Don’t let its name, its tooth-shaped leaves, or the row of tiny tooth-like spines running along the edge of each leaf fool you. Tiger tooth aloe is a real pussycat of a plant. Its spikes are softer than they look, and as far as daily care is concerned, this plant is as independent as a calico. Give it a sunny spot and occasional food and water, and your tiger tooth will purr like a kitten.
Quick Guide to Tiger Tooth Aloe
|Botanical name (Family)||Aloe juvenna (Asphodelaceae family)|
|Sun requirements||Full sun preferred, partial shade tolerated|
|Hardiness/Zone||Hardy in zones 9+|
|Water needs||Low; typical for a succulent|
|Toxicity||Mildly to moderately toxic|
|Primary growth season||Fall to spring, with a summer dormancy|
|Typical sizes||1 foot tall, a bit taller if leggy, spreading up to 2 feet wide|
Growing Requirements for Tiger Tooth Aloe
Where to Plant Aloe juvenna
Although aloe are popular outdoor plants in suitable growing zones, they can also grow well indoors. There are two essential steps to growing aloe successfully indoors:
First, choose small aloe species. Tiger tooth and many other aloe species like aloe vera are all from the same arid regions, so you might expect them to have similar needs, but that isn’t true.
Unlike medium to large aloe species that needs intense full-day sunlight, small aloes like tiger tooth are adapted to getting a bit less light because of their shorter stature.
Second, give your tiger tooth direct sunlight in a south-facing window. To be perfectly honest, I am growing a healthy aloe vera in a very large and bright north-facing window, so it is probably also possible for a tiger tooth, but we recommend a south-facing window to give your plant the best chance of success.
If you’re short on space in your south-facing windows, you can experiment. Try another window, and if your tiger tooth begins to get leggy, instead of growing in a compact rosette, you’ll know it needs more sunlight. You can move it to a south-facing window, add a sun lamp, or move it outside.
Note: Giving your tiger tooth plenty of sunlight can cause the tips to redden, like your tiger’s teeth are bloody from a recent snack, but this plant is also very attractive when its leaves are simply green with white specks.
Tiger tooth aloe can survive occasional, brief freezing, down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but don’t let that fool you. It is a heat-loving plant that won’t thrive in the ground anywhere colder than USDA growing zone 9.
That doesn’t mean you can’t grow them outdoors in cold locations, it only means you need to grow them in pots so you can move them inside to overwinter.
Note: A split indoor/outdoor schedule gives you a better chance of meeting your aloe’s sun and temperature needs than growing it indoors or outdoors alone.
Tiger tooth aloe strongly prefers at least a few hours of direct sunlight each day. This is important if you want it to develop the red tint on the leaves and produce its orange flowers. However, partial shade is fine, especially when they protect the plant from peak afternoon sun, because tiger tooth can suffer from sunburn under extreme conditions. You can minimize the risk of sunburn by transitioning your plant to direct sunlight gradually.
Tiger tooth is not on our list of pet-safe succulents, although some sources claim that it is safe. We err on the side of caution, and most aloes are mildly to moderately toxic to dogs and cats. Without specific evidence to the contrary from a good source, we would rather be safe than sorry.
You might think the tiger tooth’s spiky leaves would deter pets from eating them, but they are actually quite soft. However, this is not a plant that sheds a lot of leaves or other detritus your pet might eat, so access is the key factor. If you do decide to adopt both a pet and a tiger tooth, play it safe and keep the plant completely inaccessible to your pet.
Container and Soil
Aloes are from arid and semi-arid environments that get infrequent but heavy rainfall. Tiger tooth specifically is from an alpine region in Kenya, where the soil is rocky, with a fairly low proportion of organic matter. Since they are adapted to this ecosystem, tiger tooth needs its roots to dry out periodically or it will develop root rot and become vulnerable to pests and disease.
You can use a commercially available cactus/succulent-specific potting mix for your potted tiger tooth, especially if you mix it with some perlite, pumice, or gravel.
Note: Do not use typical potting soil, compost, or garden soil. These soils are all far too high in organic matter, which means they retain water for too long.
An even better option is to make your own potting mix. It is better for your succulents, better for the environment, and better for your pocketbook.
You don’t have to be strict about the ratios, but our favorite recipe is:
- One part coconut coir
- One part compost
- One part coarse sand
- One part perlite
As far as pots are concerned, once again the key is drainage. Use a pot with a good sized drainage hole, or check out our tips for adapting a pot without drainage for succulents. Terra cotta or other unglazed ceramic is ideal, as the pot can help absorb excess moisture.
Young tiger tooth plants are slow-growing, but when they mature, they will spread. If you grow a tiger tooth in a hanging pot, it can develop a trailing growth habit. Make sure to account for these growing habits when you choose a pot.
Like most cats, tiger tooth doesn’t want any more water than necessary. It originates in rocky, alpine soil in arid regions, where it never rains but it pours.
