zones. However, for those of you in locations prone to frost, many can be grown in containers so you can move them to safety when frost is predicted. An option for those grown in the ground is to cover them with a large plastic container that is higher and wider than the aloe or with a sheet or blanket. Entrepreneurs are now even offering ‘plant blankets’. It is important to remove these covering when the sun comes up. [Note: Ag supply companies offer “row cover.”]

I especially love the fact that most Aloes bloom in winter thus adding color to the garden as well as providing food for hummingbirds which are attracted to their bright tubular flowers. That said, some bloom in summer and late autumn. There are now even species that bloom just about any time of year.

All Aloes have tubular flowers that bloom in clusters on tall stalks that shoot above the foliage. I think we are all familiar with their distinctive sword-shaped leaves which can be straight or curved and may have serrated edges. So how do you distinguish an Aloe from an Agave? There are a few differences. Aloe leaves have fleshy centers and Agave are more fibrous. Agaves have sharp teeth along their edges with a line of demarcation. The teeth on Aloe leaves are actually extensions of the leaf, without any delineation. Mature Aloe plants bloom every year, while most Agave bloom only once, later in their lives, and then slowly die.

Aloes need full sun at least 6 hours a day. Many varieties will benefit from partial afternoon shade. Full sun encourages flowering, as well as boosts the red and orange tones in the leaves. It also makes them less susceptible to pests, diseases, and rot from overwatering. Speaking of problems, Aloes can be susceptible to mealy bugs, scale and aphids. My main frustration is aphids. Once I notice aphid populations appearing on my vegetables and flowers, I start to keep a close eye for them on the new growth of my aloes as well as under older leaves that bend down. Spraying these areas frequently with jets of water helps keep any infestation at a manageable level. (No one ever said organic gardening wasn’t time consuming!)

They aren’t particular about the type of soil. That said, good drainage is a must. The plants will rot in soil that has excess moisture that they don’t need. When planting, dig a wide, shallow hole. Keep the base of the plant at ground level and spread out the roots.

When stressed by cold, drought, too much sun or even extremely poor soil, the leaves may develop red or orange coloring along the edges or throughout. You can use this information to know if you have planted your Aloe in the correct location in your garden. The good news is that, if you haven’t, you can move it. I find the best time to plant or move Aloes is in the spring as most of the growing is done in the summer. That said, some people prefer to plant in the winter when most Aloes are dormant.

For photos and how-to’s:

For ideas of landscaping with aloes:

For identifying your Aloes:

by Lisa Pavel and Suzanne Kestell