Aloe is a genus containing over 300 species of flowering semitropical succulent plants. The genus is native to Africa and is common in South Africa's Cape Province and the mountains of tropical Africa, and neighbouring areas such as Madagascar, the Arabian peninsula and the islands of Africa. They range in size from little one inch miniatures to massive plant colonies consisting of hundreds of 2 foot diameter plants. Aloe species are frequently cultivated as ornamental plants both in gardens and in pots. They make excellent house plants when they are given sufficient light. Some species, in particular Aloe vera, are supposed to have medicinal properties.
Most Aloes have a rosette of large, thick, fleshy leaves. The leaves are often lance-shaped with a sharp apex and a spiny margin. Many species of Aloe are seemingly stemless, with the rosette growing directly at ground level; other varieties may have a branched or un-branched stem from which the fleshy leaves spring. They vary in colour from grey to bright green and are sometimes striped or mottled. Both the spiky leaves and the bitter tasting sap prevents animals and insects from eating it.
Older specimens may even bloom. Growing Aloes in cultivation can be rewarding especially when they are in flower, which is a spectacular display in any garden. Aloe flowers are tubular, frequently yellow, orange or red and are borne on densely clustered, simple or branched leafless stems. Aloe flower nectar is a favorite of hummingbirds.
Hardiness zones 10-11, (1øC/35øF, 4øC/40øF). Because Aloe plants consist of 95% water, they are extremely frost tender. They may only be grown outdoors in areas where there is no chance of freezing. During the winter months, the plant will become somewhat dormant, and utilize very little moisture. During this period watering should be minimal.
Aloes have a shallow, spreading root system, so when it is time to repot choose a wide planter, rather than a deep one. Provide a 1-2 inch layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot to ensure adequate drainage. The soil should be moderately fertile, and fast draining. Use a good commercial potting mix with extra perlite, granite grit, or coarse sand added. You may also use a packaged cacti mix soil. Fertilize yearly, in the spring with a dilute (half strength), bloom type fertilizer (10-40-10).
Unless you live in area with a very mild climate, it's best to leave your Aloe plant in the pot and place it near a window that gets a lot of sun. You can move the pot outdoors during the summer months. If they are grown outdoors in warm climates, they should be planted in full sun, or light shade. Allow the soil to become completely dry before giving the plant a cup or two of water. During the summer months, the soil should be completely soaked, but then be allowed to dry again before re-watering. Established plants will survive a drought quite well, but for the benefit of the plant, water should be provided.