The Goods on Growing Aloe

Growing aloe is easy, and the fascinating aloe genus is a boon to beginners.

| December/January 2012

One common herb stands apart from all the rest. It’s medicinal, it’s African, it’s a succulent, and it doesn’t mind being left alone, forgotten and neglected. You know it, because everybody knows aloe. But how about growing aloe? One doesn’t have to be a gardener to be able to recognize and name that Aloe vera on the windowsill and know how to slice open a thick leaf to rub a soothing, cooling natural gel on sunburned skin.

Learn how to grow successful aloe plants in "Tips for Growing Aloe Vera."

But this common, useful plant, the “true aloe” according to the botanists who named it, has also drawn many of us into a whole array of other Aloe species. In recent decades, the garden marketplace has fallen in love with aloes, as well as their prickly cacti cousins and other succulents, and drought-tolerant plants in general. Here in hot, dry Texas, where I live, many fascinating aloes are now frequently available, including species, hybrids and varieties originally from tropical regions on the other side of the world, such as South Africa, Madagascar, Tanzania and the Arabian Peninsula. These worldly aloes come in many shapes, sizes, hues and habits. Click here to see all of our aloe images.

Aloe is a genus of more than 400 succulent species, and it’s related to other increasingly common and collectable succulents, such as haworthias and gasterias. Thick, fleshy aloe leaves grow in rosettes, either directly from the ground or sometimes climbing a stem, and it has stalks of tubular flowers in shades of yellow, orange, pink and red. There are a few that don’t survive well outside their native habitats, but the vast majority of the aloes are very easy to grow in containers on the patio that are moved inside for the winter or protected from frost. They are more often killed by too much water than too little and are very forgiving plants for novice and collector alike.

A Passion for Growing Aloe

Joni Pierce is a serious aloe collector in Austin, Texas, who got sucked into the world of succulents when she was still a student at the University of Texas in the late 1980s. When she was moving into her first apartment, she bought a cactus as part of her Southwestern decorating theme, which was all the rage at the time. She laughs as she tells this story, standing in her greenhouse surrounded by thousands of succulents that are now such a huge part of her life.

I first met Joni at the Natural Gardener, an organic nursery in Austin (where we both work part-time). She handles plant inventory control, keeping the botanical names straight and ensuring that every hardy plant gets a label loaded with data pertinent to growing it in Central Texas. Here, her passion and the depth of her knowledge make her the undisputed succulent queen.

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