Aloe, aloe what's all this then?

It’s always a surprise when those plants we grow for their sculptural shape or attractive foliage suddenly burst into flower. This year we are getting fabulous spikes of flowers from our aloes and also many agaves.

The particularly dry winter and spring, followed by good rains, seem to have triggered this outburst. You may have noticed that many other spring-flowering shrubs have responded to the rain with another show of flowers, just in time to be cooked by the heat, alas!

Aloes and agaves are tougher. Aloes are popular succulents because of their attractive rosette of leaves, often patterned with stripes or blotches. They contrast well with other succulents and are one of those best able to cope with summer rain. If you have a sun-baked bank of poor soil, try aloes – they come in a good range of sizes and forms, so you would get enough interest with aloes alone. Bear in mind that they don’t tolerate frost.

This is the growing season so make sure that they get a little extra water. If there are any offsets around the base of your plants, separate them from the parent and spread them around or pot them up for the next fête.

Agaves have the same tough-as-nails constitution as aloes, but will appreciate a bit of fertiliser at this time of year – poultry pellets will be fine. The most popular in gardens is Agave attenuata, because is doesn’t have the savage spines of most agave species. A. attenuata throws up those huge arching flower spikes and then dies, exhausted.

It reproduces by offsets and there will be plenty of small plants around the base to take over. They will grow happily in any well-drained, sunny spot which doesn’t get heavy frosts. Light frosts are no problem.


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