Aloes are extremely popular in South African gardens due to their strong shapes and brightly coloured chandeliers that brighten up our winter gardens. They are truly African - most of the world's approximately 450 aloe species only occur naturally in Africa and surrounding islands and parts. They provide an African character to a garden and this is what tourists want to see when they visit our beautiful country.
The strong architectural form of aloes is an asset to any garden. Aloes are self-sustaining, drought-resistant and therefore thrive in the prevailing climate without additional water. Their flowers appear during the winter, a dull time in gardens, warming the environment with their orange to red flowers. Sunbirds find them irresistible and they provide shelter for lizards and other smaller animals.
Prickly aloe | Aloe aculeata
South Africa is rich in indigenous aloes with around 140 varieties. They range from the Small white aloe (Aloe albida
) a few cms high to the giant Tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae
). There is hardly any part in Africa that does not have an aloe, they've penetrated every possible habitat.
Because our country is so diverse in climate and vegetation, aloes should preferably be planted to suit your climate. Aloes are monocotyledonous plants with a shallow root system that will not cause damage to constructions. For instance, the Bitter aloes we planted in stone walls at Kirstenbosch in 1984 did not cause any damage to the wall.
Aloes were also one of our earliest medicinal plants and our own Bitter aloe and the Aloe vera continue to be popular. The juice found within the leaves is often used to treat burn wounds, and it can also cure the thumb-sucking of children and also the chewing of young dogs. Just apply it to parts where there are problems. Other uses include cut flowers and the dry inflorescence later in flower arrangements.
Inflorescence of the Prickly aloe (Aloe aculeata).
Aloes for the garden
Aloes can be divided into groups depending on your garden needs, namely: tree, single stem, shrub, spotted, grass, creeper and dwarf aloe. Listed below are the aloes best suited to and found in gardens all over our country.
- The tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae) is related to the quiver tree and becomes a large tree higher than 10 meters. It is easy to grow and one of our most impressive aloes. Although it originates from the eastern part of the country, it also grows well in gardens in the Western Cape. It has pink flowers in spring. It grows very easily from cuttings.
- Quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) are well adapted to the Cape flats and dry Fynbos and succulent karoo gardens. It grows quite quickly and strikingly with their beautiful stem patterns, greyish-green leaves and yellow flowers in late fall. Quiver trees do not grow from cuttings. They grow well as a container plant. They should preferably grow in dry gardens in the karoo and in other dry parts of our country.
- The Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) is the number one choice for the winter rainfall region and probably the most beautiful fynbos aloe variety. It forms shrubs up to 3 m high with a cork-like grey bark that is well-adapted to fire. Their opposite leaves are very striking. It grows easily from cuttings and also grows well in containers. It has orange candles in the spring.
Fan aloe | Kumara plicatilis
Explore more tree aloes in the collection below.
- The Kranz aloe (Aloe arborescens) is the most popular of all our native aloes and planted all over the world. It is a dense, round, branched shrub up to 2 m high with single orange to yellow candles during winter. It can also be planted as a fence and also fire-resistant. There are several cultivars available including 'Rycroft' with broad blue-green leaves, 'Pearson' with hanging leaves and red-pink flowers and 'Compton' with green recurved leaves. 'Huntley' has small heads and red flowers during the summers, 'John Winter' has long erect inflorescences and 'Philip Leroux' has yellow flowers.
Kranz aloe | Aloe arborescens
- The Fynbos aloe (Aloe succotrina) is also locally native with pale speckled leaves. It also becomes a shrub but smaller. Smaller shrubs also include the Fence aloe (Aloe tenuior) of about meters height and bright yellow flowers from spring to autumn. The Striped-stem aloe (Aloiampelos striatula) is a shrub with yellowish flowers and resistant to severe frost.
Mountain aloe | Aloe succutrina
Explore shrub aloes in the collection below.
- The Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox) has red to orange upright candles in winter. It is a single-stemmed aloe (2-8 m) with dry leaves draping below. It is widespread in the southern and south-eastern parts of our country. It grows easily and does well everywhere.
- The Mountain aloe (Aloe marlothii) is closely related, looks vegetatively the same (2-8 m) but its candles spread horizontally like the Thorn tree branches, also flowering during the winter season.
- The Coastal aloe (Aloe thraskii) is a must for difficult coastal gardens. It has attractive, curved leaves and upright, branched candles.
Coastal aloe | Aloe thraskii
Other suitable single-stem aloes include the Bottlebrush aloe (Aloe rupestris), Uitenhage aloe (Aloe africana) and the Tilthead aloe (Aloe speciosa).
Bitter aloe | Aloe ferox
The African aloe (Aloe maculata) is the most common and widely planted aloe. Other suitable species include Aloe greatheadii, Aloe zebrina, and Aloe forsteri.
The Climbing aloe (Aloe ciliaris) can be planted underneath an established hedge. It climbs quickly and will advertise its red cherries soon. Aloes are also excellent in containers but prefer a sunny corner and well-draining soil. It blooms almost right throughout the year but with a flowering peak during the spring.
Aloes grow very easily. The larger single-stem species are sown from seed in shallow containers in a sandy, well-drained medium. Seeds are fine and should preferably be sown in spring or summer and covered with a thin layer of sand. Aloe seed should be sown fresh. Keep moist and add a fungicide. Germination is from 3 weeks. From seed, they can flower after four years. The shrubby species are easy to grow from stem cuttings that can be pressed directly into the soil and they also grow and flower much faster.
As for their soil requirements in the garden, they are widely adaptable but prefer well-drained warm environment. They can grow in the light shade of trees. They also transplant very easily and remember that even though it is harvested today, it can survive out of the ground for months before it needs to be planted.
Diseases and problems
White scale and other scale
Diseases and problems with aloes include white scale, which is probably the most common pest and detectable as small white dots on the leaves, is easily manageable with a mineral oil (oleum or albolium) spray. The latter can also be used for all other scale problems on plants. The oil suffocates the animal under its hard exterior shell.
Snout beetles (Brachycerus) can sometimes be tricky. Their larvae drill into the crowns of aloes and can lead to their death. Treat the aloe crown with bexadust (or Ripcord) during October and November. Smaller species with long horns are also sometimes burdensome but can also be treated with Ripcord.
It is caused by small mites that are not detectable to the eye and the symptoms are golden leaves or inflorescence. Make ' n karba powder paste and paint with a brush the infected parts. It is very effective. The mites cause abnormal cancerous growths on their leaves, stings, etc.
Rust (Uromyces aloes)
Rust can also be a problem sometimes. The circular rust causes round yellow dots of approximately inch diameter on their leaf with tears through which the brown spores are spread. Spray with a fungicide such as koperoxichloride, Kaptan or Dithane M 45.
Tips on growing aloes
- Never cut off the dry leaves of the single stem aloes. It looks ridiculous and unnatural. The dry leaves protect the plant from fire and disturbance.
- Apply a compost mulch annually in early spring, their flowers will show it.
- Don't over-emphasize the use of aloes in a garden, it looks unnatural and diseases can spread quickly. Plant in groupings and in the right context.
- Arrange the single stem aloes in groups of three or 5 and different sizes but of the same species.
- Most aloes prefer a warm northern slope with soil that drains well.
- Regularly inspect your aloes for white scale, rust, cancer (mites) or mucus.
- The most disease-resistant aloe is the Kranz aloe (Aloe arborescens) and the yellow and red varieties are very striking when planted together.
Explore the wonderful diversity of aloes in the collections below!