Compact Aloes For Confined Spaces

During the course of the last two or three decades aloes have become popular garden plants for a number of different reasons. Many of them are indigenous to South Africa and are able to cope with dry growing conditions and the water shortages that have become a regular challenge. Most aloes bloom in winter when flowers are scarce in the garden and the vibrant inflorescences are rich in nectar, creating a winter feast for birds and insects when food is hard to come by. There are many other good reasons for growing aloes in modern gardens in a wide and diverse range of climatic conditions.

What Aloes need

Today, smaller aloe species and numerous hybrids are sought after for growing in the limited space afforded by apartment and town house living. Aloes generally need full sun, well-drained soil, occasional watering, and feeding in the spring and summer growing season to keep them in good health. Although some aloes can withstand winter cold, others are damaged by frost so make sure that you plant cold-hardy aloes if you are in an in area with extreme winter climates.

Here are some of the most popular small or low-growing aloes to consider for use in the modern-day garden. Use them in pots and containers where space is limited and they will last for a good many flowering seasons in these contained growing conditions. Please use well-drained potting soil with grit, sand or gravel added to the mixture for extra weight and porosity.

Compact aloe species

Species refers to a basic category in plant classi­fication below genus (in this case ‘aloe’) that consists of similar characteristics that all breed true in the wild. In other words, plants referred to as aloe species are found growing in their pure form in nature. Today, many of the garden plants you’ll find at garden centres will tend to be hybrids. These hybrids have been specifically bred for a superior performance than their ancestors. However, many purists still enjoy cultivating plants in the form that Mother Nature provided.

Aristaloe aristata (guinea fowl aloe)

This aloe, previously known as Aloe aristata, grows in low clumps comprising rosettes of tightly packed, spotted leaves. In November, produces dull pink or reddish flowers that rise above the foliage.

Aloe suprafoliata (book aloe)

It has two-ranked leaves arranged in rows or opposite pairs when the plant is still young. Later they form a spiral of foliage from a single basal stem. Slender spikes of pinkish-red flowers appear from May to July.

Aloe microstigma (spotted aloe)

This aloe has single rosettes of finely speckled leaves up to 300mm long. Bicolored flowers in long slender racemes appear in June.

Aloe chabaudii (Chabaud’s aloe)

It grows in neat rosettes of grey foliage. In June and July, this aloe bears small, red to pinkish flowers on large multi-branched inflorescences. This is a great garden aloe.

Aloe peglerae (red-hot poker)

This is an endangered aloe that has a distinctive growth habit with inward curving leaves forming a rounded ball. Densely packed flowers on short stubby racemes appear above the foliage in July and August, and the orange-red buds open a greenish yellow.

Aloe striata (coral aloe)

It produces rosettes of smooth, grey, strap-shaped leaves that grow at ground level. It has branched flower spikes that are packed with hanging tubular flowers in variable shades of red, orange, or yellow during winter.

Aloe variegata (kanniedood)

It has speckled or mottled, thick, stubby leaves arranged in three ranks that make this a sought-after succulent. Flowers in solitary spikes in reds or dull pink shades appear from July to September.

READ MORE: Check out this article to see some of the mini aloes you can get.

Compact aloe hybrids

Hybrids are created either naturally or by the hand of man. Scientists do this by crossing either two different species, crossing a species with a hybrid or crossing two di­fferent hybrids to create a new hybrid. You seldom find hybrids growing naturally in the wild, they are usually developed through elaborate breeding programmes that are carefully controlled and monitored.

Look out for these compact aloe hybrids on the local market:

Aloe ‘Bushwhacker’

This aloe produces masses of pink to cream flowers in upright spikes from May to June. It is a real beauty, especially planted in large groupings.

Aloe ‘Lemon Drops’

‘Lemon Drops’ forms small clumps of speckled leaves and produces small yellow flowers for most of the year if well-watered.

Aloe ‘Little Joker’

It has multiple rosettes of neat, grey leaves with elegant spikes of salmon-orange flowers from April to June.

Aloe ‘Peri Peri’

It produces neat, compact rosettes of grey foliage and slender spikes of pink-orange flowers from late April to June. It is ideal for pots.

READ MORE: Learn more about Aloe ‘Peri Peri’ in this article.

Aloe ‘Porcupine’

This aloe has green foliage and an abundance of bicolored flowers with orange buds opening to a pale cream shade from March to August.

Aloe ‘Sa­ffron’

It forms low clumps and multiplies rapidly, with pale lime-yellow flowers in April and May.

Aloe ‘Sea Urchin’

This aloe is similar to the well-known A. ‘Hedgehog’, with a neat habit and an abundance of orangey-red flowers later in the season.

Aloe ‘Sunrise’

Has compact clumps of broad, dull-green leaves with very vivid red and yellow bicolour flower racemes on sturdy stems. Dot them all over and plant some in large clay pots.

Exciting times lie ahead with new aloe hybrids appearing on the market. Aloes that bloom more than once a year will be the norm rather than the exception, and aloes with attractive leaves and spines will add to their overall good looks and permanent appeal. New hybrids with greater disease resistance and more drought tolerance will also grace our gardens. Even with all these exciting new improvements, aloes will always convey the special aura of the African bushveld in our gardens. Perhaps these new hybrids will do this with a little more intensity.

READ MORE: Check out this article for tips on how to divide and replant your aloes.

The Gardener