Welcome the aloe into your water-wise garden

Private Property South Africa
The Roosting Venus

The much loved aloe comes in all shapes and sizes, and best of all, they’re drought resistant.

One of the most loved varieties of South Africa’s abundant succulent offering, there are around 170 species of indigenous aloes for local gardeners to enjoy, and coming in all shapes and sizes, there’s, in a sense, an aloe for every occasion.

In these water-scarce times, it hardly needs to be said that aloes are relatively drought resistant, and deserve a place in any water-wise garden. They are also generally easy to grow, low maintenance and extremely rewarding with their year-round sculptural forms and brilliant flowers in season.

Aloes can be grown in beds, in rockeries, as standalone focal points or in pots. Although they are sun-loving, there are a few species that do well in shady and indoor situations and although they are not big on frost, some aloes can withstand it with a little care and a few species (including Aloe striatula) will tolerate severe frost.

The variety of aloes is very wide, and gardeners have many options:

  • Creeping aloes are ground hugging, and make a good ground cover.
  • Dwarf aloes grow in clumps with small rosettes and do well in rockeries.
  • Rambling aloes have thin and slender stems and can look striking in raised beds.
  • Speckled aloes can be single or multi-stemmed and are known for their various striking markings.
  • Single stemmed aloes have a single, erect main stem, give height to a garden and can be used as eye-catching features.
  • Stemless aloes have short or non-existent stems and do well in beds and rockeries.
  • Grass aloes tend to grow in clumps and do well along rocky ridges and slopes.
  • Tree aloes can reach up to 18 meters high and are a dramatic addition to gardens that have the space.

The practicalities:

  • Most aloes enjoy full sun, although there are exceptions so check the particular species that you have.

  • Aloes grown in full sun generally have better colouring and are less susceptible to pests and diseases, especially diseases caused by overwatering.

  • Aloes will tolerate shade but often become oversized, green, and lose their distinctive markings and colouration on the leaves.

  • While aloes are forgiving and will tolerate an excess of water, it’s best not to overwater – allow the ground to dry out for a day or two before watering again. When in doubt, don’t water.

  • Aloes enjoy well drained soil – add river sand to facilitate drainage and prevent rot of the stems and roots.

  • Choose an area of the garden that is protected from frost and strong, cold wind and cover aloes with hessian to protect them during months when frost is worst. If you are in a particularly cold area, consider planting your aloes in a pot, and taking them indoors during the coldest months.

  • For aloes in pots, mix 4 parts washed river sand, 2 parts garden soil and 1 part finely sieved compost. Water should not collect on the top of the pot.

  • Aloes in pots enjoy being fed about once a month. Good options are 2:2:2 or bone meal.

  • Most aloes are easy to propagate through offsets (small plants that grow up from the main root system of the mother plant) or stem cuttings.

  • Although aloes are hardy they can be susceptible to diseases and pests including white scale, ants, rot, snout beetle, spider mite and aloe cancer. If signs of disease are noticed, aloes need to be treated accordingly.

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