Right Plant, Wrong Place?

 Homeless, still.  Wrong place.

I've been puzzling over where to plant the Aloe capitata var. quartzicola we bought in San Luis Obispo last October.   It's still languishing in a pot.  The puzzling is in large part due to previously planted A. capitatas.  They could be happier.  I want to make them happier, hence, I'm putting great effort into puzzling.  

Our original Aloe capitata (non quartzicola) is Not Happy--two years without flowering.  My bad.  
Internet searches helped me determine the native habitat of Aloe capitata is in the southern area of Madagascar's central plateau.  

The website of a guy who makes plant expeditions to very exotic locations shows photos of Aloe capitata var quartzicola  growing near Itremo and Ambatofinandranaha. (Isn't that a great name for a town?  Say it three times, fast.  But I digress.)  So what is the climate like there?  

Another A. capitata (this one is a quartzicola model) in the garden was in desperate condition.  Given it's own personal dripper, it has improved dramatically (meaning it didn't die). 

I looked up the average annual rainfall for those two Madagascar locations.  OMG!  A whopping fifty two inches!  (~1340mm!)   Rainfall that occurs mostly in November, December, January, February, and March (which is late spring/summer/early autumn in the southern hemisphere).    

Fifty two inches?!?!!  Good grief!  That's fifteen inches more than Seattle's average annual rainfall. 
The average annual rainfall in my area is thirteen inches and it occurs mostly in winter and early spring.  Bit of a difference there.   (This past rainy season, we got four and a half.)

Here is another Aloe capitata in the garden.  I grew it from seed produced by the Aloe capitata in this post's second photo. 

Fifty two inches.  You must be thirsty.  Really, really thirsty.   
Water aside, what about temperature?  The average annual temperature is 63F (17.5 C) in the Itremo of Madagascar.    

 The average annual temperature in my area is 65F--not far off Itremo--just a bit warmer.   However, hot season highs are much higher here in California than in Itremo.  Itremo is at an altitude of 4,400 feet.  That may contribute to slightly more mild daytime  temperatures--though Itremo's low temperatures are similar to here.  
 Another seedling--thirsty, too, but not quite as thirsty.
Aloe capitata var. quartzicola gets its var name from the quartz soil it grows in.  Quartz is--gravel, sand...so, in its native habitat, this Aloe gets quick drainage.  Would have to be, for fifty two inches of rain a year.  (Fifty two inches of rain a year!!!!!!!!!)  

I concluded this Aloe species needs to be placed in locations that doesn't get super hot (so not adjacent to pavement or masonry, and some afternoon shade in summer wouldn't hurt) and that get a good amount of summer water.  I don't need to worry much about drainage, because the drainage on this hill with its light silty soil, is sharp.     Okay.  I now know more than I did.  I hope the Aloe capitatas in the garden will soon feel better.   They will be getting a lot more summer water.   Not a lot.  Not fifty two inches worth.  Just a lot more than what they were getting, which was close to zero. 

Another plant.  The Hymenolepsis crithmifolia (Athanasia parviflora) was a fine plant, but it felt too large, and too "wild" for its location.  This plant is considered to be best replaced after three or four years, and the plant was three or four years old,  so while I regretted removing it, it felt like the right time to do so.  Another factor was that our native butterflies were examining it and rejecting it, so I was not removing a food source.  Black aphids really liked it. 
 A very tough plant--the soil was bone dry.  Quite a stump.  I planted it as a tiny seedling.
Unfortunately it was crowding out its neighbors, who will now get some sun and space. 
Goodbye, gorgeous.  Thanks for all the beauty.
  I planted a new black-foliaged Lagerstroemia  'Ebony Fire' aka Black Diamond 'Crimson Red' in the spot.
  Two 'Ebony Embers' (BD 'Red Hot') and an 'Ebony Glow' (BD 'Blush'), planted in previous years, are already in the garden. (I'm nutty about these, yes.  Black foliage!  So cool!)  
You may be thinking,  "Hey, isn't that Lagerstroemia going to get even bigger than the Hymenolepis?"   Ummm...erm...uhhh...after I planted it, I realized, yes, it is going to get at least as big as the Hymenolepis, and probably taller, eventually.  Maybe that will be okay?  The 'Ebony's have proven slow growing--about twelve inches (30 cm) per year, so perhaps I can move it next winter if a better location presents itself. 

The right plant/wrong place continues.  Leucospermum 'Blanche Ito' is going to collide with Leucadendron 'Reverse Polarity' and Leucadendron 'Sylvan Red'.  I rationalized planting 'Blanche' there by telling myself I'll be cutting the Leucadendrons frequently for the vase.  Mmm hmm.  
One of the thirsty Aloe capitata seedlings is right below 'Blanche', by the way.  I'll be watering it fifty two inches worth.  
Of course these Wrong Places are not one hundred percent wrong.  They provide the right amount of sun, the right soil, and the right drainage these plants will need to grow way too big for the space I have provided for them.  

You've never ever put a plant in a place too small for it, right?  Right? 


  1. Your post had me going and checking our rainfall. Old data - to 2000 only - but 1300mm. 51 ins. And I still can't grow aloes! Sigh.

    1. But you can grow so much else! No herbaceous peonies here, and no dogwoods. Sigh.

  2. Fifty-two inches is hard to get one's head around but good sleuthing! I was wondering about your decision to replace the Hymenolepsis with a Lagerstroemia - I thought one of us must have spaced out for a moment. I crowd plants all the time, thinking it's going to take years for them to reach a problematic size, or one may die before they do and thereby resolve the concern, or that I can keep them under control with pruning...So, you can probably understand why I wondered if I was suffering from delusions about your Lagerstroemia decision.

    1. I have a great excuse for the Lagerstroemia decision--mental derangement at the thought of an Aloe getting 52" of rain a year. I still can't comprehend it.

      That particular Lagerstroemia is reported to be more shrub-like than tree like, and is a proven slow grower. I also need something to screen the nearby window from the house across the street at a specific angle...those are my excuses, anyway.

      Whatever you do, keep doing it, because your garden is only more and more gorgeous.

  3. what a funny question. Of course I have and do cram plants in together. Snip snip snip, dig dig move... hahahaha

    1. So it's not just me then? ;^)

    2. That's some very pertinent info you dug up! Both my Aloe cap-quartz have incurved leaves like clam shells -- obviously a little stressed over lack of water. Those coulter bushes are great at a distance, maybe not so much right under your nose, on account of black aphids and legginess. I've been playing around with a couple small ones I got for a couple bucks each, pinching them back young. We'll see if that legginess can be avoided and overall size can be reduced to something more compact -- what we ask of plants, right?

    3. I pruned my Coulter back hard last year, down to 6", and it all grew back. I think pinching will create branching, not a bad thing--more flowering tips. The legginess was easily hidden by Hemerocallis foliage. Those black aphids are nasty.

      I was intending towards gardening more like you do--try a plant for a few years--then try something else. Experiment!

  4. Wow, I had NO IDEA that A. capitata gets THAT MUCH RAIN in its native habitat. That's just plain crazy. Mine are doing fine with whatever they get, BUT they're not in full sun either. I think that's the key. In semi-shade they seem happy with far less.

    Your Hymenolepis lasted longer and looked much nicer than mine ever did. Mine got very lanky and floppy although it was in full sun.

    I'm all for change now and then, esp. when there's a good reason for it (not that I need one).

    1. I agree about some shade for capitata. They seem happier there.

      I pruned the Hymenolepis very hard last year when I saw some new growth at the base. I think that prevented floppy/lanky.

  5. Also guilty. Too many plants MUCH too close together here.


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