Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Aloe at the Desert Botanical Garden grow in filtered light beneath a tree canopy.

Well-Suited Plants and Places

Many aloe species are blooming now in the low desert, and I was enjoying the collection at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix the other day. There were all sizes and shapes, such as the tall tree-like aloe (Aloe dichotoma) with creamy mottled bark that adds such interesting texture in a garden, to the very low-growing and clumping short-leaf aloe (A. brevifolia) with its bluish tones that give a cooling effect.

While soaking in the beauty of the individual plants and flower stalks, I couldn't help but note how well-suited the picturesque setting was. Most of the plants are situated beneath the protective canopy of a tree. Aloes typically perform best in filtered sunlight, such as that provided by a tree's canopy. This is a good example of placing plants where they need to be to thrive, rather than forcing them to grow in conditions not to their liking.

Know Your Garden's Limitations
Before heading off to buy new plants, it's a good idea to take a careful look around your landscape. Make note of the sun exposure in different locations. Does that differ through the seasons because of the changing angle of the sun or a deciduous tree's leaf drop? A plant that needs filtered light may burn in full sun, and a sun lover may be stressed and appear yellow and spindly in the shade.

Consider also the space available in your landscape and what shape and size plants best suit it. If you have a narrow area, choose a narrow, columnar tree, such as shoestring acacia, rather than a wide, multi-branching species such as palo verde. Is there sufficient space for the plant to grow to its mature size? Many desert shrubs, such as Senna and Leucophyllum species, easily spread 4 to 6 feet. Pruning to keep them in bounds eliminates the beauty of their natural branching shape and reduces flowering.

A New Addition to My Collection
I have several healthy aloes in my garden so when some at the Botanical Garden caught my eye, I knew I had the right conditions for them. One unusual one was especially tempting, A. sinkatana. Its leaves are similar to other aloe species I grow, so I may not have noticed it if not for the flowers. They are about 2 inches tall and wide, orange on top, fading to yellow on the bottom as they age. For some reason, they reminded me of whimsical ladies' hats. I made note of the name and checked the plant shop on my way out. Eureka! They actually had 1-gallons for sale, so I bought one and headed home to add it to my aloe garden. Instant gratification!

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