Aloes are wonderful plants which add striking architectural form and color into any landscape, bringing out the best in your planting scheme, contrasting softer plants and flowers.
It also helps that aloes are extremely tough plants that will thrive if you leave them to their own devices.
Fancy growing your own? Here’s what you need to know.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About Aloes
Aloes are evergreen plants that are classified as perennials. If you choose the right cultivar, you will be able to grow aloes outside all year round, even if you live in a colder climate.
The name aloe comes from the Arabic word ‘Alloeh’, which translates to ‘shining bitter substance’, referencing the glossy sap found in the succulent leaves.
In the wild, aloes are found in several parts of the world, such as Madagascar, South Africa, Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula, and among islands in the Indian Ocean.
These enterprising plants have also naturalized themselves in parts of North and South America, Australia, India, and the Mediterranean.
There are at least 560 different species within the aloe genus, all of which will flower if given the right conditions.
You can recognize an aloe plant by the leaves, which usually form a rosette. The foliage itself is incredibly thick, often with some spines to protect the plant from being eaten.
The color of the leaves can range from species to species, as well as the amount of light given, and they can be deep green, light green, grayish green, and silvery blue.
It’s worth noting that only adult aloes will flower, and while this can take around 4 years or more depending on the age of the aloe when you get it, the sight is worth it.
Aloes produce tall flower spikes, with brightly colored cascading petals at the very top of the stem, typically in red, yellow, or orange.
Should You Grow Aloes Outside or Inside?
You can grow aloes outside or inside.
If you live in a colder climate, and you want to grow aloes outside, you’ll need to be quite choosy about the varieties you pick, as some aren’t cold tolerant, and are best grown in a pot for when winter comes.
If you live somewhere warm that doesn’t get a lot of rainfall, aloes are perfect for your outdoor space year-round, adding a lot of form and architectural beauty into any planting space.
Maybe you’d like to grow your own aloes, just indoors. This is also entirely possible, as long as you can give them the conditions they need in order to thrive.
How to Make Sure Your Aloe Thrives
Aloe plants are easy to grow and very easy to take care of. They’ll withstand a long period of time without any attention from you at all, but there are some things you need to know in order to keep these beautiful plants healthy.
Sunlight and Soil
The two most important things that an aloe requires is the right amount of sunlight, and the right kind of soil. Get these two right, and your aloe can last for years, provided, of course, that you don’t overwater it.
Nearly all aloes will be happy soaking up as much sunlight as you can give them, for as much of the day as possible. They will thrive in direct sunlight outdoors, where other plants would just scorch.
Outdoors, they will also survive in some dappled shade, but you need to take care to give them enough light. They are much more vulnerable to root rot, as well, if they are kept somewhere shaded.
Indoors, you need to give them the brightest, indirect light possible. This needs to be away from sources of heat such as a radiator, and far away from any drafts in the home.
When kept inside normally, aloe plants are susceptible to some scorching if you suddenly bring them outside during the summer, so introduce them to it gradually, to give them a chance to adapt.
Without enough sunlight, these plants will become leggy (see also Choosing a Succulent Grow Light), and will distort in order to try and reach more light.
The soil needs to drain well, and this is true of all aloe plants. If you’re growing them outside, preferably do so on a rockery or in containers, where any excess water is able to evaporate quickly.
You want to avoid water pooling at the roots and sitting there for any length of time, as aloes are particularly susceptible to root rot.
Temperature wise, aloes generally need at least 65°F (or 18°C) during the day, and the bare minimum at night should be 60°F (15°C).
Some cultivars are extremely cold tolerant, and can withstand temperatures of 5°F (-15°C), so if you live somewhere cooler, search out some of these varieties before you go aloe shopping.
When to Water Aloes
Aloes aren’t very thirsty plants, as they survive by keeping a water reserve in their leaves.
As a result, they will fare a lot better if you underwater them, rather than overwater them, as the latter is a quick way of killing off an aloe.
Indoors, depending on the temperature and the atmosphere, they may only need watering every three weeks or so.
Always give these plants a deep drink without letting the water sit on the leaves, as this can cause the foliage to rot.
Outdoors, they won’t need a lot of water, either. Largely, they should take care of themselves, and if you live somewhere that gets a lot of rainfall, it’s worth placing them somewhere sheltered.
How to Get Aloes to Flower
Aloes require the right conditions in order to flower. Give them two things: time, and sunshine. Remember that aloes will only flower when they have fully matured, so this may take a few years to get there.
