What's Propagating? Aloe and Agave.
A few years back I installed a 4' x 8' grow tent in our garage and have been using it to hone my skills propagating plants from seed. The grow lights, warmth and humidity combine to create an environment that the germinating seedlings seem to enjoy. On top of the great growing environment is another benefit - the space can be optimized to grow a lot of seedlings. Lets take a tour of what's growing!
|Grow tent tucked into a corner of the garage|
The tent's temperature usually stabilizes in the mid-70's F - probably because it's in the garage which itself is a consistent environment. This tends to keep the soil temperature at a point that's conducive to seed germination and early growth.
|Fairly typical temp and humidity in the tent|
I generally start with 50 to 100 germinating seeds in an open tray which is kept covered by a humidity dome for several weeks and then occasionally use the cover as needed. The Agave seedlings below are in the last "open" tray as it was the last started ~ 3 months ago.
|Agave filifera seedlings|
I've gotten into the habit of spending < 5 min on a moisture check every morning. What has helped to prevent the tray from drying out too quickly is to use at least 1 & 1/2 inches - 2 inches of soil. The higher the mineral content of the soil the fewer problems I've had with pests and issues like mildew although not enough organic content means the plants grow less robustly - soil composition is a balancing act.
It's interesting that some plants are much easier to germinate and grow with success than others - maybe it's has more to do with my growing technique. Some species have a near 100% germination rate while others are closer to 20%. Of course these numbers end up going down as the plants grow and face various challenges.
If you enjoy reading about the plants in this post and would like
to add them to your own collection, I have some news – some are
available for purchase now on my online store - others will be available later in the Spring. I've included links in the
plant descriptions below for your convenience.
One of my favs, and luckily an easier plant to grow, is Aloe wickensii
|Aloe wickensii in a 2inch pot|
|Aloe seedlings transferred to their own containers|
Another easy plant to grow from seed is Aloe Striata which is kind of awesome because it's fun to mass them in the landscape for a great visual effect.
|Aloe striata (Coral Aloe)|
The tray of Coral Aloes above are recovering from a premature trip outside. Most had turned a deep red and appeared dormant. After returning them to the grow tent they've perked up and continued growing.
|Happy Aloe striata about ready to move to the greenhouse|
Every so often I select the bigger healthier plants, upsize their container and move them to a makeshift greenhouse.
|Aloe striata moved to 4 inch containers|
Aloe camperi, a profuse bloomer when mature that stays a verdant green, has also had good success from seed (and cuttings)
|Larger Aloe camperi during warmer times|
Aloe ferox also seems fairly easy to grow - although the germination rate has been closer to 75%.
|Aloe ferox in 2inch container|
|Another Aloe ferox in 2 inch container|
Some seedlings (across many types of plants) decide not to grow as vigorously as others. Many I just toss but when they catch me in the right mood I'll plant several in the same pot in the hopes that at least one survives and thrives. Below are four A. ferox that beat expectations and survived - although they are still much smaller than their peers. Maybe they will just end up being mini-ferox (perfect for a fairy garden?)
|Four young Aloe ferox growing in the same 2 inch pot|
|A. ferox moved to the greenhouse a few months ago|
Agave xylonacantha - is a no fuss plant to grow - makes a unique looking specimen in the garden when it matures because of it's massive, shark tooth like thorns.
|Young Agave xylonacantha in 2 inch pot|
|A tray of young Agave xylonacantha in 2 inch pots|
I've had slightly less success with Aloe comptonii which has also grown much more slowly.
I have an entire tray of A. comptonii that I moved to the greenhouse too early where they became stressed and stopped growing. They are starting to look better now but still need a few months more growing time before I'd transplant them to individual pots.
|Several struggling A. comptonii in the same pot to save space.|
A plant I've had middling success with so far is Aloe marlothii - but clearly worth the effort if you've seen a mature plant in the landscape.
|Aloe marlothii in 2 inch pot|
|In the grow tent|
|Aloe marlothii in 4 inch pot|
|Previous batch of Aloe marlothii in the greenhouse|
Also a tougher plant for me to propagate is Aloe vanbalenii with less than 50% reaching the size below. I've grown a few of these in the ground and in larger pots. Its recurved octopus like leaves which pick up shades of red and orange in the summer make it pretty stunning.
Aloe microstigma is not a plant I've grown in my garden but pictures I've seen online of this medium sized Aloe look incredible.
|Aloe microstigma in 2 inch pot|
|Aloe microstigma - results vary|
I have collected a lot of seeds for Aloe kedongensis - so much that I just grab a handful and start the germination routine. What surprised me was the low success rate with this plant - especially given how easy it is to propagate cuttings. The plants below were open pollinated so it's very possible they have mixed parentage but at this stage only the bees know.
|Tray of Aloe kedongensis|
Truth is that it takes a long time to grow Aloe and Agave from seed so sometimes I cheat and order "plugs" propagated via tissue culture.
|Agave ferdinandi-regis plug|
Plugs still take a relatively long time to grow but at least they give plant lovers a head start. The tray of Agave above I expect to grow on for ~12 months before re-releasing them into the plant-sphere. Here's a few more that I've started at different times.
|Aloe sinkatana x marlothii - 4in|
The above hybrid (Aloe sinkatana x marlothii) has been growing steadily from plug for 6 - 8 months. The beefier leaves look to be from it's marlothii parentage - while the dot pattern from A. sinkatana.
|Agave sebastiana 'Silver Lining' - 4in|
I have several Agave sebastiana that have also been growing slowly from plug for ~8 months. I'm looking forward to using these in pots or squeezing them in our rocky, front hillside.
Also grown from a plug is A. gypsophila 'Curly' which has grown more quickly than A. sebastiana but is unfortunately more sensitive to abrupt light changes. I've burned a few just by moving them to the bright side of the greenhouse.
|Agave gypsophila "Curly"|
|Agave gypsophila "Curly"|
I've also tried growing some Opuntia microdasy cuttings. The ones below were started in the Summer of 2022. Looks like new paddles are beginning to emerge. The white version has proven much easier to grow than the golden version - which is true even of the parent plants in the ground.
|One of the trays of Opuntia microdasy|
|Opuntia microdasys var "Albispina" - 4in|
|Aloe vaotsanda x divaricata|
This Aloe tree hybrid has been growing from a plug since the Summer of 2022 and wins the award for "Quickest Growing" (at least out the dozen or so species I've bought). I saw the same plant in a large pot, grown into a standard form at the Huntington Gardens. Even though these are clones grown via tissue culture there still seems to be a fair amount of variability in size and appearance. One in particular is showing pronounced variegation.
Just planted a few months ago is Aloe Chabaudii. I've had one growing in the ground for several years and watch it flower each Winter but have never been able to propagate it from seed. I lost several of these when I moved them to the brighter side of the grow tent - I should have known better but was of space. Turns out just a few days with too much light will still turn some plants to mush. A tray of Aloe "Cynthia Giddy" at the same stage placed in the same light did just fine.
|Aloe Chabaudii "Orange Burst" - 4in|
There is more to share but this seems like as good a place as any to stop.