In the Garden:
Middle South
February, 2013
Regional Report

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Grown in bright, indirect light, aloe vera is a happy camper indoors.

Easy-to-Grow Aloe Vera

Those who know me well will not be surprised to hear that I'm not the caretaker of a large collection of houseplants. I dress my home with plants much the way I dress myself -- for the occasion at hand -- and then I'm ready for a change. There is one houseplant among the many, however, that I remain faithful to, and that plant is aloe vera.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), a succulent probably native to northern Africa, is a pretty plant with plump, sword-like leaves that contain a soothing sap that is widely used on insect bites, mild burns, and other skin irritations. I grow mine in a kitchen window with bright, indirect light and water it just frequently enough to keep the soil lightly moist.

When needed for relief from an itch or burn, I cut a leaf from the base of the plant and squeeze its gel from the foliage. But I'm also loyal to this houseplant because I simply love its spiky form of green fleshy spears dotted with white flecks and white teeth along serrated edges.

Best of all, aloe vera is extremely easy to grow. If I can keep this indoor plant healthy, you can too. Here's a brief tutorial on how start a new plant from an offset.

  • Select an offset at the base of a mother plant that is about 2-inches tall and slice it away, cutting as close to its base as possible.

  • Allow the cut end of the baby plant to scab over by setting it aside for a few days in a cool, dry place, or until the plant is no longer oozing sap.

  • Choose a pot with excellent drainage that is shallow rather than an upright, as aloe likes to spread its roots to the side, and fill it with a cacti-mix potting soil, or a standard potting soil that is amended with a quarter measure of sand.

  • Dibble a shallow hole in the potting mix and slide the offset about an inch into the soil, adding more mix as need to firm the plant in place.

  • Irrigate well and do not water again until nearly dry. Place the new plant in a sunny, warm location and watch it grow.

  • For continuing care, fertilize lightly (half strength) once a year at the beginning of the growing season. The plant is happy indoors year round but can be moved outside in summer if care is taken to prevent sunburn. Aloe is not happy in cool weather and will be killed by freezing temperatures.


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