Sunday, October 21, 2012

RIP, spiral aloe

Most people fall in love with spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) the first time they see one. Take a look at this specimen at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley and you understand why.

120128_UCBG_Aloe-polyphylla_06

Aloe polyphylla at UC Botanical Garden, January 28, 2012

Unfortunately, Aloe polyphylla is one of the more difficult aloes to grow in our climate. It’s quite cold hardy for an aloe so our winters are no problem. Oddly enough, it’s our summers that are a challenge. Since Aloe polyphylla is native to a high-altitude climate with moderate summer temperatures, it has a difficult time dealing with our 95°F+ days.

Against all odds, I managed to grow a specimen for a small 6” plant to a 12” specimen that was burst with vitality.

120407_Aloe-polyphylla_01

April 7, 2012

Then I made what in hindsight proved to be a fatal mistake: I repotted it into a container that was just a size too big.

120521_Aloe-polyphylla_02

May 21, 2012

Sure, it looked good in this egg-shaped pot and the width of the container was just fine. However, the pot is quite deep and holds a surprising amount of soil.

120521_Aloe-polyphylla_01

May 21, 2012

That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem because Aloe polyphylla has a vigorous root system that in time would have filled this deep pot. The fatal mistake I made was my choice of timing. Since Aloe polyphylla doesn’t like hot summers, it goes semi-dormant, with growth slowing to a crawl if not stopping outright. So all summer and into fall—we had hot days until recently—it sat in a pot that never dried out even though the soil was loose with at least 50% pumice. And then, seemingly from one day to the next, rot started to spread from the crown outward and the center collapsed.

121020_Aloe-polyphylla_02

121020_Aloe-polyphylla_04

121020_Aloe-polyphylla_06

October 20, 2012

If I had transplanted my Aloe polyphylla earlier in the spring—or waited until fall—it might have been fine because it grows strongly when daytime temperatures are moderate and nights are still relatively mild.

Looking at the amount of rot, I don’t really see any way that my plant can survive. I feel sad because this was one of my favorite succulents.

Ironically, I had toyed with the idea of planting it in the ground. If I had, it might still be alive. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Will I get another Aloe polyphylla? Probably not. I’ll focus on plants that do well here without requiring special treatment, and whenever I get a chance I’ll enjoy the incredible specimens at Succulent Gardens in Castroville.

16 comments:

  1. Ouch!!! So sorry for your loss...at least you have a beautiful specimen to visit nearby. I adore that plant. I'm on number 3 or 4. It's far easier in the ground--well it has survived summer, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've gotten over my "never again" attitude. The next Aloe polyphylla I buy, however, will go straight in the ground.

      Delete
  2. I've been babying mine along for some time now. It looked pretty bad til I moved it to a spot that gets less sun..I'm thinking of moving it to my pop-up greenhouse over the winter so it stays out of the rain.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it can take quite a bit of moisture provided that it's well established within the pot--something mine clearly wasn't.

      Delete
  3. Oh my goodness I am so sorry to hear that! I don't know if you remember what happened to mine last year. I repotted it then Stan accidentally knocked the thing over and the pot broke and the whole plant fell out on the cement. Of course I freaked but got a new pot and repotted it. It happened last fall. I kept it out for the first time all winter. I put it in the spring and summer in a really hot spot not knowing any better. It is ok but you are right it did not grow much. I wonder if I should put it in the ground.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Candy, my next one will go in the ground. I think it'll do much better.

      Delete
  4. Bummer! Never say never though...maybe you'll run accros a cheap one that will have you trying your luck again. After I bought a over watered plant on the road to death, and then nursed it back to health, I then sat it out int he sun to long early last spring and burnt the poor thing. It was crispy but alive. After a decent summer of growth it's almost replaced all the ugly leaves. Hopefully be next spring they'll all be gone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Loree, I've already decided to try another one--but in the ground. I won't look until next spring, though.

      I think the Portland climate is much more compatible with what Aloe polyphylla likes than ours. Yours should look great next year.

      Delete
  5. Oh no, sorry to hear this. And there's me assuming that this aloe would do better in your location :( Perhaps next year you will have the motivation again to try another one, and perhaps site the pot somewhere shady during the summer when it gets really warm? As Loree said, never say never again :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it weren't for our hot summer, I think Aloe polyphylla would really like it here. The next one will get a premium spot in the ground. Nice and shady...

      Delete
  6. Can you propagate from leaf cuttings? Seems a shame to let the entire plant go... but may not be worth the effort. I like saving plants in distress though, and bringing them back to health.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think it can be propagated from leaf cuttings. I think the crown is completely rotted so I don't hold much hope it will survive. Especially now that it got rained on all night...

      Delete
  7. I live in So. Cal but baby those difficult to grow plants during our hot summers. I cannot find one of these aloes, even on line; only seeds. Can someone direct me to a grower that has a live one for sale? I'd sure appreciate any help you could give.
    Virginia Drake, Escondido, CA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Virginia, have you checked with Waterwise Botanicals in Bonsall? http://www.waterwisebotanicals.com/

      Delete
  8. I have ten plants. but they are dying. Can you tell me in what ground they grow?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert either. According to a PlantZAfrica: "The spiral aloe grows in basalt rock crevices on very steep slopes with loose rock which aids in keeping the plants very well drained. They often grow in the mist and cloud belt in Lesotho. Although soils are well drained, the plants here have a continual flow of water in the summer months. The rainfall is very high and the summers very cool at these high altitudes in Lesotho."

      I think the key is keeping them cool in summer. They hate our high summer temperatures.

      Delete