How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Aloe Brevifolia

Aloe brevifolia, the short-leaved aloe, is wonderfully drought-tolerant and easy to grow. Gardening expert Rachel Garcia gives you tips to keep yours happy in this care guide.

Aloe brevifolia

Contents

Love aloe plants? Limited on space? You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Aloe brevifolia, the short-leaved aloe.

Small and sweet, Aloe brevifolia is less than a foot tall. It has the thick, triangular leaves of an aloe plant, but grows in a succulent-like rosette in green, blue, and gray. The short-leaved aloe is ideal for small but showy spaces in containers or gardens.

Overview

  • Plant Type: Succulent
  • Family: Asphodelaceae
  • Genus: Aloe
  • Species: Aloe brevifolia
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Height: 12″
  • Watering Requirements: Low
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Soil Type: Succulent mix

What is Aloe Brevifolia?

Aloe brevifolia has the common name short-leaved aloe after its compact stature. It’s also known as crocodile plant, thanks to its spines. These soft spikes line the edges and create a spine down the back of each leaf.

They aren’t dangerous, but be careful: the plant itself is mildly toxic, and should not be consumed by people or their pets.

Short-leaved aloe is best grown outdoors in USDA Zones 9-11. It’s perfect for rock gardens and xeriscaping. Because it grows in clumps of rosettes, it’s also a great small-scale groundcover.

If you grow your short-leaf aloe in the right environment, you may be rewarded with some color. The tips of the leaves turn a stunning red, yellow, and orange in response to bright light.

A native from South Africa, this aloe has growth spurts in the spring and fall. Its growth slows or stops during the summer and winter. It also attracts birds, bees, and butterflies with its flowers. These tall, red-orange beauties appear in late spring.

Types of Aloe Brevifolia

Although Aloe brevifolia itself is the most common, these subvarieties are interesting finds to look out for.

  • Aloe brevifolia f. Variegata: This form has non-uniform yellow and white stripes. It’s perfect for adding some subtle color to your rock garden.
  • Aloe brevifolia var. Depressa: This is the largest type of Aloe brevifolia. It reaches up to a foot tall and is more spread out between rosettes. The leaves grow outwards on the bottom, creating a flower shape.

Planting

The most important thing to consider when planting a short-leaved aloe is drainage. These succulents are prone to rot and grow best in sandy soils that dry out quickly.

Also choose a location in your garden with full sun, or plant in pots to move to the optimal position. They can handle partial sun (around four hours per day), but will grow far better when planted in a sunny spot.

If you live in a USDA Zone below 9, planting in containers is recommended. This allows you to move the pot indoors or into a greenhouse over winter to prevent cold damage. Those in warmer zones can plant directly in the ground as an edging plant or groundcover.

These compact plants don’t require much space, but will slowly spread out over time as they grow new rosettes. Don’t plant too deeply to avoid rot and wait a couple of days before watering to reduce the risk of shock.

How to Grow

Just because the crocodile plant is described as low-maintenance, it doesn’t mean it has no demands. Your Aloe will only thrive with proper care.

Light

Aloe brevifolia demands and thrives in sunlight. It prefers 6-8 hours of bright light every day. However, it will grow in partial sun if direct light isn’t an option. When moving your aloe to a new location, let it acclimate to the light by introducing the new location slowly.

When indoors, place your crocodile plant in the sunniest south-facing window you have. Supplement with a grow light if needed to avoid common growth problems.

Water

Aloe brevifolia leaves are full of water, meaning they don’t need frequent watering. Give your short-leaved aloe a deep drink, then let the soil dry out and remain so for a few days. Only water again when the soil has completely dried out. The roots prefer to be on the dry side to match their native conditions.

For overeager waterers, Aloe brevifolia is decently forgiving. It can handle some extra moisture, but won’t grow as well with it. Watch for yellowing and mushy leaves, which are signs of major overwatering. If this happens, repot your Aloe brevifolia in dry soil and lay off the watering.

Give your short-leaved aloe less water during the winter and summer. Too much during this time may cause it to rot.

Soil

To keep it nice and dry, plant your crocodile plant in well-draining soil. Ideally, at least one-third of the soil should be sand, perlite, or pebbles. Making your own mix is an easy way to get the right ratios.

If you choose to use a succulent and cacti soil mix, check the drainage and add some perlite if needed. The soil should drain well enough that your Aloe is never sitting in water, even after a deep watering.

