If you’re looking for no-fuss plants that will survive without you for a while, aloes are the perfect choice. Life is a Garden sat down with The Aloe Farm to find out which aloes perform the best and what maintenance practices you need to know. Remember to visit your local GCA Garden Centre for all your succulent needs and great advice to help you, help your plants self-parent this holiday.
December’s topic: Self-parenting plants
Theme: Easy aloes for beds and containers
Industry expert: Andy De Wet
Garden centre: Aloe Farm based in Hartbeespoort, Gauteng: www.thealoefarm.co.za
1. We would love to hear about your personal plant journey. How did it all start and what about aloes inspired you to make them your main focus at the Aloe Farm?
I always loved nature and especially animals as a child, but my horticultural inspiration certainly came from my dad who was an avid gardener his whole life. He bought some aloes when I was a botany student in 1972, and I fell in love with them. I began reading aloe books and collecting species. I soon realised that natural hybrids occur in the wild and was curious about what I could create if I hybridised selected parents from different locations.
I then began making my first (not too exciting) initial combinations in 1973 and over time I saw the commercial possibilities, which is when the real fun started with clear breeding objectives. These goals developed as I gained experience in retail, wholesale and landscaping.
I believe that if you want a successful business you have to be unique and The Aloe Farm was an obvious opportunity to me as it could become an interesting indigenous destination nursery, built on a unique strength.
2. Your website is truly an aloe grower’s dream! With so many to choose from, what advice could you offer our beginner gardeners?
Beginner gardeners should always be bold and try get maximum effect applying the easiest ways possible. Beginners should not be afraid to ask as this will accelerate the learning experience. When starting an aloe garden, the most important thing is to pick the ideal spot and always prepare the soil properly. Aloes require full sun and organically rich soil that drains well.
The commercially named aloe hybrids are all better adapted for normal gardening conditions as they grow easily and flower much better. The distinct, predictable characteristics of the different aloe cultivars make it easy to plan your aloe garden as you can select and combine the colours, sizes and flowering times to create your own unique and colourful winter wonderland.
It works best if you plant more than one of the same in little groups and you select plants that grow to different sizes. This way one would step the plants up with smaller varieties in the front, then medium-sized in the middle, ending with the largest shrubs and focal, single-stemmed type aloes at the back. Always try and contrast flower colours, for example, if you have two yellows, plant red and orange flowering aloes in between and if this is done in groupings, it will create an impressive show.
3. For our gardeners who have experience with aloes, which plants would you recommend as a focal point feature and what makes them so special?
Some of the best smaller garden aloes would be Aloe ‘hedgehog’, ‘peri peri’, ‘porcupine’, and ‘Kensington’. Great medium-sized aloes to consider are ‘bushwacker’, ‘sunrise’, ‘starstruck’, ‘tiger eye’, and ‘bonfire’. Larger aloes that grow into profusely flowering multi-stemmed shrubs are Aloe ‘bafana’, ‘lemonade’, ‘rocket’, and ‘Andy’s orange’.
Popular single stemmed aloes are Aloe ‘Koeleman’s red’ and ‘Koeleman’s orange’.
Focal point aloes are Aloe ‘Samson’ that looks like the majestic quiver tree but grows easily in gardens as well as Aloe ‘Charles’ that flowers like no other big aloe variety.
4. What benefits can gardeners look forward to when planting aloes in the garden?
There are so many benefits for gardeners who plant aloes in their gardens. They colourfully beautify your surroundings in winter when the garden is generally dull and brown. Aloes are also water-wise and although they grow better when watered, they survive dry conditions very well. Any habitat, including gardens, has little food or nourishment for birds and insects in winter - aloes provide just that and help to sustain your surrounding ecosystem. Aloes furthermore attract many colourful birds and interesting insects to your garden for you to photograph and enjoy. These gorgeous plants are indigenous and we have to embrace and enjoy everything African!
5. Are there any watering and preparation tips you could share with our readers to help them keep their aloes happy while away on holiday this month? (water drippers, self-watering hacks, fertilising, placement, mulching and so forth)
Fortunately, garden aloes are tough, resilient plants that one does not have to take special precautions for when going away on your December holiday. Just go and enjoy - they will wait happily for you to come home again. Smaller potted aloes perform better in semi-shade and may require water if it is really hot and dry. At The Aloe Farm, we feed twice a year - in spring to give the plants a summer boost in growth, then again in autumn when the flower buds are initiating deep in the apical meristem. We feed with a good layer of compost spread on top of the soil and 3.1.5 fertiliser spread in handfuls over the top. This gives us great results.
6. For our balcony gardeners, are there any small to medium-sized aloes that would suit a smaller space in containers?
Most aloes have great architectural growth habits that make them very suitable container plants. One should select a plant that suits the container size and shape and also fits in with the aesthetic design of the area. Aloes are perfect for really hot balconies, rooftop gardens, and should be considered where the containers are in very harsh sunny areas.
7. What are some of the most common mistakes you have seen with aloe growing? What are some of the signs to look out for and how can gardeners address these problems with their plants?
The most common misconception is that people think aloes (and other succulents) grow in poor soil. One should treat your plants to good soil and they will reward you with amazing floral displays.
8. Are there any other handy hacks and aloe maintenance practices you could share with our gardeners?
Something all gardeners should know is that plants love food! You will never let your kids or pets go to bed hungry, so don’t do it to your plants! They will reward you with good growth and lots of flowers. Container plants especially run out of food very quickly as there is no Mother Earth holding a little reserve.
Enjoy a day trip to The Aloe Farm for a unique variety of plants to adopt. Remember to ask for advice when considering a plant and make sure that your area will suit its growing needs. Visit this link for access to all our GCA Garden Centres and locate the store closest to you.
Life is a Garden, aloe you ready for a bang of colour?