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Aloe Superstars: A Landscape Designer’s Favorites

One of Southern CA’s in-demand landscape designers, Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc., likes to use aloes of all sizes in residential gardens. If you love succulents, live in a mild climate, and grow these South Africans in soil that drains well, “they’ll soon become your favorite plants,” Bills says. For a natural setting, he suggests mixing one or two varieties with tough, drought-tolerant ornamental grasses and flowering perennials. And “for a contemporary look, plant similar aloes in rows and geometric blocks.”

In this Rancho Santa Fe courtyard garden, Bill installed multiple coral aloes (Aloe striata). Their long-lasting flowers and translucent leaf margins repeat the orange of roof tiles and pavers, succulent ‘Sticks on Fire’ at left, and bird-of-paradise along the wall (when in bloom).

Blue, the color complement of orange, creates striking contrast via Senecio mandraliscae and Senecio serpens (at left) and tufts of blue fescue (below). Other ornamental grasses, paddle cactus and elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) lend texture and interest. Dymondia, a walkable ground cover, serves as a low-water lawn substitute. Stone pavers and Saltillo tiles repeat the rust hues of boulders that line a dry creek bed. (Also see this garden in Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., page 58.)

Bill’s Favorite Aloes

I asked Bill if he’d share which aloes he uses most often in clients’ gardens, and why. He graciously provided the list below. For additional descriptions, photos, and landscape ideas for aloes, see Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190. For labeled photos of these and 70+ other species and cultivars, go to my website’s Aloes page—which also is a good resource for determining what you may already have.

 

Small aloes. These tough, toothed aloes handle adverse conditions.  Height: 8 to 18 inches.

Aloe x nobilis, Aloe aristata, and Aloe humilis all grow tight and stay low.

Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is Bill’s favorite small aloe. It gets a little bigger than the three above and is a good fit for small and large landscapes. It’s a repeat bloomer and transplants easily.

Mid-size aloes are good for borders and large-scale massing.  Height: 18 to 36 inches.

Aloe striata has nice plump leaves and good floral color.

Aloe vera is dramatic planted en masse, and yes, the gel is useful for burns and cuts.

Aloe x spinosissima is a 2- to 3-foot sprawler great on hillsides and rocky soil.

Aloe cameronii is Bill’s favorite 2-foot aloe. Stays red all year if given full sun.

Tree aloes tend to be slow growing and may not look their best in cold winter months. Don’t plant them near foundations or under eaves—they do get big.

Aloe bainesii is a moderate grower, 15 to 30 feet tall. Leaves may turn yellow and get black spots, but with summer warmth and feeding they’ll green up.

Aloe dichotoma is slow-growing to 15 to 20 feet. It has nice gray leaves and is very drought tolerant.

Aloe ferox is slow growing to 6-10 feet with a single trunk that holds dead leaves.

Aloes ‘Hercules’ is a faster-growing hybrid with a thick, strong trunk. Give it plenty of room.

Shade-tolerant aloes useful as firebreak plants are fast-growing and spreading.

Aloe ciliaris is a sprawling succulent that will climb palm tree trunks. Take care that it doesn’t get buried in leaves and melt away. Sometimes called ‘Fire Wall’ aloe, when grown on a slope, the plants form a 3- to 4-foot mat of fire resistant growth.

Aloe arborescens is probably the most commonly grown aloe in the world. If you have room for it, you can’t go wrong. It solves a multitude of landscape problems, and thrives everywhere—coast, low desert, foothills—from Mexico to San Francisco. Originally from South Africa, it’s also found all around the Mediterranean. This multiheaded aloe makes a good background plant and tolerates filtered shade beneath tall trees. For a dense barrier, plant 6 to 8 feet apart in a line or triangle. Height: 4 to 8 feet and spreading.

The above is courtesy of Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc. and Rebecca Simpson.


More Info

On this site ~

Go to my Aloes page for 70+ Aloe photos and IDs
Most of my aloe photos show the plants in bloom. After all, their large, vivid flowers are… [Continue reading]

Patrick Anderson’s Garden: It All Started with Aloes

Fleshy green monsters in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook garden look like they might snap him up if he turns his back. They’re giant succulents, and Anderson’s half-acre hillside showcases hundreds of unusual ones. “I like their huge, sculptural forms,” [Continue reading]

Books ~
Aloes are shown throughout my books, with special sections in Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190 and Succulents Simplified, pp. 185-197.
I also recommend nurseryman/designer Jeff Moore’s beautifully illustrated Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation.

My YouTube Videos ~

Spectacular Aloes in Flower

Hannah Jarson’s Aloe Eden


 
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Use Crushed-Rock Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Use Crushed-Rock Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Do consider using crushed-rock top dressing to enhance your succulent designs. In the ground or in pots, your succulent compositions will look and perform better if bare soil doesn’t show. Top dressing lends a finished look, and plants benefit from the way it disperses water.

In the open garden, soil exposed to sunlight is likely to foster weed growth. Add a thick layer of crushed rock, and those few weeds that do sprout will be easier to pull. My preference is to use an inorganic top dressing, such as crushed rock or pebbles, rather than shredded bark, which can be too water-retentive and may harbor molds, insects, and snails.

By diffusing the impact of rain, gravel also helps prevent erosion. And by holding moisture in the soil, rock promotes root growth, thereby boosting the vitality of plants—especially important during dry spells. The darker the gravel, the more heat it absorbs from the sun’s rays. Aloe and agave expert Kelly Griffin, whose coastal garden is featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.), top-dresses with dark crushed rock because warm soil promotes rapid root growth—which is what he wanted, and to which his garden attests. However, such chocolate-brown gravel wouldn’t be a good choice for a desert garden.

Use Crushed-Rock Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Aesthetically, as I told my audience at the recent Succulent Extravaganza, top dressing is to a potted succulent as a mat is to a painting. The pot is the frame, the plant is the artwork, and the mat helps fill in and enhance the overall presentation. I also discussed showy topdressings, like crushed glass.

Use Crushed-Rock Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Members of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America see top dressings as backup singers and never as the star. They enhance their collectible, container-grown succulents by harmonizing pot, plant and top dressing, sometimes adding a choice rock or two to suggest how the plant might look in habitat. This approach, an art form in itself, is called “staging.” In competitive shows, judges apply strict standards to the way plants are staged.

Use Crushed-Rock Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Commercial rock suppliers sell neutral-toned gravels in bags too heavy to lift. Craft stores offer odd-colored criva and neon-bright sand in small bags at high prices. So thank goodness for John Matthews, the top-dressing guy. John sells at C&SS shows throughout Southern CA, and offers the ideal solution: pea-sized crushed rock in a variety of hues, packaged in affordable, 2-lb. bags. For more info, email John at jgmplants@aol.com or call him at 661-714-1052.

Use Top Dressing to Enhance Your Succulent Designs

Related info:

Jeanne Meadow's Topdressings for Succulent Art Pots

 

 

 

 

 

On my YouTube channel: Jeanne Meadow’s Top Dressings for Succulent Art Pots (3:56)

 

 

 

 

Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulent Gardens (3:25)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article on this site: Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks: Your landscape—especially if it includes succulents—needs rocks, large and small. Remember when crushed-rock front yards were… [Continue reading] Watch the corresponding YouTube video. (5:31)

Also on this site: Ten Succulent Front Yard Essentials: These ten essentials for a successful succulent front yard aren’t difficult to achieve yet make a big difference. We have designer… [Continue reading]