To simulate that pattern, we recommend using the “soak and dry” method of watering. This requires a pot with drainage. The key is to drench the soil but let it drain fully, making sure no water collects in the plant’s saucer.
Then wait until the soil is totally dried out before watering again. Because this plant needs watering so infrequently, you might find it useful to use our tracking card for watering, fertilizing, and other succulent care.
Note: Take care to add water directly to the potting mix, rather than pouring water onto the plant’s leaves. Their cupped shape can trap water and cause the leaf or stem to rot.
Tiger tooth goes dormant in the summer, meaning that it either stops growing entirely or slows down substantially. This means it will need even less water in the summer than you might expect, but you will still need to water occasionally. Let it dry out completely, but don’t make it stay dry too long.
Aloe juvenna Fertilizer and Maintenance
We recommend that you repot your tiger tooth when you first bring it home. It is slow-growing, especially initially, so you shouldn’t need to repot it more than every few years.
Repotting when you bring the plant home is a good idea so that you can replace the potting mix with an appropriate mix for succulents, preferably home-made, with lots of sand and stone.
Note: When you’re repotting, check for rotten roots or disease. If you find any, cut off that part of the roots before replanting.
You don’t need to bother fertilizing in the first year after you repot, as the fresh soil will have plenty of nutrients. In subsequent years, you can fertilize minimally, perhaps a couple of times a year during the growing season.
Don’t fertilize at all during the summer dormancy, as the nutrients won’t be absorbed and could burn your plant’s roots.
We strongly recommend using an organic, succulent-specific fertilizer. Follow the package instructions regarding dilution. If you do use a chemical liquid fertilizer, dilute to at most half of the recommended strength (quarter-strength is best). A balanced NPK is best. Some people like using a tomato fertilizer on occasion for an extra boost of calcium.
Other than that, this plant doesn’t require any consistent maintenance. You can pinch off dead leaves if you’d like to.
Aloes have a convenient habit of reproducing themselves, without you going to any additional effort. There are two different easy ways to propagate your tiger tooth aloe.
First, a healthy tiger tooth will create offsets, often near the base but also higher up on the plant. Each of these can be propagated. But since it is advantageous for your pup to have some roots of its own, we recommend using offsets at the base. You can still use rootless offsets – provided that you propagate them properly.
Check out our propagation guide for a more detailed explanation of how to propagate offsets.
Second, if you have a mature tiger tooth that you’ve allowed to spread, you can easily propagate it by division:
- Remove it from the pot and shake off excess soil
- Use a sharp, sterile knife if needed to divide the plant
- Then repot each section into a suitable pot.
Depending on who you ask, it is difficult or impossible to propagate an aloe from a leaf cutting. My own experiment with propagating aloe vera leaves confirms this.
After nine months the leaves are still healthy, and have grown small roots, but they are not producing additional leaves. Reportedly, stem cuttings are more viable than leaves, but the success rate will be lower than with offset propagation. Seeds are also an option.
Common Tiger Tooth Problems
Like most succulents, tiger tooth aloe is resilient and low maintenance, but there are a few problems to watch out for.
- Leaves point downward instead of up: You may not actually have an Aloe juvenna, which is easy to mix up with its doppelganger cousin, Aloe squarrosa. While their shape, coloring, and pattern is similar, Aloe squarrosa leaves are flat and curl downward at the tips, like a tiger’s claws, while tiger tooth leaves are more cupped and pointed upward, like the teeth on a tiger’s lower jaw. However, it is more common for tiger tooth to be mislabeled as Aloe squarrosa than vice versa.
- Stretching: If your tiger tooth becomes leggy, meaning that the leaves are not compact, so the sections of the stem are visible, you need to move it to a location with more sunlight.
- Rough brown patches on leaves: Although this plant likes lots of heat and sunlight, it can become sunburned under two conditions: if it is in direct sun all day in an extreme environment, or if it was living in a shadier environment and was moved to strong direct sunlight too abruptly. Acclimatize plants to a new environment as gradually as possible.
- Squishy leaves: Your plant is likely suffering from overwatering, lack of drainage, or both.
- No flowers: The coral-orange flowers on the tiger tooth are attractive, but unpredictable. Lots of sunlight is important, but even with sufficient sunlight there is no guarantee plants will produce flowers. Do not expect flowers on an indoor plant.
- Pests: Tiger tooth can become infested with aphids or mealybugs, especially if it is already unhealthy due to overwatering.
For other tips, check our succulent care or diagnosing and curing problems with your succulent.
Domesticate A Tiger Tooth
Some people call a cat a “starter dog” because of their relative ease of care. Likewise, tiger tooth is a good starter houseplant. As long as you can give it plenty of sunlight and avoid overwatering, this plant is resilient, low-maintenance, and eye-catching, perfect for the beginning gardener.