By Sharon Reeve, for Let’s Talk Plants! March 2023.
Aloes come in an astonishing variety of sizes and shapes. They can be trees or small groundcovers, and everything in between. There are over six hundred species of Aloes and Aloe-related species (Kew) originating from Africa, Madagascar, fourteen from the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, and a few from islands in the Indian Ocean. This article will concentrate on some of the smaller, more garden-worthy Aloes for San Diego.
Many Aloes offset and get bigger over time. Coral Aloe or Aloe striata is a uniquely beautiful single Aloe that gets chunkier with each passing year. The spineless basal rosette is only about a foot high, but the flat-topped floral cluster reaches up another foot. Thick bluish-aqua leaves radiate from the center and have a coral-colored edge that matches the flowers. A subspecies has faint white lines running up the leaves that show in bright light. While this is an attractive sculptural plant when planted alone, it also is very attractive planted in a group or band in front of a solid-colored dark-foliaged plant to show off its sculptural qualities and flashy flowers. Front it with an even bluer Senecio for a pleasing combination. Full sun and infrequent water suit it best. This clean plant requires no maintenance, save the removal of old flowering stems. This plant will tolerate slight freezes only. Aloe striata blooms in winter for about a month.
This garden Aloe is the product of a breeding effort by Leo Thamm, and is called 'Aloe Moonglow'. The parentage is unknown, but the combination of bluish foliage and abundant soft yellow flowers with orange centers is stunningly beautiful and very satisfying. After, many years the plant will offset to a medium-large size of 3-4 feet high and 4 feet wide. You can control the size by pruning after bloom. When it does bloom, it is the star of the garden and an obvious focal point. The soft-colored flowers coordinate well with pastels and white, grey, and silver-foliaged plants, like Kalanchoe bracteata or Dasilyrion wheeleri. Hummingbirds love Aloes, and this is no exception. Once again, full sun and infrequent water are what this plant wants. This is also a long winter bloomer. This is a tough plant that insists on well-draining soil and temperatures above freezing.
A. cameronii. Photo credit Sharon Reeve.
Aloe cameronii is much better behaved than the similar, but larger, Aloe arborescens. In the photo above, the plant is 7-8 years old and has expanded to four feet wide and three feet high. This is considered a slow-growing Aloe. Cherry-red flowers are numerous and in proportion with the smaller-scale foliage. In cooler months, the foliage turns a deep forest green, but heat and drought can turn the foliage bronzy orange. Regular water will keep the foliage green. Combine it with Aeonium 'Kiwi' to bring out the red of the flowers. This deep green foliage works well with all kinds of smaller colorful succulents. Rosettes of foliage cut from the base propagate easily. This is one of my favorite plants for creating gardens. Colorful winter blooms can repeat during the year. Even when not in bloom the neat dense basal foliage is refreshing and healthy. This plant needs well-drained soil and full sun. Aloe cameronii can withstand slight freezes. While this plant does not have spines, the leaves are edged with teeth that might lead you to be a little careful.
If spreading Aloe is more to your liking, this hybrid Aloe 'Blue Elf' may work for you. The narrow upright bluish-green foliage, with hints of orange and red, forms a dense ground cover that is around a foot tall. Plant this on 8-inch centers and in a couple of years you will have a continuous patch of Aloe 'Blue Elf'. In the middle of winter, it sends up one-foot-high slim red-orange spires of flowers. Hummingbirds regularly come by and sample them all in a systematic fashion. This plant likes well-drained soil and is tolerant of regular water, but can get by on less. In the photo above this vigorous plant is filling a pot. The flowers open from long bloom stalks and open from the bottom up, and bloom for several weeks. The spent flower pedicels give a polka-dot effect to the stalk. This plant is tolerant of hot open exposures but intolerant of salt spray at ocean locations. Remove spent flower stalks after blooming. This plant combines well with low grasses and other succulents. Upright narrow foliage provides a different texture to almost any plant. Be sure to not crowd this plant and allow it to shine alone or in combination.
The cover photo for this article is another breeding win for garden-worthy Aloes. This small-statured offsetting Aloe comes to us from Alan Wet's breeding program in South Africa. The foliage of 'Aloe Safari Rose' reminds me of Aloe x 'Blue Elf' with bigger soft rose flowers grading into white ends. The clump is a foot tall but spreads slowly and increases in height as the plant offsets. Even though it offsets it stays small. The flowers are large in proportion to the foliage. It blooms heavily in the winter and repeats bloom throughout the year. Combine this with a silver-foliaged herb like Teucrium marum or a low-blooming plant like Kalanchoe manginii. The cherry bells and burgundy foliage of this Kalanchoe go well with this Aloe. Blue Senecio serpens, coppery Sedum adolphi, red-rimmed Crassula arborescens, and tri-colored Aeonium 'Sunburst" all look good next to this plant. With these soft rose flowers, there are so many possibilities! Infrequent water and well-draining soil are needed to grow this well. This Aloe is part of the Safari series from Ball Horticulture and includes a bi-colored orange and pink-flowered Aloe called 'Safari Sunrise'. There are also 'Safari Sunrise' and 'Safari Orange'. All excellent garden Aloes. I love these garden Aloes for their low maintenance, drought tolerance, effortless attractiveness, and months of flowers. They don't need fertilization, but a layer of mulch is always helpful. Hummingbirds appreciate frequent and abundant flowers. Try them in your garden and you will love them too.