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…

Enjoyed this article? Please share it!

14 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.

  5. Chris Cornwall on November 17, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    My 8′ Aloe Barbare was planted in a sunny location in my yard, almost one year ago. A large hole was dug in preparation with sand, gypsum and cactus soil added as we have hard clay in our yard. It is on a hill, with drainage out of the low side of the planting hole so that water would not overly accumulate in a hard clay base. This summer was hot and many of the leaves curled and turned orange, and it seems very dry. I have trimmed many of the dead leaves. I am having a hard time discerning if my problem was too much water or not enough. It is tempting to water when soil is dry and yet I know that too much water is a problem. There is still new green growth at the top, with more green on the shaded side of the tree, but most of the foliage is not a green color as it was when planted in my yard. It is definitely struggling.
    I would love some comments about what I should do to help bring my tree back to health.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on November 21, 2021 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Chris — It may depend on a factor you didn’t mention: Your location. In Southern CA if you’re too far inland, the leaves can sunburn in summer, especially after transplanting. Roots may not yet be able to hydrate the leaves adequately (give it a few years to acclimate and settle in). Your soil prep sounds like you did some research, but I’m wondering what kind of sand (coarse, I hope, and not beach sand) and why gypsum. (See my page on soil.) The rule of thumb is to water thoroughly (a good soaking) during the dry season once a week or so, and not at all during winter rains, short days and cold nights. Is there softening of the trunk at ground level? That’s an indication of overwatering which has led to rot—in which case cut above the damaged tissue, let callus, and reroot the tree as a cutting. Don’t plant in the same spot, though, where harmful microbes still exist.

  6. Adam Hurley on January 21, 2022 at 1:21 am

    These are amazing trees, they can sell for thousands of dollars in Australia. They are very rare, I have only ever seen then three or four times in people’s gardens, one of them was a waterfront mansion.
    I managed to get a small potted cutting off Ebay for $30. I have a couple questions.
    When you say “don’t plant these near buildings”
    How close is too close?
    Are the roots invasive?
    Will they damage or destroy the foundations of buildings?
    Do they see out water and will they invade pipes?

  7. Salmon E on February 19, 2022 at 2:32 am

    Hi Debra. Like Adam H, I am also in Aus. Have been trying to find these to grow as they look fantastic!

    How often and in what season do they seed? Do they seed when they flower?

    A house nearby to mine has these out the front and if I ever see them seed, I will ask to take some (wouldn’t feel right to ask to cut a truncheon)!!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on February 19, 2022 at 2:26 pm

      Here in Southern CA they bloom midwinter. Flowers are followed by seed capsules. The base of the trees can get large, so I’d play it safe and not plant near foundations or pipes.

  8. Mose on April 26, 2022 at 10:41 am

    Do you know if aloe hybrids are able to propagate from a leaf? I realize that it is possible (though slow and hardly successful) to prop aloe vera from a leaf cutting. I am referring to the aloe hybrids like the star aloes and whatnot. Thanks!!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on April 26, 2022 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Mose — I’m no expert on propagation but as far as I’m aware, you can’t do leaf propagation with aloes. It’s all about the meristematic tissue, which I believe is only in the stem of aloes. But I could be wrong. And of course there’s tissue culture, but that’s well beyond the average enthusiast.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.