My first introduction to taking care of Aloe came fairly late life. Growing up my yard work duties consisted of tumble weed removal and weed removal in general. We had no aloe on our property. I am positive. Had we cultivated such a high maintenance plant my father would have had me arms deep cleaning them.
I met real wild aloe the day we bought our first house in AZ back in 2004. The front yard had been allowed to grow on it’s own for some time. Clusters of fury cactus were marooned on islands of rock that at some point were considered landscaping. I remember taking a sponge head mop and pushing my way through to clear patches of it out. Awful.
Confused by clumps of what I thought were dead aloe, I started to remove some but it seemed endless. Some of the leaves and off shoots were so hard and dried they could have been used as weapons. A friend of ours, a Palm Springs desert soul in town helping us move, told me they weren’t all dead just neglected and if I cleaned them up they would be fine. He failed to mention what healthy, happy Aloe does. He’s the kind of life long friend that imparts random bits of wisdom then wanders away.
Aloe, when neglected or left to dry out in the desert sun, brown with the outer leaves getting very hard and sharp. These need broken off or any new shoot coming up will get either blocked or misshapen as it tries to grow. The clumps are not attractive and do a very pretty plant a disservice. Even if you want natural growing Aloe you still need to take care of them. You gotta keep ‘em separated.
I wear gloves and socks on my arms for protection but still manage to end an Aloe grooming day with scrapes all over. It’s amazing how much damage a so called “healing plant” can do to you.
I learned the hard way what happy, cleaned up Aloe does. It will pay you back and then some… with new baby Aloe! Almost immediately new baby Aloe pop up. At first I was delighted until I realized the magnitude of the situation. This small quarter acre lot already had hundreds more Aloe than it needed. Hundreds producing babies? Uh…no.
And so my love affair with this plant had begun.
Separated, happy Aloe grow to become these glorious plants that send up stalks with orange and yellow flowers the bees and hummingbirds love.
In the ten years we lived in that house I believe I learned a decent amount about my desert aloe. I say it that way because as you know I am not an expert plant anything. Just a desert kid. I’m sure there are people out there who could argue every bit of what I say about my aloe. Knock yourselves out. Loving this plant doesn’t require me to have a degree, or call it by its official Latin name or anything else.
It is through the scrapes and blood, the thorns, cracked hands and sunburns where my Aloe education and love comes from. I didn’t read about it in a book, I dug it out of the side of my arm with a pair of tweezers.
Fast forward, May 2016, we bought this patch of heaven, our little house on the hill. On all the 2.5 acres of amazing there were only two clumps of ill-mannered Aloe. I noticed them and even chuckled at them but hadn’t made any attempt to do anything with them due to the amount of necessary yard work we were already faced with. I knew no matter how bad they looked it wasn’t going to take me long to get them back to fabulous but they were going to have to wait.
Now with my seasonal job over, the weather nice and chilly, ground softened from recent rain, the house already decorated for the holidays, time on my hands and an outside area I declared as mine the day we moved in 6 months ago, I launched myself towards something I have wanted to do for a long time, grow Aloe. Grow it big and pretty they way it should look. Grow it on the side of our hill to slow the erosion and water damage we receive from the crazy heavy rains. Let it clump securing patches of earth in place. Let it multiply the way it wants to. Aloe is hearty, drought tolerant, and fire resistant, not to mention the healing they hold inside.
I have been given the natural desire, talent and love for desert yard work. I have been given a plant who wants nothing more than to give back and multiply.
I will find ways to use it.