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Easy Aloes In Containers

Captions: All aloes are easy to grow, and their architectural qualities make them excellent candidates for container gardening.

All aloes are easy to grow, and their architectural qualities make them excellent candidates for container gardening.

What makes aloes suddenly so trendy? Clearly their water-wise nature is one attraction. But their sudden popularity is mostly due to two characteristics: their striking architectural shape and/or their textural foliage. Both of these qualities are extremely important in the creation of a contemporary container garden, whether for indoor or exterior use.

The genus Aloe includes hundreds of kinds of succulent with thick, tapering leaves that are generally arranged in rosette form. The leaves of some are free of protective spines, while others are fiercely armed with both spines and hooked teeth. Some aloes are stemless; some have stems permanently clothed with leaves; some have stems that become bare as they lose their leaves; and some of the forms with clothed stems topple over after they have grown a foot or more and continue to grow down the side of the pot. A number of them are suitable for the home only when young because they eventually grow too tall, but there are also many dwarf‑growing kinds. Blooms, which appear from leaf axils at any time from late winter to early summer, normally consist of a spike of tubular orange or red flowers that are about 3.5cm long. All aloes are easy to grow.


A. arborescens (candelabra aloe, candelabra plant, octopus plant, or torch plant) can grow to 5m tall; only young plants are suitable for use indoors. The narrow, tooth‑edged leaves, which are 15-20cm long and 2cm wide, form a loose rosette on the end of a bare woody stem. Offsets normally appear around the base when plants are two to three years old. Red flowers may be produced at the top of a long branched stem.

A. aristata (lace aloe) is stemless, with fleshy, dark gray‑green leaves densely packed in a rosette. Each leaf is about 15cm long and 2cm wide, spotted with tubercles, and has hard white edges. Orange flowers, which appear on a 30cm stalk in early summer, last only a few days. Mature plants produce many offsets.

A. barbadensis (also called A. vera) is commonly known as a medicinal plant because its juices are excellent for healing burns. The plant forms a stemless clump of dagger‑shaped leaves 20-60cm long and 5-8cm wide. Leaves are gray‑green, faintly spotted with white, and edged with soft teeth in shades of pink or red. A stalk up to 1m long carries tubular, 25mm long, yellow flowers. Offsets are produced from stolons just below the surface.

A. brevifolia (short‑leaved aloe) has 7.5-10cm long and 2.5‑5cm wide pale green leaves edged with prickly teeth arranged around a stem that eventually elongates and topples over. Flowers are pale pink on a stalk that can be up to 30cm long. Offsets are produced from the lower leaf axils.

A. ferox (Cape aloe) is of value as a house plant only when relatively young, while its bronze‑green leaves are still of manageable size. The leaves are up to 1m long and 15cm wide, broad, fleshy, and cupped. They have warty undersides and edges covered with brown spines, and they grow in two opposite ranks when young. Mature plants bear 90cm-1.2m high racemes of red flowers. Offsets are not usually produced until the plant has grown too big for use indoors.

A. variegata (kanniedood aloe, partridge‑breasted aloe, pheasant’s­ wings, or tiger aloe) is the most popular dwarf species. It has stems clothed with pointed triangular leaves 10‑15cm long and 2.5-3cm wide which are at first arranged in three erect ranks then gradually spiral as the plant matures. They are dark gray-green in colour, with pronounced markings or irregularly shaped transverse white bands. Plants rarely exceed 30cm in height but often begin to flower when only 15cm high. Coral pink flowers (seldom more than ten) appear on a 30cm stalk in late winter. These plants rarely shed leaves, and the stems eventually topple over with increasing weight. Some produce offsets at an early age, others not until they are mature.


Light Bright light suits all aloes. Those with spiny leaves usually do well in full sunlight, but the softer leaved kinds such as A. variegata do best if sunlight reaches them indirectly — for instance, if it is filtered through a translucent blind or curtain. No aloe will thrive if permanently placed at a distance from a window.

Temperature Aloes grow well in normal room temperatures and are tolerant of dry air. To encourage flowering, however, give them a short winter rest at no more than 10oC.

Watering During the active growth period water plentifully as often as necessary to keep the potting mixture thoroughly moist. During the rest period water only enough to prevent the mixture from drying out. Do not permit water to collect in the tight rosette of such types as A. variegata.

Feeding Apply standard liquid fertiliser every two weeks during the active growth period.

Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. Most aloes should be moved into pots one size larger every spring. When maximum convenient pot size has been reached, plants should be top-dressed with fresh potting mixture once a year. To prevent rot, make sure that plants with thick basal leaves are never buried deeper than they were before. A sprinkling of coarse sand or perlite over the surface of the mixture prevents rot at points where fleshy leaves of stemless aloes touch the soil.

Propagation Offsets can be taken from the base of a plant early in summer. These small new rosettes are often attached to the parent by a short underground stolon and may already have little roots, which should be retained for propagation. Because very tiny offsets are hard to root, they should not be removed for planting until their leaves have begun to open into the characteristic rosette shape. Plants that have a rosette of leaves on a long stem are likely to produce additional small rosettes low down on the stem, and these root more easily than those produced higher up. Offsets will root in two to three weeks in the standard potting mixture if some coarse sand or perlite is sprinkled at the base of the rosette to prevent rotting. Until offsets are well established, they should have bright light without direct sunlight and should be watered sparingly, only enough to moisten the potting mixture, allowing the top two‑thirds of the mixture to dry out between waterings.

Special points Mealy bugs and root mealy bugs can be troublesome. The former hide deep in the crevices of rosette foliage, and the latter bury themselves in the roots, just below the surface of the potting mixture.