In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2001
Regional Report

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Yellow aloes will bloom a bit later than the orange blooms nearby, providing a continuing feast for hummingbirds.

Alluring Aloes

If you think the only aloe that's worth growing is the overused Aloe vera, think again. This genus offers a variety of interesting flower and foliage shapes, sizes, and colors. Foliage can be green, bluish gray tinged with red, or speckled in intricate patterns. Leaves can be upright, star-shaped, or formed in fat little clumps. There are tree aloes with stunning bark color and low-growing rosettes that need to be examined up close to see the designs. Aloes offer easy-to-grow diversity for your garden, and once you start growing them, you'll be hooked like me.

Growing Requirements

These plants are ridiculously easy to grow. Offer them good drainage and then walk away. Most aloes grow best with some protection from afternoon sun. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix has a collection of aloes in the filtered light beneath a tree's spreading canopy. However, I have some planted in the ground in full sun and others in full shade in an enormous container that has become too heavy to move, and they thrive in both locations.

Watering

This past winter I didn't water my aloes at all because we had such plentiful rains (for the desert, anyway). Otherwise, I might water them once a month during cool weather. In summer, I water the full-sun dwellers every two or three weeks, but that's all the care they get. I spread compost around the base once a year, and that seems to supply all the nutrients they require.

Making More Aloes

Aloes take to heart the adage of "go forth and multiply." They spread like crazy, with tiny runners popping up next to the parent plant. Let them grow if you want big clumps, or dig up the babies when small and manageable and move them elsewhere. If clumps get out of hand, they're easily divided every few years and shared with other gardeners.

Hummingbirds Love Aloes

Most aloes bloom in spring on stalks about 3 feet tall. Clusters of tubular-shaped flowers in shades of red, orange, coral, and yellow are favorites of hummingbirds. The tiny birds will hover up and down the stalk, inserting their long beaks into each blossom. It's worth planting a few aloes where you can easily view them from indoors just to watch the hummers. I have a clump right next to my patio, and hummingbirds will visit even when I'm sitting just a few feet away.


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