Most of us are familiar with Aloe vera, the fleshy, succulent plant commonly grown as a houseplant in Britain and used to treat minor skin ailments such as scalds and sunburn. But did you know the Aloe genus contains more than 500 species? These shrubby, succulent plants are native to Africa, Madagascar and Arabia – several of them can be grown here as houseplants while some hardier species can even be grown outside in summer.
Most aloes have a rosette of sharp, pointed fleshy leaves, often with spots or spines, along with occasional yellow or red flowers. They look beautiful grown as part of a cacti and succulent display – both in the house and outside in gravel gardens and summer succulent displays.
How to grow aloes
Like all succulents, plants in the Aloe genus thrive in a nutrient-poor, free-draining soil. Grow them in pots of peat-free cactus compost or a similar mix made from peat-free multi-purpose compost with added horticultural grit, sand or perlite to aid drainage and reduce nutrients. Porous pots, such as terracotta pots, work well as the compost dries out more quickly than in plastic pots. Water sparingly in summer and avoid watering at all between autumn and spring – if you're lucky your aloe may flower.
Browse our list of 10 aloes to grow, below.
Torch aloe, Aloe arborescens, is a large aloe, native to Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. It bears dense rosettes of succulent, toothed, sword-shaped leaves, from which tall, torch-like red flowers – similar to kniphofia, red hot poker – appear in summer.
Height x Spread: 4m x 2m
Cape aloe, Aloe ferox, is a large aloe with blue-green, toothed leaves often tinged with red. Mature plants carry their old leaves on the base of the stem, as a 'petticoat'. Dramatic, candelabra-esque red flowers appear in summer.
H x S: 3m x 1.5m
Aloe 'Bill Baker'
Aloe x pachyveria ‘Bill Baker’ bears huge rosettes of short fat silver-green leaves with a soft downy coating. It’s perfect for growing in containers on a sunny patio. ‘Bill Baker’ can withstand mild frosts, but it’s best to bring pots indoors in autumn to ensure winter survival.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Aloe 'Lime Fizz'
Aloe ‘Lime Fizz’ forms a compact plant of pale green leaves with rust-coloured, raised markings on both sides. The leaf margins have saw-like edges in golden-orange.
H x S: 15cm x 30cm
Snowflake aloe, Aloe rauhii, is a rare aloe, forming rosettes of triangular, pale green leaves with oval white patterning and tiny teeth along the margins. In full sun the leaves develop a purplish orange colour.
H x S: 15cm x 20cm
x Gasteraloe 'Green Ice'
x Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ is a hybrid between Gasteria and Aloe variegata. It forms a compact plant with thick, smooth, variegated leaves in dark and light green. Slow-growing, it can get eventually form rosettes of up to 30cm across. On mature plants, a tall spike of red-green tubular flowers may appear in summer.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Aloe striatula is native to the mountains of South Africa, where summers are hot and dry, and winters are very cold. It’s therefore an incredibly hardy aloe, which can be grown outside all year in most parts of Britain. It has a sprawling, scrambling habit and may even climb if given support. Its fleshy leaves are striped different shades of green. In summer it bears tall, dramatic flower spikes similar to kniphofia, and it eventually forms a branching, woody trunk. It’s perfect for growing in a dry, gravel garden, where you don’t have to worry about getting it through winter.
H x S: 1m x 1m
Lace aloe, Aloe aristata, forms rosettes of fleshy, lance-shaped, softly spined green leaves with white spots. In autumn tubular, orange-red flowers appear on long stems. Although hardier than many aloes, lace aloe is best grown as a houseplant or in a greenhouse.
H x S: 20cm x 20cm
The most commonly grown aloe, Aloe vera bears sword-shaped, succulent leaves. Markings on the foliage can vary in the species – some have glaucous, pale foliage while others have rich green leaves flecked with pale spots. Spikes of tubular yellow to orange flowers appear in summer, but rarely in the UK. It's a handy plant to grow in the kitchen as you can break off leaves and spread the aloe juice on burns and scalds, to reduce likelihood of your skin blistering.
H x S: 60cm x 30cm
Aloe 'Red Sparkler'
Aloe ‘Red Sparkler’ is a short-growing aloe, bearing rosettes of bronze-green leaves heavily spotted white, with small white teeth around the leaf edge. In summer tall, slender, white-tipped pink flowers appear.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm