Sun-Loving Plants With Texture

Agave, donkey's tail and aloe offer shape and form in container gardens.
Mediopicta Alba Agave Vivid Green and White Leaves

Mediopicta Alba Agave Vivid Green and White Leaves

The agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba' produces rosettes of striking white-and-green striped leaves.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

The agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba' produces rosettes of striking white-and-green striped leaves.

Whether armed with spines, edged with teeth or clothed in masses of small rounded leaves, these succulents offer exciting texture and form, which can be heightened further with contrasting smooth or simple containers. Traditionally these plants have been displayed indoors, but all can be grown outdoors in summer on a sunny sheltered patio, balcony or deck. 

Agave

Prized for their architectural rosettes, Agave are low-maintenance plants that complement contemporary containers and modern designs. Best displayed individually, select a contrasting pot, such as a cool, white ceramic container with a white-striped type like ‘Mediopicta Alba.’ Agave make excellent house plants, but place them carefully to prevent clothes from catching on the tooth-edged leaves. Allow the compost to dry out between waterings, and keep plants even drier in winter. Fast-growing species will need moving into larger pots every few years, or remove young shoots to keep them in check. 

Height and spread goes up to 5 feet (1.5 meters). It needs full sun if outdoors and a light location if indoors. Temperature needs are a minimum of 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). Suitable container material is terra-cotta, stone, plastic, metal and ceramic.

Agave options

There are many Agave varieties to choose from. Agave parryi var. truncata has neat blue rosettes with wide leaves, while A. stricta is a dangerous looking plant that forms a sphere of slender spiky leaves. A. schidigera is compact and produces upright leaves edged with wispy white filaments, while A. victoriae-reginae is small and tender with stiff, white-edged, green leaves. 

Donkeys Tail Resembles Strings of Beads

Donkeys Tail Resembles Strings of Beads

With its pendulous stems heavily weighed down by cylindrical gray-green leaves, the donkey's tail sedum is a curious sight.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Donkey's tail or sedum morganianum

With its pendulous stems heavily weighed down by cylindrical gray-green leaves, this sedum is a curious sight. In the spring and summer, small pink flowers may appear at the end of stems. Other than watering and repotting from time to time, donkey’s tail needs very little attention, but take care not to break off the delicate leaves. Allow the compost to almost dry out before watering, and water less in the winter. 

Planting ideas 

While the plant is young it can be grown in a small, decorative pot, but once the stems have reached their full length, it needs to be raised off the ground to prevent the leaves being damaged. It’s ideally suited to a hanging basket or wall-mounted pot, or set it in a container on a bookcase or shelf where you can appreciate its cascading stems of beadlike leaves. 

Aloe

Everyone has heard of Aloe vera, a plant famed for the healing properties of its sap, but there are many others worth growing too. Most come from Africa and encompass a huge and varied range of plants, including dwarf, smooth-leaf varieties suitable for a south-facing windowsill indoors, and large plants, such as the heavily armored Aloe ferox. Many can be placed in a sunny location outdoors in the summer, as long as they are moved back inside before the frost returns. Keep the compost just moist in the summer, and do not water the leafy rosettes. In the winter, keep the compost almost dry. 

Aloe Pictures

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'Sunset' Aloe

A short aloe with shiny, bronzy-red or orange leaves, 'Sunset' forms rosettes of foliage. Best coloration occurs in full sun. One- to two-foot flower spikes appear in mid to late winter.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Silver Ridge' Aloe

A beautifully frosted aloe with raised white edges, 'Silver Ridge' reaches eight to 14 inches at maturity. Use its height to advantage in container gardens. Plant in full sun.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Aloe polyphylla

A rare aloe with a spiral form, a mature polyphylla can have up to five rows of blue-green leaves growing in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. A native of the Maluti Mountains in South Africa, polyphylla aloe doesn't tolerate extreme heat. Give it full sun; in desert locations, plant in shade. Hardy to Zone 9b.

'Guido' Aloe

A stunning bi-color aloe up to 8 inches tall and 6 inches wide, this selection has heavily variegated leaves outlined in white. Plant in full to partial sun.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Carmine' Aloe

The gorgeous, multicolored 'Carmine' makes it one of the best in show. A brilliant fringe accents the vibrant foliage. Mature size: about 10 inches tall and six inches wide in a mounding, clumping habit. Plant in sun or partial sun.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Marco' Aloe

Dark orange, toothed margins add a hint of color to ultra-smooth leaves in this upright grower.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Pink Blush' Aloe

This clump-forming dwarf hybrid has shiny, textured two-tone foliage with raised pink ridges. Mature height averages eight to 14 inches. Plant in full sun.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Sal' Aloe

A distinctive selection with raised white ridges and pink-toothed margins, this low-growing aloe averages about 6 inches tall. Plant in sun or partial sun.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Aloe Flowers

As semi-tropical plants, most aloes are cold-hardy only to Zone 10, so in cooler climates they're typically grown indoors, where they seldom bloom. Aloe needs lots of bright light for best growth and flowering; if you live in a frost area, try moving the pot outdoors just for the summer to a location where it will get maximum light and minimal rainfall. Make sure that the potting soil is very well-drained.

'Fire Ranch' Aloe

The thick leaves of ‘Fire Ranch’ turn bronze in full sun. A large flower spike produces an array of red, orange and yellow blooms. This aloe is hardy in zones 8 - 10.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Grassy Lassie' Aloe

The narrow, grass-like, dark green leaves turn a deep bronze in full sun. Long-stemmed, electric-orange flowers bloom most of the year.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Aloe Vera Gel

With its payload of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, the sap of aloe vera is widely used in hair and skin products, but more importantly helps heal burns, cuts, insect bites and other skin irritations. Cut a lower, older leaf and squeeze the cutting to release the sap.

Aloe selections

Indoors, grow the smooth-leaf A. vera or the partridge-breasted aloe, A. variegata, which boasts rosettes of green leaves decorated with white bands. A. ferox is an architectural plant with steely-blue leaves edged with red teeth, while A. arborescens ‘Variegata’ is a large plant with sword-shaped, yellow-striped leaves. 

Aloe ferox has a height and spread of 3 feet in a pot. It needs a light location indoors, full sun in the garden and its temperature needs are a minimum of. 50 degrees Fahrenhejt (10 degrees C.) Suitable pot size is 4 to 24 inches (10 to 60 cm), depending on plant size. Suitable container materials are terra-cotta, stone, plastic, metal and ceramic.

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