Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Growing Aloe Vera In Desert Landscapes


If you are interested in water conservation, and enjoy landscapes that contain plants with eye catching shapes and colors, you may want to think about one of the many species of the genus Aloe.

Most of us know about the medicinal aloe, Aloe vera, but there are others that not only look good, but bring interest and color to the landscape.  By selecting the right type for a particular use or site, you can definitely achieve a unique look in your landscape.

Although the aloes are not native to the desert Southwest, there are many that are well adapted to our environmental conditions.  Most will take the heat just fine, but the fierce sun of our hotter areas can burn the soft, tender tissue.  In Pinal County, it is best to plan on growing them in filtered sunlight or light shade.

All aloe species need a well drained soil.  If their roots stay bathed in water for too long, they can be attacked by soil dwelling root diseases.  Most will survive without much water, but they always look better if they are given an occasional irrigation, especially during the hot, summer months.

Because aloe plants are succulents, fleshy plants with a unique life chemistry, they do not need fertilizer.  Succulents have a way of living that allows them to get by without us adding any additional nutrients beyond that which they can get from the air and soil.

Aloes can reproduce vegetatively, which means that they can spread by forming young baby plants, “pups”, at their base.  Some aloes do this quite aggressively and one cute aloe can quickly turn into a weedy monster.  To keep them under control, plant them in a location where you can place some type of barrier all around them. A sidewalk or concrete barrier in front and a wall behind, for example, will define the space where you want them to be. 

While aloe plants are fairly tolerant to cold temperatures, most are quite susceptible to frost and freeze damage.  It is always a good idea to plan on giving them some protection during the coldest nights.  A cloth covering, such as a bed sheet, quilt or piece of burlap, should be sufficient to protect the more sensitive plants.  Plan on uncovering the plants during the day so that they can continue to make food from the sunlight and to allow the sun’s rays to heat the soil under the plants.  It is this heat trapped under the covering that provides protection during the cold night.

When selecting a planting site outdoors, it is a good idea to keep them well away from turf areas or other grassy plants.  Because they are closely related, weedy grasses like Bermudagrass growing up through an aloe plant will be particularly difficult to remove.  Herbicides that work well at controlling grasses will harm the aloe.  This leaves us with the unpleasant choice of  hand pulling as the only recourse.  Be sure to wear gloves if you have this problem.  The sharp spines on the aloe can be quite unpleasant!

Lets talk now about some of the species that might fit into your landscape.  Because just about everyone knows about Aloe vera, let’s take that one first. It is sometimes sold under a different scientific name,  A. barbadensis.  With either name, it is the same plant.

The medicinal aloe is used frequently in folk medicine as a treatment for burns, bites and inflammation.  Because of its fame, and because it is so common, just about everyone has one growing somewhere.  It grows equally well in containers or free standing in the landscape.  

This plant is one of those aloes that can become a weed quickly.  It forms tight clusters of plants and the colony will continue to expand as long as there is room to grow.  This aloe is definitely one that needs a barrier to keep it under control.

The medicinal aloe has narrow, fleshy, stiffly upright leaves that can grow up to two feet long.  It has yellow flowers on top of a stalk that can reach three feet in height.  Because of its winter hardiness, it is one of the best aloes for the warmer areas of Pinal County.

Among the more striking aloes is the tree aloe, Aloe arborescens.  This one is big! It needs a lot of room to properly grow.  It can reach heights of ten feet and will grow about six feet wide or more. Some older plants have grown to about eighteen feet in width.  I would put it in a corner of a yard where it will have plenty of space and provide a focal point to attract the gaze.  

The tree aloe flowers in the winter with bright yellow flowers in long clusters.  It is not particularly hardy in frosty areas.  The foliage can be damaged by temperatures of 29 degrees F. but can survive temperatures down to 17 degrees F.  This plant is probably best grown in Maricopa or Casa Grande.  In colder areas, such as Coolidge or Florence where temperatures are slightly colder than the western part of the county, you may need to give it a warm microclimate in the yard.  A protected corner, in between houses or other structures or in the midst of other plants might give some added protection.

There are many other aloes, all of which bring just a little different flavor to the landscape.  They come in all sizes.  Here are some which have been recommended for our desert area.

Small aloes that do particularly well in containers include A. aristata or the jeweled aloe, A. distans and the partridge-breast aloe or tiger aloe, A. variegata.

Medium sized aloes that can be grown either in containers or in outdoor planting areas include A. brevifolia, A. nobilis, A. plicatilis, A. saponaria or the soap aloe, A. striatula and A. tenuior.

Large, tree-like plants that probably should only be grown outside include A. arborescens, the tree aloe mentioned earlier,  A. bainesii, A. ciliaris, A. ferox and A. marlothii.  Some, such as A. bainesii, are quite sensitive to frost, so care must be taken in selecting the planting site.

If you are looking to conserve water and want to plant something different, consider planting one or more of the aloes.

If you have questions, you can reach one of the Master Gardeners at the Cooperative Extension office, 820 E. Cottonwood Lane, Building C, in Casa Grande.  The telephone is (520) 836-5221, extension 204.  

The University of Arizona is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.  The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation in its programs and activities.


Richard Gibson
Extension Agent, Agriculture
University of Arizona
Pinal County Cooperative Extension Office
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

820 E Cottonwood Ln, #C
Casa Grande, AZ 85122
Tel: (520) 836-5221 ext. 227
Fax: (520) 836-1750


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  2. I need to cut back some trees from my yard. There are spots on my lawn that are dying and not getting enough light. This makes my yard look very disheveled. Will cutting back the tree branches be good enough to resurrect my grass?