The Plant Man

By Steve Kawaratani

No Mystery Behind the Missing Blooms

“Give a lot, expect a lot, and if you don’t get it, prune.

–Thomas J. Peters


Who doesn’t love the way tree aloes brighten Laguna gardens this time of year?  The species, Aloe arborescens, is unrivaled for its magnificent red-orange blossoms, particularly in Heisler and Crescent Bay parks.  Native to southeastern Africa, the flower is a type of inflorescence called a raceme.  Typical height for this treelike shrub is 7 to 10 feet, before beneficial pruning is desirable.

It is well known that the flowers bloom during the winter months, and gardeners prize the colorful aloe during a season of paucity among many herbaceous plants.  In addition to their unquestioned beauty, the flowers produce sweet nectar prized by hummingbirds and bees.

It is not a secret that a number of aloes were considered overgrown, particularly in areas of public venues in Crescent Bay and Heisler parks.  In today’s era of shrinking maintenance budgets, pruning is rotated throughout the many parks we enjoy, as monies become available.

Vic Hillstead, chief of the city’s Parks Department, was quoted in October that the “(aloes) were up to a good six or seven feet… They hadn’t been cut back in two years.”  As a manager, he likely agonized over his decision, as the aloes were just beginning to bloom.

I visited both the viewpoint at Crescent Bay and the Gazebo at Heisler Park last week, and observed that several plants from those public viewpoints had been trimmed to allow ocean views, but also properly pruned to encourage new growth, which had already commenced.  However, I also noted that dozens of surrounding aloes were in glorious bloom, just not blocking public views.

In a recent conversation with Mr. Hillstead, he said that he directed the limited pruning, as many of the aloes had overgrown their intended spaces and were smothering new plantings at the recently refurbished Heisler Park.  Further, cuttings were taken from the pruned stems and transplanted into bare areas at both parks, as this aloe is easily propagated.  He added unequivocally, that “No aloes were pruned to improve private views.”

I’ll offer a little unsolicited suggestion for the future… wait until the aloe has had its moment blooming, and then cut off the spent flower spikes and cleanup the plant for the summer.  That way, we can all enjoy the beautiful floral display for the holidays.

We expect a lot from our city services and they give a lot back to us.  We are truly blessed to enjoy our beautifully maintained, public parks.  Please thank Reggie Christian, Parks Gardener, and his supervisor Howard Cubmerledge the next time you see them hard at work.  And finally, to quote my father, Pete, who perennially espoused, “Don’t be afraid to prune, because the plant will always grow back!”  See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani is a 60 year resident of Laguna Beach.  He can be contacted at 949.494.5141 or [email protected].

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