In order to bloom, they require as much sunlight as possible. When night falls, don’t let the temperature get before 60°F (or 15°C), as this can interrupt flowering. Bring them indoors if you have to.
You can also promote flowering by keeping aloes in a slightly too-small pot, as the bigger the root mass, the better the chances of flowering.
Should You Feed Aloes?
You can feed aloes with no harmful effects, as long as you choose the right fertilizer, and feed them at the right time.
In early spring, you can feed them once with a succulent fertilizer, and once more during the height of summer.
Make sure you water the plant well after feeding it, and this will stop the fertilizer from burning the delicate roots.
Can You Propagate Aloes?
While you can take cuttings of aloes, the best and most effective way to propagate them is to wait for the plant to produce little plantlets around its base. These are in effect mini aloe plants.
Give them enough time to develop a strong root system, and then using gloves, separate the plantlets from the mother plant, potting them up separately.
You can try to root aloe leaves by themselves, but most of the time they don’t root. Instead, they rot away in the soil.
Types of Aloe Plants You Should Consider Growing At Least Once
There’s a huge amount of aloe types to choose from when you want to grow them yourself. Here’s a small snapshot of the many varieties available to get you started.
Aloe aculeata ‘Red Hot Poker Aloe’
Hailing from South Africa, this prickly aloe is a real showstopper in bright light.
Give it a lot of sunlight, and the deep green leaves will adopt a red to purple tint at the edges, contrasting well against the white teeth of the plant.
However, this is a sign of stress, so be careful you give it a break for part of the day. This characteristic makes it the perfect aloe for growing indoors, as long as you give it enough room where the small teeth on each leaf won’t be a problem.
It’s a compact aloe, capable of reaching 60cm tall. On a mature red hot poker aloe, it can bloom in late spring into early summer, with yellow or orange flowers.
Aloe arborescens ‘Candelabra Aloe’
Also known as the Krantz aloe, the candelabra aloe is capable of reaching 10 feet tall in its native conditions in South Africa, hence the name ‘arborescens’, which translates to ‘tree like’.
If you want to keep it at a much more manageable height, you can keep it in a container, and this will also help prevent root rot.
While this aloe does form rosette foliage like other aloes, it has a branching growth habit, forming multiple rosettes per plant. Tallest of all are the striking red flowers, which appear in winter.
Aloe aristata ‘Lace Aloe’
The torch plant, or lace aloe, features striking foliage which is sure to bring a lot of color and form either indoors or outdoors, no matter if you get it to flower or not.
In partial shade, the foliage is a pale green, but it becomes a much richer, deep green when grown in full sunlight. Each leaf is linked with white teeth, contrasting well, and each edge is serrated, too.
While you’ll get the brightest color out of it in full sunlight, the lace aloe prefers some relief from the sun during the afternoon.
When mature, the lace aloe can produce reddish orange blooms in winter.
It’s also perfect for climates which are very cold, as it can weather temperatures as low as 5°F (or -15°C). The rosettes are stemless, so the foliage will grow close to the ground.
Aloe plicatilis ‘Fan Aloe’
The fan aloe is among the most unusual types, for its gorgeous, oval-edged leaves. They are a deep green with a silvery powder coating on the surface, and each one is edged in orange.
Each leaf is capable of reaching 30cm long, and instead of the usual rosette form, these leaves grow stacked on top of each other like a fan, hence the name.
It’s won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, so you know it’s a special variety. Given the right conditions, it may grow as tall as 8 feet, spreading to 6 feet wide, if grown outside, somewhere warm.
It will tolerate both dappled shade and full sunlight, producing huge flower spikes in the last few weeks of winter or early spring, with bright orange flowers.
Aloe striata ‘Coral Aloe’
The coral aloe is grown across the world, both as a houseplant and a real focal point in warm gardens. It produces large rosettes of flat, smooth leaves, in a silvery gray.
In bright sunlight, these leaves take on a coral or pink hue, and have a completely toothless form, which is much better if you plan on walking past the plant a lot.
It’s worth noting that the coral aloe doesn’t produce offsets very often, so if you want more than one, it may be worth buying another.
In the later parts of winter, you’ll find this aloe will brighten up any space with a huge flower spike, producing clusters of coral-orange flowers that cascade back towards the plant.
The plant itself can reach 45cm tall, spreading about the same.