Aloe Vera , known as the healing plant, is easy to care for indoors or in the garden. It is a drought tolerant succulent which grows well in dry shade to part sun. Its bright green stalks grow up to 1 foot long and up to 2 inches thick They usually have creamy white stripes or dots along the leaves. Aloe plants grow upright and spread with time by creating clumping offsets. Perennial aloe produces dramatic, bright orange flowers on long stalks in the spring and summer. Used medicinally aloe vera gel is beneficial for burns, minor cuts, scrapes, insect bites and other skin irritations.
Water-wise aloe is great for xeriscaping in dry gardens with other succulents and cacti. They don't mind heat as long as they don't get too much sun. Aloe does best in light or dappled shade on the porch or on the windowsill. It is even reliable in dry shade. One to two hours of direct sun is plenty. Dark brown or orange spots on the leaves is a sign of sunburn. Aloe vera is easy to care for and only needs water once a month or when the stalks become shriveled. Planted in the ground, it can tolerate more drought and will grow slightly larger. Aloes are cold hardy to about 45 degrees. Mine have survived a light dusting of frost, but they have overhead protection. I wouldn't leave them outdoor in the open if Jack Frost visits your area frequently. Indoors, they are suited to the hot dry conditions of the average home. They will tolerate a few hours of sun a day, but should be fine anywhere with lots of bright, indirect sunlight.
Aloe vera plants form offset pups and will eventually become a clump. Mine started out in a small 4" pot from the nursery. Normally, you should repot plants in a slightly larger pot. But I planted my aloe in a huge 12" pot, knowing it would fill in. Who has time to repot their plants all the time? To keep the pot from looking empty, I planted a small trailing succulent around the edges. They have similar cultivation needs, so they get along great and look terrific. You can see an aloe vera picture and even download the wallpaper on my succulent webpage at theGardenPages.com. After the first year, my aloe created lots of offsets and filled in the pot nicely. The new shoots are easy to tease out from the main plant so I can repot them or give them to friends.
Aloe vera is famous for its healing benefits and is commonly grown in kitchen gardens to help with minor burns and other skin problems. To use aloe, work with one inch chunks cut from the tips of the leaves. Peel off the spines and cut open the chunk. Squeeze out the aloe juice and pulp onto sunburns or other skin irritations. Spread it around with your fingers or the aloe peel. It will feel cold on burns. The juice may feel sticky at first, but will eventually dry out, leaving a slight green tint. Apply 1 - 2 times a day to cool off burns and help heal skin. I was amazed at how well it worked on my baby's diaper rash when nothing else helped. First, I'd slather the skin with aloe gel, then put the remaining pulp into his diaper and wrap it all up like a little burrito. Usually the rash was cleared up in a few hours. Fresh is best, studies suggest aloe starts to loose its properties within an hour of picking.
Healing aloe vera is an easy to grow plant indoors or out, with outstanding health benefits and makes a great addition to any garden.
Laura Zinkan tends a gardening website at http://www.theGardenPages.com where you can read growing tips and lore about succulents and native plants. Drop by to smell the flowers, see lots of photos and even download garden wallpapers. Laura is a busy mom with a small yard in southern California so she expects a lot out of her plants. She also has a site called http://www.AngelCityArt.com where you can share her vision of Los Angeles and California with photos and essays. Copyright © 2005 by Laura Zinkan. Proper credit must be given with reprints of this article. All rights reserved under U. S. and international law.