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Description

 

Aloe is succulent native to Africa with hundreds of species other than the most common Aloe Vera. Some types have large trunks that can get to be as high as ten feet. Many of the other species have some similar health benefits but none rival the “true aloe” (Vera is Latin for “true”).

Aloe in a small pot

Light and temperature

 

As a desert native the aloe plant requires quite a bit of light. Full sun is recommended so try placing on a windowsill that gets direct sunlight for at least a few hours per day. If you are growing the aloe outside then direct sun all day may be too much so put it in a partly shady spot and just bring it inside if the leaves start to get sunburned.

The only temperature restriction for aloe is that you cannot let it freeze. So much water is stored in the succulent leaves that any freezing and there will be basically no chance of survival. Other than that even temperatures up to one hundred degrees should be fine.

 

Watering

 

Even more than other succulents the aloe needs a very minimal amount of water, once a week at the most generally. In the winter the plant will go dormant and you may not have to water more than once a month. Aloe can be very sensitive to forced air heating or air conditioning so position them away from vents.

 

Medium

 

In the wild aloe can grow with almost no soil. When choosing a container a porous clay pot will be the best. You will need a free draining medium such as crushed limestone added to a standard cactus or succulent mix about 50-50. To promote more drainage layer the bottom of the pot with small stones.  To make your own medium mix you can use 2 parts sand, 1 part perlite, 1 part sphagnum peat or coir, 1 part humus and add 1 T dolomite limestone per quart.  For a soilless mix you can use 1 part sphagnum peat or coir, 1 part perlite and 2 parts coarse sand.

 

Pruning and Propagation

 

Instead of pruning aloe remove an outer leaf and harvest the gel from the fleshy part inside. If you just need a little take the cutting and squeeze the base (just above the cut) gently. There are three parts to an Aloe Vera leaf, the outer skin, the “Aloin” layer (aloin is a latex substance and is not the same as the gel, it is sometimes referred to as “juice”. Aloin is used as a laxative.), and the fleshy inner part where the gel comes from. The gel is stored in the cells of the inner part of the leaf so to harvest it scrape the inside with a knife or fork to rupture the cells and the gel will ooze out. If you don’t use the entire leaf you can refrigerate the rest for a few days to a week. If you need more than a little you can take a leaf cutting and stand it vertically in a glass for a few minutes to drain the aloin, then cut the leaf in half and spoon out the center into a bowl, lastly press down on the pile of gel with the spoon to break the cells open. You can then use it topically or put it in a smoothie for ingestion.

 

Problems and Pests

 

As with most succulents aloe plants are susceptible to some common houseplant pests such as scale, mealybugs (actually a type of scale), and spider mites. For the most part all of these can be taken care of with a soapy water spray. Sometimes you might want to employ an insecticidal agent, if so a powdered version will be less damaging to your aloe. Aloe are very sensitive to chemicals. Scale is not to be taken lightly.  If it gets out of control -get rid of the plant.  Many scales secrete a sticky substance that can be damaging to your furniture and even your house.

Root rot is also a common problem with succulents and can be caused by pests or by over watering. To solve this, remove the plant from the pot and clean the roots thoroughly. Re-pot in fresh medium and your plant should make it.

 

Re-potting

 

Aloes like most succulents need a free draining soil and a pot (preferably unglazed ceramic or clay for better evaporation) with good drainage. It is likely that your new aloe plant will not come in a pot like this so re-pot when you first get it. Other than this you should not have to re-pot your aloe for quite a while. When it becomes root bound it will start to create pups or baby plants that can be separated from the main plant. This is the ideal time; you will need the new pot, fresh medium, and a sharp knife.

Start by removing the root ball from the existing pot, remove the excess dirt and fluff the roots a bit. Try to distinguish where the pups are and at this point you can cut away some of the smaller roots that form the tangled outer mass, this will stimulate deeper and wider root growth.

Next cut the plantlets from the mother with the knife. You can plant these all in separate containers or make a larger terrarium using all of the newly separated pups.

Finish with the standard potting method of filling the pot 2/3 of the way, placing the plant at the desired height and filling the rest of the pot around the plant, gently tamping as you go.

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