Growing Aloe Polyphylla in Hot Climates

VictualJuly 22, 2014

Hello all,

I just received a small Aloe Polyphylla grown from seed at the UC Berkeley botanical gardens. I live near Sacramento where we get triple digit heat with nights barely below 70F. I've done as much research as I can on how to mitigate this. Has anyone had any luck growing in these conditions? Any tips on soil composition, fertilizer, water frequency, sun levels, and heat protection?

Below I have some information on what I'm doing and some pictures.

------My AP Stats
Pot: Double potted in two large terra cotta pots. There's a layer of sand in between the two pots.

Soil: 1/4 Garden Soil (Miracle Gro), 1/2 Sand, 1/4 Lava Rock 3/8". 2" of wood chip mulch on top.

Heat Protection: I've wrapped the bottom and sides of the outer pot in a few layers of foil. I also made a nifty donut cap of foil for extremely hot days. I've been taking temperatures on hot days and the middle of the soil stays at 75F and under, the soil towards the top of the pot gets to 82 on a triple digit day.

Water: My drainage feels inadequate. It takes 4-5 days for it to dry sufficiently. I'm afraid of rotting the poor guy. But I'm more afraid of uprooting it to supplement with more gravel\lava and harming the plant.

Fertilizer: Can I lightly fertilize like I do with my succulents? I typically fertilize once every other week with a 1/3 strength mix of 10-10-10 and ammonium sulfate (this is the source of nitrogen and acidity). I'm wondering if this will ruin the spiral shape or just help speed along the process.

Sun: It gets full morning sun with filtered (alternating 50% shade\sun) for the rest of the day.

Photo 1: Double pot setup
Photo 2: Full satellite foil wrap setting when it was 103

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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

With your research, you seem to be in control of the problems with growing in hot climate. I am surprised to see that your not planting the pot in soil. Also they can take more water than other aloes. You are right about pulling from the pot. They don't like their roots disturbed. Sounds like we will have to refer to you for the advise to be about to succeed. Great job. Please keep us posted.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 2:42PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Everyone I know in Texas that has tried has killed it. Good luck. I won't even try. You are lucky that your nights go down into the upper 60's. Our's are stuck in the mid 70's and humid as hell.

That pot though made me laugh hard. I kept thinking of the crazies in the tinfoil hat. Please I mean this with an open heart and a playful mind. I am addicted to my plants also and have respect for those that go the extra mile to deal with these plants that make us push the envelope. I have come close to ordering this plant but I have stepped back hearing one failure after another.

PLEASE check back with you progress, I am very interested.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 4:16PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

I can only skim your posting, but I would find other collectors of succulents in the central valley to see what their experience is. Your climate is certainly different from eastern Texas, nights are cooler, dewpoints lower, air drier, etc. Since Tony Avent supposedly managed to grow the plant for several years, and it was known to grow in some Cornish gardens, it should be relatively easy in Sacramento. I say does come from a winter-dry, summer-moist climate but for reasons I can't go into that seldom matters as much as the converse fish out of water scenario. (there are many fine Drakensberg & KZN natives in California gardens; obviously they need summer water)
I'd give it afternoon shade in well draining scree, preferably a spot somewhat protected from rain. Though again if it can grow anywhere in the UK, winter rains can't bother it that much.

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Tue, Jul 22, 14 at 16:25

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 4:24PM
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Thank you for all the great feedback.

My primary worry has shifted from temperature to root rot. But I guess there isn't a whole lot I can do about drainage until I re-pot or get another one to practice on.
I'm hoping by refraining from watering until a moisture meter reads dry at the middle of the pot will help it from drowning. I just have to hope that the wetness before it begins to dry out isn't too much for the plant.

If it does do well, then that is good news and means the roots can handle high moisture levels for 2-3 days.

@Stush I don't have any good ground spots with the right lighting conditions to bury it. Plus I wanted to try moving it to a full sun position when winter nears.

@wanto I'm a nut when it comes to growing things that shouldn't be grown in my local environment. I tried to think about everything that could logically help the plant without needing daily attention. I will definitely come back in later months with updates. This forum was my primary source for ideas, supplemented by the expert knowledge of the head propagator at UC Berkeley botanical gardens.

@david I was thinking about moving it to a full sun position when winter and rain come. But I will keep it very tilted to avoid the crown rot I see reported on the forums.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 5:21PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I sent this to a friend here in Wimberley Texas that was growing three A. polyphylla. I think one died and that was the last report that I heard. I sent the thread to him and it turns out he still has two in a pot.

Wimberley is hot and humid (this summer), not as humid as East Texas and further east but nights are mid 70's day in the upper 90's and a couple 100's so far. We have had a cool for us summer with rain (imagine that!) That said here is his response.

"That's interesting. The foil wrap is a little extreme.
I still have two in one pot and want to separate them, but they are doing fine so far. Maybe I'll do that in the fall. I read that in habitat that they grow on moist rocks, so I water them every day. They were in almost full sun until a week ago when I moved them to a partially shaded spot where the cat sitter could water them more easily while we were in Colorado.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 11:34AM
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Thanks Wanton for forwarding that.

I wonder what soil composition your friend has that enables daily watering. Plus how much water is used for what size pot. Like is it enough for a bit of water to come out the bottom or just enough to moisten things.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 11:42AM
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It's been two months now and my Aloe has experienced a lot. When I first received it weather was consistently in the 95-105 range. At first the plant flattened out, all the tight leaves seen above went limp. It wasn't a good sign, far too relaxed and the soil temperature was hard to keep below 85. Temperatures starting hovering above 105 with a 110 day so I brought it inside for a week. After that its been outside the remainder of the time with weather back in the 90-100 range.

Leaves have started to curl back up and look normal again. Color has begun to turn a dark green, probably from the increased water and nutrients from a light fertilizer.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 5:19PM
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Here's a side photo. It's easier to see how the bottom leaves are still flat (were curled in my original post photo) and that the middle leaves are starting to curl back. It looks like its on its way back to being healthy, but hard to tell.

Hopefully during fall I can expose it to full unfiltered sun and leave it out there at a 45 angle. It's grown a lot in two months and that's with constricted water flow from stressed roots. I wonder how it will do when the temperatures drop below 90 in a month.

Does anyone know if I can continue to lightly fertilize during winter (until it gets colder)? It doesn't get under 50 until close to December here. At the moment I fertilize once a month at 1/3 strength.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 5:25PM
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It doesn't like clay soils. Mine in Hayward is like a perpetual big artichoke. I water enough. The 80f summers cant be too warm because it grew well in its original pot that came from the grower. Only in ground has it looked stressed. I will give it a bit longer...then maybe repot it in a cactus mix.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 5:25PM
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You should shoot a email to UC Berkeley for more info. I have seen photos of them doing ok at the San Diego Zoo in dappled light. So soucal warmth short of the inland heat is tolerable.
I havent heard of them needing fertilizer.
I myself get the feeling they like a lot of air at the roots and consistent watering for plants that plump. Being they grow high on Mountains on slopes with running water around them..Not easy to reproduce unless you have a hillside and cool temps like UC Berkeley.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2014 at 12:55PM
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