BY PATRICIA BIANCA S. TACULAO
Over the recent years, cacti and succulents have become popular among gardeners. This is because succulent plants are drought tolerant and need little to no maintenance, making them suitable for beginner plantitos and plantitas.
So it’s no surprise that more people are looking forward to growing another well-known succulent: aloe veras.
Angelo Santos, a senior principal account manager in a BPO company, has also gained an interest in growing aloe veras. His initial preference was flowering plants but when he transitioned to collecting aloes and agaves, he began to appreciate their symmetry, texture, and colors.
He started by randomly going to Dangwa Flower Market just to look around and appreciate the flowers. By 2016, he got into houseplants and bought orchids and adeniums because their flowers are very detailed and colorful.
Santos also frequented plant events and bought several more until his collection grew, allowing him to start a Facebook page and YouTube channel called Gelo’s Sanctuary.
But the demand in keeping up his ornamentals just wasn’t sustainable for Santos. This prompted him to shift to caring for low-maintenance plants.
“I got my first aloe around 2018, the same time I am transitioning to cacti and succulents because I can’t seem to cope with maintaining orchids and ornamentals. Plus, my environment back then is not conducive for them to thrive,” he said.
Santos decided to collect cacti and succulents because they require less maintenance. But during the height of the pandemic, he began to focus on aloe veras especially when he got introduced to an interesting aloe hybrid, the TCT aloe hybrid from Thailand which came from a breeder named Tepchai Tippayachit, hence the name.
Other than being symmetrical, low-maintenance, and colorful, aloe veras also have several health benefits thus making it a good choice to grow in a home.
“Aloe vera has a lot of medicinal use. If there should be one plant in your house, it should be aloe vera. Quick treatment for burns, hair conditioner, skin regimen, and a whole lot more. They can be used immediately right after plucking it from the plant with no additional component needed,” Santos said.
Things to consider before getting an aloe plant
Despite being a plant that’s easy to care for, there are some factors to consider before getting an aloe vera plant.
One of the first things to consider, according to Santos, is if an area gets enough sunlight.
“Personally, my rule is ‘follow the sun,’ I observe my environment and mark the areas at home with the time they are exposed to the sun. After that survey, I decide which plant goes where based on their sun requirement,” he said.
He added that less or no direct sun exposure will affect the symmetrical growth of an aloe plant. It will also make the plant more prone to pests and diseases because they are not growing healthy.
Lastly, Santos encourages creativity in growing aloe veras since there are endless possibilities in producing new varieties or hybrids.
“There is a wide variety of aloe hybrids available and aloe hybrids that are easy to pollinate, so if you are up for some fun and experiment, I encourage you to get a couple of aloe hybrids and pollinate them,” he said.
How to care for aloe veras
Because Santos has focused on growing aloe veras since the height of the pandemic, he has picked up a thing or two on how to grow them.
“Aloes are easy to care for. In my case, I put them out in the elements (rain or shine) because I am pretty familiar with my microclimate already so I know they won’t be harmed out in the rain and sun where I am located,” he said.
He added that beginners can place their aloes where there is the most sun exposure. This will bring out their stress colors and will grow more symmetrical.
As for the soil requirements, Santos said that aloe species require more natural components while hybrids need soil that contains a lesser amount of natural components.
“For aloe species, I use 50 percent inorganic (pumice, lava rocks, and perlite, although vermiculite can also be used in combination with pumice) and 50 percent organic (carbonized rice hull, vermicast, loam soil, and cocopeat),” Santos said.
Meanwhile, for the aloe hybrids, Santos uses 70 percent inorganic and 30 percent organic soil made from vermicast and carbonized rice hulls.
“I do not use coco peat or coco chunks because they retain too much water,” he said.
When it comes to watering, Santos said that aloes need to be watered only once a week or whenever the soil is dry since most species came from the arid regions of South Africa, Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Another component that should be considered in caring for aloe veras is fertilizer. Luckily, the plant doesn’t need that much fertilizer. But Santos just adds a few pellets of slow-release fertilizer when potting his plants and again after six months or so to make sure that his plants receive the right amount of nutrients that they need to thrive under his care.
Mitigating pests and diseases
Growing aloes may seem easy and suitable for beginners, but there are still challenges that come with it.
For instance, if the plant is not properly cared for, it can become prone to pests like aloe mites, which can pose a huge threat but can be treated and prevented if discovered at the early stage of infestation.
“Aloe mites are not endemic to the Philippines but somehow got here probably because of international trade. Aloe mite can be treated by using miticide with Abamectin as an active ingredient,” Santos said.
He added that there’s another recently discovered pest to look out for because it can really devastate aloe plants: the orchid leaf mite. Presently, no treatment has been proven effective yet so Santos advises disposing of affected plants immediately in a sealed plastic bag.
“This pest cannot be detected in the earlier stage easily because they attack the core of the plant. Sometimes you will just be surprised that a normal-looking plant will disintegrate when you try to pluck the leaves. It is best to isolate the affected plant and check other plants if the infestation has spread,” he said.
Santos also advises newbie gardeners to be careful when they purchase aloes. He said that they should make sure that the plant is not infected with any disease to avoid contaminating other plants in their care.
“Don’t immediately place your newly bought plants near your old plants for a few days just for you to observe your plants for any pests or diseases,” he said.
Ultimately, growing plants (not just aloes!) have helped Santos take his mind off the daily stresses in his life, especially with a job that’s demanding and high-pressure.
“There is a different kind of satisfaction seeing them grow and continuously learning about growing them better and better each time you have a new plant. Gardening also opens doors for me to meet amazing people that have become friends,” he said.
Aloes are not the only plant variety that Santos cares for. But since it’s what he’s focusing on at the moment, he has learned a great deal on how to grow them based on his experience and research. Hopefully, the information he shared above will also be helpful to aloe growers or aspiring ones.
Photos courtesy of Angelo Santos