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Aloe Vera- The Giving Plant

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

By Melissa Wold, Mobile County Master Gardener

Hi, readers. My name is Liliacea. You’re welcome to call me Aloe. I have many cousins within my succulent family.

Arborescens or tree aloe is the giant of our clan, growing to eighteen feet. He has branching stems that carry big clumps of gray-green, spiny-edged leaves. He flowers during the winter with spiky clusters of bright vermillion to clear yellow blooms. He’s also a true beach bum, tolerating salt spray.

Another member is Saponaria (soapwort), a short-stemmed broad clumping variety. Her flowers range from orange-red to shrimp pink. She is a hardy bloomer. Her leaves are broad, thick with white spots. She’s sociable, often forming large clumps. You may need to break up the party by separating her from time to time.

Aloe variegata includes the siblings, partridge-breast aloe and tiger aloe. These cuties grow to twelve inches. They have triangular rosettes of fleshy, dark-green leaves, strikingly banded, and edged with white. They produce loose clusters of pink to dull-red flowers blooming intermittently throughout the year.

Aloe vera (Ah, me, at last!), also known as medicinal aloe or Barbados aloe, is stemless or short stemmed with thick, greenish, fleshy leaves fanning out from my center stem. My leaf margin is serrated with small teeth. I make a great indoor companion, and the juice from my leaves can be used to relieve pain from scrapes and burns.

Now that you have met me and some of my family, let me guide you in how to grow and care for me.

I need a location offering bright, indirect sunlight. Artificial light is also okay. I’m not partial to sustained, direct sunlight because it causes me to dry out too much and turns my leaves yellow. Yellow leaves diminish my healing properties.

Plant me in the appropriate container. I prefer terra cotta pots or ones with a similar porous material. My home needs at least one hole in the bottom, allowing excess water to drain. This prevents my dying from rot. The pot should be as wide as deep. I need a soil specifically formulated for succulents containing perlite, lava rock and chunks of bark.

When you move me to my new home, brush away excess dirt from my roots. Careful! Don’t damage them. Fill my container about a third of the way with potting mix. Place me in the soil. Continue filling in soil around me leaving at least ¾ of an inch space between top of soil and pot’s rim. My bottom leaves should rest just above the soil. Don’t water me after planting. I can be ignored for a week. I won’t be offended. In fact, I’ll be quite happy in my warm, indirect light.

Being low maintenance, I don’t need a lot of watering or feeding. My preferred temperature is 55-80 degrees. I can live outside during warm months, but I cannot tolerate cold temperatures, so please bring me inside during winter months. Fertilize me sparingly, no more than once a month and only during spring and summer. You can use a balanced houseplant formula at half strength. Water me deeply but infrequently. Allow the top third of my soil to dry out before watering. A beneficial routine is watering every 2-3 weeks in spring and summer and every 4-6 weeks in fall and winter.

If I am kept indoors, I probably won’t bloom; however, in perfect conditions, I may surprise you with a flower spike of tubular yellow or red blossoms. I may also give you “pups,” clones from the mother plant which can be separated and planted to grow another family of aloe.

I am susceptible to mealy bugs and scale. My most common diseases include root rot, soft rot, fungus stem rot, and leaf rot.

To use my healing gel, remove a mature leaf, cutting it lengthwise. Squeeze the gel from the leaf and apply it to burns. You can also place the opened leaf directly to your skin. Do not ingest as it can cause nausea or indigestion and be toxic when swallowed in large amounts. Keep away from pets.

Whether you buy me for my grace or healing powers, I know I will be a great addition to your plant family. Come visit and adopt me and my succulent cousins at Mobile Botanical Gardens’ Fall Plant Sale. On-line sales begin October 8, with in-person shopping October 22 and 23. Until then, A-Loe-A

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