Aloe, aloe, aloe, what have we here? One of the most spectacular plants to grace the winter garden, that's what.
Aloes originate from South Africa, so are well-suited to Australian conditions and with more than 40 years of hybridising by South African growers, are now more than just another succulent.
The hybrid aloes available these days offer a range of spectacular showy flowers and foliage. Like all succulents, aloes require surprisingly little water and, in most cases, thrive on neglect - perfect for the lazy gardener.
The Australian climate lends itself to growing succulents and aloes are the perfect dry-garden plant. In their native habitat aloes can be found growing in rock crevices, so they will flourish in containers with a suitable potting mix. A specialist cacti and succulent mix, together with a small amount of compost makes an ideal growing media, standard potting mixes are too rich for most succulents, including aloes. When growing aloes in the garden, plant them in raised mounds if soils are heavy to assist with drainage. Coarse soils that drain freely will get the best results.
Fertiliser should be used sparingly on aloes and only applied during the growing season between late September and December. Apply fertiliser at half to one third the recommended label rate for ornamentals.
The amount of sunlight aloes receive throughout the day is critical to their success, choose a position where plants will receive direct sunlight for the best part of the day.
Many aloes are often at their best during winter when they are in full bloom. Even without blooms these are truly spectacular plants with an amazing array of foliage colours, textures and forms that will please even the most discerning tastes.
Foliage is displayed in rosettes of blue-green leaves often delicately spotted with soft toothed margins. Other foliage colours include purple and red tinges which are often enhanced with sun stress.
Aloe flowers are not just visually spectacular, they are ideal for attracting nectar-feeding birds into the garden.
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Hybrid aloes come in a range of flower colours from white, pink, yellow, coppery oranges, and fiery reds with some bicoloured hybrids also available.
Aloes have become an increasingly popular choice as tough long-lived perennials, they display magnificent structure and form even when not flowering.
- John Gabriele is a horticulture teacher with a love for green spaces.