Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
January, 2002
Regional Report

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Aloes look great, purify the air, and soothe and heal minor burns.

Amazing Aloe

In addition to love and a working bathroom, I think that no home should be without an aloe plant. The way aloe's leaf sap heals minor burns is nothing short of amazing. And even when the plant is simply sitting in a windowsill, it helps purify the air. Now that's what I call an essential houseplant.

Understanding Aloe

Scientists aren't sure how fresh aloe gel works on minor burns, but even the American Pharmaceutical Association agrees that aloe is effective. When you pluck a leaf and squeeze the sap onto a little kitchen burn, aloe is thought to deliver a three-way punch. Some compounds stimulate blood flow to the injured skin, others relieve inflammation, and a third group deters bacteria and fungi that might cause infection. Fresh leaves work best, which is why it's so rewarding to have an aloe in a pot, always ready when the need arises.

Some people take various aloe products internally for intestinal ailments, but this use is controversial. Personally, I save my aloe leaves for those times when I get too close to hot things, and I'm always impressed with the results.

Growing Aloe

The most potent species, Aloe barbadensis, which everyone calls Aloe vera, is incredibly easy to grow. This time of year, aloe plants grow very little, almost as though they are semi-dormant. Because aloe plants prefer dry soil, I like growing them in porous clay pots, in any gritty potting soil. In winter, most plants need watering only about once a week.

The situation is different from April to October, when aloe plants grow vigorously. Feed plants monthly in the summer, but do allow the soil in the containers to dry out between waterings. I like to pot up little offshoots in late summer, and I keep one of these babies close at hand in the kitchen. My mother plants I leave outdoors in filtered shade until nights drop into the 40-degree range in the fall. In winter, they live quite happily in a west-facing window.

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