Temperature & Humidity

The ideal temperature for this plant is 70-80° F. If your area gets colder than 20°F, your Aloe brevifolia will need to come inside. Don’t expose them to cooler temperatures for long periods as this can lead to permanent damage.

Dry air is preferred for these plants, but they tolerate a range of humidity levels. Look out for issues with fungal disease if you live in a higher-humidity area.

Fertilizing

Balanced liquid fertilizer is perfect for Aloe brevifolia, though it is optional. Plants in the ground don’t typically require feeding, but those in containers can benefit, particularly if they’ve remained in the same soil for long periods.

Feed your plant once per season during spring and fall, feeding at half-strength to avoid overfertilizing. Don’t fertilize during the summer and winter.

Maintenance

Crocodile plant grows slowly, so you likely won’t have to repot it until it spreads out significantly. If your plant does manage to outgrow its container, then it’s time for an upgrade.

Treat your short-leaved aloe to a slightly larger pot and fresh, dry succulent soil. After replanting, let it sit without water for a few days so it can adjust to the move before adding moisture.

The only pruning required is for dead flower stalks. Remove them at the base of the stalk after the blooms have faded.

Propagation

Aloe brevifolia is efficient at propagating itself. It frequently sends out offsets, also called suckers. This propagation is what makes it a great groundcover.

After your Aloe brevifolia has grown several rosettes, you can easily propagate by division. Simply unearth a portion of the plant and cut it free from the parent. After replanting, don’t water for a few days so the wounds can heal. Dividing your Aloe brevifolia every few years will help invigorate it and encourage more growth.

You can also propagate your crocodile plant from its offsets. Isolate an offset and cut it from the plant. Let the wound dry out for a few days and then plant it. Keep the soil consistently moist until the cutting has grown roots and is established.

Aloe brevifolia, unlike most succulents, doesn’t propagate well from leaves as they usually go mushy.

Common Problems

Short-leaved aloe is usually disease and pest-free. However, you should always be on the lookout for symptoms and other problems. The main problems you’ll see on your aloe – if any – are usually due to over or underwatering.

Catching them early will make your and your plant’s life easier. 

Mushy Leaves

Overwatered crocodile plants will turn yellow and mushy. If left in water too long, they may begin to rot. Switch to a sandier soil and let it dry out completely in between waterings.

Wrinkled Leaves

If your Aloe brevifolia’s leaves are withering or wrinkled, it needs more water. Give your plant a good drink and it should recover.

Pests

Scale insects are nasty pests that suck the life from aloes. They’re tiny and usually white or brown. They can be prevented by keeping your Aloe brevifolia dry and not overfertilizing. If you notice just a few insects, kill them immediately by physically removing them or dabbing them with rubbing alcohol.

For large infestations, try horticultural oil or neem oil. Coating your crocodile plant with a thin layer of this will suffocate the pests. Spraying your plant with insecticidal soap is another great option.

Diseases

Not much stands in the way of Aloe brevifolia when it comes to disease. However, root rot is a risk. This occurs when the plant is constantly moist, which invites bacteria. Rotted sections of your short-leaf aloe will be brown or black and mushy.

Prevent root rot by watering correctly and choosing a well-draining soil. If you notice rot on your plant, you’ll need to act fast before it spreads.

With sterile clippers, cut off all rotted parts of your Aloe brevifolia. If this means you’d be cutting away the majority of the plant, you’re better off just propagating from the remaining healthy sections and losing the plant itself.

After removing the rotted sections, repot your short-leaved aloe in new, well-draining soil. To help prevent the spread of any rot you missed, apply a fungicide to the soil. Let your Aloe brevifolia sit in the dry soil for a few days before watering.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is Aloe brevifolia edible like Aloe Vera?

A: No. Aloe brevifolia can be mildly toxic to humans, causing severe stomach discomfort and possible nausea. To animals, most aloes cause vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea. You should get your pet to the vet quickly to prevent more dangerous issues.

Q: Can Aloe brevifolia grow indoors?

A: It can, but outdoor conditions are favorable in most warm climates. If you have to grow indoors, put your Aloe brevifolia in a sunny, south-facing window and use a grow lamp if needed.

Final Thoughts

Aloe lovers without enough space for a large plant will appreciate this compact beauty. With this guide, you have everything you need to keep yours happy for years to come.

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