Aloe are part of a diverse genus of succulents including over 250 species, the wild varieties of which are capable of living for up to a century! That very resilience makes them great candidates for houseplant success, as they can manage to survive, and even thrive, in less than perfect conditions.
With long, pointed, and fleshy leaves, the upright growth pattern of the aloe plant provides a visual contrast to many of the mounding or trailing varieties of succulents. Many types of Aloe have the potential to become quite large over time, and their tendency to offset, or produce “pups,” readily helps them establish a dense clump of foliage, easily filling a large pot or corner of a rock garden. Aloe ‘Snowstorm’ is a great example of how freely offsetting these plants can be – its contrasting bands of white, dark green, and even red colors make for an almost hypnotic display, as the pups begin to encircle the parent plant.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Aloe are considered “tender succulents,” which means that they are not capable of living outdoors year-round below zone 9a. That said, they can thrive outdoors in the summertime in even the most temperate areas, provided that night time temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees.
Placing Aloe outside when possible can help ensure that they receive the bright light that they need – and “sun stress,” or sun exposure beyond a plant’s most basic requirements, can cause Aloe to flush beautiful hues. Aloe 'Oik' is a great example of this tendency, as its shorter, triangular leaves can appear blue-green in the gentler sunlight of the winter months, while the intense summer sun causes these plants to “blush” quite a bit, turning almost red.
While it can be tempting to seek the results of sun stress quickly, take care to make this transition slowly, as a little extra sun can create a gorgeous, “well-stressed” plant, while too much can cause the leaves to brown and dry out from sunburn.
Finding the right light balance also increases the odds of encouraging your Aloe to flower – a feat well worth the effort. These plants are capable of producing an inflorescence, or spike of flowers, in stunning shades of bright red, orange, or yellow, with some being especially attractive to pollinators such as hummingbirds.
The leaves of an Aloe plant are very “talkative,” and will feel firm and full when the plant is well watered, and then soften when the plant needs a good drink. This phenomenon is particular visible in those varieties with the fleshiest, smoothest leaves, such as ‘Minnie Bell’ or ‘Coral Fire.’ When this softening occurs, water thoroughly until the excess runs from the bottom of the pot, and do not water again until the soil is dry and the leaves once again begin to soften. Fast draining soil mix and a pot with drainage holes are critical for Aloe, as soil that remains saturated for too long will predispose them to rot and pests.
Aloe self-propagate readily by producing “pups,” or offsets, around the base of the parent plant. These pups can be carefully removed with a sharp knife as close to the main stem of the parent plant as possible, allowed to callus over for a few days, and then planted into moist, fast-draining soil mix.
If your goal is to add as many Aloe to your collection as possible, certain varieties – like Aloe 'Firebird’ – lend themselves especially well to your goal. Not only is this deep green plant beautiful on its own, with loose rosettes of narrow, strappy leaves, it is also a prolific off-setter and bloomer, readily creating a massive clump of foliage covered in tall stalks of orange, tubular flowers in the springtime.