If you only have a little space in your garden, or perhaps even just a balcony or a sunny windowsill, you should definitely try growing some Aloe vera. Easy to care for, aesthetically pleasing, and very useful, these plants have been a fixture in hot climate gardens for a long time.
Aloe vera is a succulent perennial evergreen plant that originates in the arid, hot climate of the Arabian Peninsula, which means it is ideally suited for dry, semi-desert conditions, and does very well with frugal watering. Keep your plant in well-drained soil and allow it to drain thoroughly between waterings. Aloe vera does great as a potted plant or planted directly in the soil. You will probably need to water more often if you keep your plant in a pot, though.
Most gardening guides say that aloe vera does best in full sun, but I have found that in a very hot climate such as ours, with many hours of glaring sunlight each day, my aloe plants get burned in full sun and the tips of their leaves dry up. I keep mine in dappled shade underneath a large mango tree, and they thrive that way.
Aloe propagates by offshoots, which means that once your mother plant is big enough, you will have new little plants growing from the bottom. Make sure you have enough room for them all, as they can multiply really fast once they get going! To separate the young plants, dig gently around the roots, reach down and, moving the roots around, disengage the offshoot from the mother plant. If you grow your aloe in a pot and the offshoots are close to the pot’s sides, you might have to remove the whole cluster of plants, separate the young ones, and put the mother plant back in.
You can also try collecting aloe vera seeds. The plant has tall, impressive flower stalks with multiple yellow-orange blossoms. Once the flowers dry up completely, you can collect and germinate the seeds, but I have never bothered, because offshoots are by far the easiest way to get more plants.
A small pot with a young aloe vera plant can be a great gift to neighbors and friends. I like to give mine away to whoever happens to stop by, and always have plants to spare.
Aloe vera gel has wonderful cooling and soothing properties. Use it on burns or insect bites to reduce itching and swelling. I like to keep a few aloe vera leaves in the freezer and use them as needed. The gel quickly defrosts when applied to the bite or burn, providing the additional soothing comfort of cold.
Image source: Creative Commons
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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