Aloe barberae in bloom (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

How to Grow Tree Aloes (Aloe barberae)

On a recent trip to Santa Barbara, I was surprised to learn how easy it is to grow Aloe barbarae, perhaps the best-known tree aloe. The how-to info here and in my new video are from renowned horticulturist Jeff Chemnick of Aloes in Wonderland, a must-see destination for succulent lovers.

Why You Should Grow Tree Aloes

If you have room in your garden and your climate is mild with a maritime influence, consider adding a tree aloe or two. Aloe barberae (aka Aloe bainesii, Aloidendron barberae), Africa's largest aloe, is sculptural, intriguing and dramatic. It's also a great source of the partial shade so desirable for soft-leaved succulents.

Aloe bainesii (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A tree aloe's leaf clusters cast starburst shadows.

Nurseries may sell rooted, boxed specimens for thousands of dollars, but like most succulents, Aloe barbarae starts readily from cuttings---even large ones several feet long and branched.

DLB in wonderland

At Aloes in Wonderland I descended into a forest of mature Aloe barbarae. It was a surreal experience: South Africa in Southern CA. Not quite Alice-in-Wonderland, but certainly a wonderland of aloes.

In the aloe forest (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

In the aloe forest. Just out of view is the Cheshire Cat. 

After the Fire

Jeff explained that when a wildfire destroyed his previous home in 2008, it also damaged a large Aloe barberae. When he removed the tree to make way for new construction, he salvaged its intact limbs. "I dug holes and stuck them in the ground," he recalls. "Like post holes, as if you were building a fence."

Jeff admits it was an experiment. He had no idea what would happen. "The rains came, and the cuttings rooted and started to grow," he says. He discovered that under optimal conditions, in-ground tree aloes grow up to two feet per year!

Success Tips

Here's what Jeff advises for Aloe barberae and similar Aloe 'Hercules' (a thicker-leaved x Aloe dichotoma hybrid):

Sun

Provide plenty of sun, ideally on a slope that's not north-facing (too shady).

Space

Give lots of room. Trunks and bases get massive over time, so don't plant close to buildings, pipes or pools. Avoid crowding a young specimen with more vigorous shrubs that might smother it.

Good Soil

Plant in fast-draining, loamy, sandy soil. The ideal pH is neutral or slightly acidic. These aloe trees like compost, too.

Water

Don't irrigate during cold, wet months. For optimal growth and flowering, water sparingly (once a month) up to weekly during hot, dry spells.

Cold protection

Cover when frost is predicted, especially when trees are young.

Fertilizer

In summer, apply a cactus-and-succulent fertilizer high in nitrogen, ideally with trace elements and micronutrients. "I use Peter’s, Scotts or equivalent, 21-7-7 in a 25 lb. bag, water soluble, for use with an injector," Jeff says.

Aloe barbarae propagation

Limbs with branches and leaf clusters ("truncheons") nearly always root, and having a small tree from the get-go is well worth a try.

Although some people prefer to let cuttings or truncheons dry several weeks, then root them in coarse sand (such as decomposed granite), Jeff plants them immediately. "They might take a few months to root and the leaves will fade somewhat," he says, "but once the leaves turn green again, you’re off to the races!"

Visiting Aloes in Wonderland

Aloes in Wonderland Nursery (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Aloes in Wonderland nursery, Santa Barbara

Jeff's home nursery is a landscaped, 4.5-acre botanic garden in which every plant is for sale. Yes, earth-moving equipment is sometimes needed. And yes, he'll whack off a tree aloe limb for you.

In addition to aloes, Jeff specializes in cacti, euphorbias, agaves and other large succulents; bromeliads (notably dyckias and hechtias), and cycads (which resemble stiff-leaved, upright palms). He also leads plant-habitat expeditions to Mexico and beyond.

Debra Lee Baldwin

So, what did I bring home?

Above is my new vining Cyphostemma quinatum and---to make the Mad Hatter green with envy---an Aloes in Wonderland T-shirt. Hey Jeff, maybe do a ball cap?

Related Info on this site

Aloe petricola (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Aloes: Uses, Photos, IDs & Varieties

Aloes: How To Grow & Varieties All about aloes plus a photo gallery of aloes ID’d and in bloom See All Succulent Types Aeonium Agaves Aloes Cactus Crassula Echeveria Euphorbias Ice Plants Kalanchoe Portulacaria Senecio About Aloes There are dozens of species of Aloe, from tall trees to dwarf cultivars. Aloes typically have juicy, triangular leaves…

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7 Comments

  1. Michele Layne on July 21, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    So what are the zone and hardiness you can grow these types of aloes the article didn’t say?

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 21, 2021 at 4:37 pm

      Zones 9a and 9b.

  2. Tim Wheeler on July 21, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    I’ve always been partial to growing New World succulents, mostly agaves and echeverias. But in the last couple of years I’ve started an Aloe thraskii (Dune aloe) and Aloe ramosissima in my yard here in the Inland Empire of southern California. Both were given to me by a neighbor who is also a succulent gardener. I like how fast-growing they are.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 21, 2021 at 6:00 pm

      Hi Tim — Good to know. I think we’re going to see more large aloes in gardens as people become aware of them. I think both of those qualify as “tree aloes” (as do other species) but I didn’t include them here because that’s not their common name. But maybe I’m splitting hairs and should do a post on “treelike aloes.” Thanks for commenting!

  3. MI on July 21, 2021 at 7:14 pm

    Someone down the street from my mother in Cave Creek Arizona just planted one of these _ probably about 8’ tall. They currently have a temporary shade structure over it.

    Can’t wait to see how it does in the hot Southwest! (9B). Thanks for the cool video!

  4. Andrew Sloan on July 22, 2021 at 3:58 am

    There are actually 48 Tree aloes in Group J in the Kew Gardens “Aloes The Definitive Guide”

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 22, 2021 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Andrew — I believe Aloe barbarae is the only one with the common name “tree aloe.” But I see your point and I’ll change the title and text to be more specific. Hopefully I’ll be able to do a more extensive and inclusive post later on.

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