Growing Aloe Vanbalenii

 Maybe we all have certain plants that seem special for some reason. They evoke a feeling like that hard to find collectable baseball card, or comic book, or vase or whatever else you're into. To the average person it's just another card, comic, vase, plant etc - but to you it's special. Although it's not that hard to find, Aloe vanbalenii isn't a plant I've seen for sale up here in N. California very often. Plus - with it's curved octopus like arms and low profile it's just cool looking.

 

Aloe vanbalenii from Succulent Gardens c. 2018

 A. vanbalenii could make an impressive specimen plant in any garden - especially if surrounded by plants of a contrasting color and form like the grayish Cotyledon above. To me this specimen looks like an octopus crawling across the sea floor.

Here's one of the earliest shots of my A. Vanbalenii which was originally purchased in a 2" (or maybe 3") pot back in 2017.

A young Aloe vanbalenii
A. vanbalenii newly planted Summer 2018

 

Below are three sibling plants that to this day have not made it into the ground. At the stage pictured below they are in 8" (or maybe 10"?) pots.

three Aloe vanbalenii in 8 inch pots

Below is a shot showing just how much one of these aloes will grow when planted in the ground vs left in a pot. This South African plant grows natively on rocky outcrops or in shallow soils but doesn't seem to mind the richer, amended soil in my backyard.


When "up-potting" the A. vanbalenii I was surprised at how aggressively the roots had grown after about a year. These look like they were getting root-bound.

Aloe vanbalenii root growth
Respectable amount of root growth

After 6 plus months of living in 5ga pots the aloe take on more of a candy apple green coloring. The extra soil and more frequent watering encouraged them to grow quickly. It wasn't long after taking this shot that I found roots the diameter of drinking straws growing out the bottom of the pots into the ground.


5ga pots - Summer 2019(?)

All four of these plants have been growing outdoors for 3+ yrs now and and have never seemed to mind our local temps that have ranged from roughly 32f - 106f. This plant will do best in USDA Zone 9 and above if planting in the ground but of course a micro-climate in your yard might afford more leeway. 

Aloe vanbalenii in 10 gal pot
10 gal pots - January, 2021

 

When stressed from lack of water, or when in lots of direct sunlight, they get the classic orange to red coloring. Unlike Aloe cameronii, full summer sun doesn't seem to turn these plants as red - especially if they are in a big enough pot and get semi-regular water. Given how aggressive their roots seem to be A. vanbalenii does not make a good candidate for your favorite ceramic pot.

Aloe vanbalenii in 10 gal pot

Interestingly enough all four of my plants have begun to bloom for the first time ever this winter. Three of them are now in 10ga pots and seem happier than ever but I did not expect them to bloom! I estimate these plants are between 4 to 5 yrs old so possibly they hit puberty? There is one difference; the plant in the ground has two bloom stalks while those in the pots have a single bloom stalk.

Aloe vanbalenii planted in ground and blooming
Mid February 2021

 

The plant above has been in the ground for two years and has a decidedly different form than it's potted siblings. The spot it's growing in enjoys more shade these days because of some adjacent Aloes. Given the chance I'd probably move this Aloe to a sunnier spot to bring out it's read and orange hues.


Aloe vanbalenii bloom just starting to open
Blooms are just starting to open

It's nice to have a yellow flowering Aloe since most other Aloes seem to have red or orange flowers.

It's mid-March now and the above blooms are still around - although definitely starting to fade.

My advice (for what it's worth) - if you see an A. vanbalenii for sale just buy it.

Happy Aloe Collecting!

Comments

  1. It's a wonderful plant, as your photos show. I've never come across the straight species for sale here but I've got two hybrids, one a mix with ferox and the other a mix with striata. They both show an obvious relationship to vanbalenii, though.

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    1. Those sound like interesting hybrids. How large have they grown? I'm not sure I remember seeing them in any of your garden pics.

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  2. I wonder they are not so common because they do not offset from the base of the plant at ground level, but up from between higher leaves--making them a puzzle to separate without killing or mutilating the original plant. Mine is a big mound--a friend would love an offset--but I've no idea how to remove one. The ones for sale--grown from seed?

    They will turn a deep red and nearly die if given zero water for two full years. How I know I will not say.

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    Replies
    1. I have not gotten to the 'big mound' phase yet but I can imagine they would be hard to separate because the leaves seem to break easily. I did sell some to a friend who owns a nursery :) They were grown from 2" pots I bought down in S.D. several years ago - I was hoping for some seed but sadly I don't see anything developing on my plant. I would really like to grow some more.

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