Aloe vera is an easy houseplant

February 5, 2012 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Of the almost 500 species of aloes in the world, the most well-known is aloe vera, also called Aloe barbadensis. You are probably familiar with aloe vera gel that is sold to soothe sunburn. Aloe vera juice is sold in health food stores, and while it tastes pretty awful, it has many health benefits. Both these products come from the aloe vera plant.
Aloes are succulent plants that store water in their leaves, stems and roots. They are composed of almost 95% water, so it’s easy to see why they won’t survive outdoors in Wisconsin winters and are considered houseplants.
Aloe vera plants have bright green fat, fleshy, elongated leaves spiraling out from a stem so short as to be unnoticeable. Leaf edges are serrated and some varieties have white flecks on the leaves.
Aloes are best purchased at nurseries or taken as divisions from a friend. They have a shallow, spreading root system, so a wide pot, rather than a deep one is best. Make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom. When potting, the roots should take up about 2/3 of the pot space. Otherwise there won’t be sufficient roots to take up the water held in the soil and the plant will sit in wet soil and will not thrive.
Use a gritty potting mix – one especially for cactuses is best. Otherwise, use a general potting soil, but add some peat, perlite, vermiculite, and/or builder’s sand to increase the grittiness of the mix.
Place the pot in a bright spot, but not necessarily in direct sunlight.
Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. A thorough watering once a week is sufficient.
Aloe vera is relatively slow growing, so it won’t need to be repotted for a year or even two. You’ll know it is time to repot when the plant becomes top heavy and tilts to the side. About the same it, it will begin sprouting offsets, or pups, that can be separated from the mother plant when they are 3-4” tall and planted in their own containers.
Aloe is very easy to grow, and thrives on neglect. However, here are some signs of trouble and the reasons for them: If leaves lie flat instead of growing upright, there is insufficient light. If leaves are thin and curled, there is insufficient water. If leaves are brown there is too much direct sunlight. The main problem, though, is too much water. Overwatering produces leaves that are dull in color and soft. If this happens, just let the soil dry out completely and then water lightly for a while.
Many people keep an aloe vera plant in their home to use in case of burns. Cut a leaf off the base of the plant with a knife or scissors, slice it lengthwise and apply the gel inside directly to the burn. The gel also helps relieve itching from stings, bites and hives.


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