Three cheers for aloes – they come in a range of sizes and shapes, flower on occasion, and need little water. They don’t die like agaves do after blooming, although they can get devastating aloe mites aka ‘cancer‘. Not counting tree aloes (one with trunks), my 3 favorites of 24 varieties currently in our garden are:
Aloe rubroviolacea – Arabian Aloe
Miracle of miracles, this native of the mountains of Yemen and Saudi Arabia thrives in coastal Southern California. This plant pups at its base to create 4-6 foot-wide clumps. Thick, blue-green leaves take on a pink cast, and orange-red elongated racemes burst from branches in fall.
We planted 7 shown on the left 4 years ago and quickly doubled the count with their pups. Last year we harvested 26 more new specimens to populate the area we converted from grass shown in the center. The only downside (besides aloe mites) is snails can blemish their leaves.
Aloe acutissima – Blue Aloe
Blue-green recurved leaves on slender stems characterize this 3’ tall by 3-4’ wide rare Madagascar native. Multiple heads spread from the center as it grows to form a wide-branching shrub. Billed as full sun, ours do well in part shade under an old California live oak tree. We toyed with dividing our original 5 to extend their presence, but tracked down 12 young ones to add instead.
Aloe dorotheae – Sunset Aloe
This brilliantly-colored aloe reportedly clumps to 20″ wide rosettes. Ours have not grown that big, but they survived in a sliver of shallow soil along a sloped gravel path with twice-monthly hand watering in drought. Their pups recently replaced a less-successful variety in the sliver, and we rewarded all 36 stalwart souls with low-flow drip emitters. Aloe mites since attacked 2, but thankfully the scourge did not spread.
I would be remiss not to mention that 3 other aloe varieties failed miserably for us: all our Aloe plicatilis rotted; a dozen A. striata looked sickly except when in flower, and mites wiped out a group of A. Moonglow.