Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to Grow and Care for Healing Aloe Vera Plants

Aloe Vera, known as the healing plant, is easy to care for indoors or in the garden. It is a drought tolerant succulent plant which grows well in dry shade to part sun.

Aloes have bright green stalks that grow up to 1 foot long and up to 2 inches thick They usually have creamy white stripes or dots along the leaves.

Aloe vera 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 vera 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 in the kitchen. 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. Indoors, aloe prefer bright, indirect sunlight. If they are getting sun in a window, keep an eye on them for brown spots. You can either move the plant further away from the window, or give it a screen.

Aloe vera is easy to care for and usually 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.

Aloe plants 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. Dark, shriveled stalks are a sign of frost damage on these succulent plants.

Indoors, aloe vera plants are suited to the hot dry conditions of the average home and make excellent houseplants. 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 of plants. 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 plant in a huge 12" pot, knowing it would fill in. Who has time to repot their plants all the time? They are easy to pull away from the mother plant, so you can give them to friends or spread them around the garden.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Gall On Some Plants, My Orange Tree Specifically

I have a nice sized gall growing on my orange tree.

It forms where the rootstock was grafted to the top of the tree.

Every year it sends out growth. It has to be removed but there's a trick to doing it.

Here's my orange tree with a bunch of branches starting on the base of the tree.

We're just going to pull them off. Not cut. Something about cutting makes the plant want to over compensate and send up MORE branches and shoots.

Here's a closeup photo of the gall with the first few pulled off.

I just do it with my bare hands, But the orange branches have BIG thorns so keep an eye out.

I just bend them to the side and they come off pretty easily.

You can go up farther on the branches if you like your tree to be bare on the bottom. Just no cutting!

Here's my clean root gall all done. There may be a few more sprouts to take off, but it seems to do one bug spurt in the spring.

At the top of the gall you can see a dead branch and a few smaller ones.

These were the result of my cutting a sprout. I'm afraid if I cut it, it will start sprouting again.

If you must cut make it a messy cut. I know you're normally supposed to make a nice clean cut the plant can recover from, but that will stimulate more growth.

Try to cut and break a little. If you do stimulate growth, it shouldn't be as bad, and you can just pull those off.

Good luck!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Window Plant Haworthia Blooms

My haworthia is blooming. It sends up these sci-fi looking stalks that open into tiny white flowers. It took so long for my first plants to bloom that now I get excited to see them in the early spring.

I just love these succulent little gems and this plant seems to have developed a cult following among succulent gardeners.

Haworthia succulent plants have fat, short leafs with stripes or dots on the outside and jelly-like leaf centers.

This guy has been outside in the shade. It's looking a little light in color, normally it's a darker green. I'm putting him in dappled shade to see if it gets darker.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Crassula Plant Rescue Update

As you may recall, I rescued a crassula succulent plant from the store. Unfortunately he suffered a cruel attack by a weed-whacker.

I decided I needed to continue his saga, for good or bad. I was pretty sure since it was a succulent he'd recover. Also, I still have the roots in the container, which comes in handy when all you have is a stump.

Anyway, last month, when we last left our intrepid crassula, there was one chopped off leaf. In screenwriter lingo this is known as Apparent Defeat. Like when Frodo and Sam are suck on the rock in the lava flow. But it just makes the victory all the better in the end.

I decided to leave him in the pot. He's been through enough trauma for now. As you can see, the crassula has started sprouting leafs at the bottom of the one stump. The chopped off leaf has healed completely. It won't grow back the top part tho.

And on the left, there's a little nub of a branch left. There's a tiny bit of green starting. Hopefully by next month it will be a whole leaf!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Yellow Flowering Cactus Pear Blooming

My cactus pear is flowering! I can't wait for the pears.

Here's a little piece I wrote for my main garden website:

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) are useful in the landscape for dramatic impact, adding a southwestern feel to any landscape. Opuntia cactus also have edible pads and provide the red cactus pears of commerce. This cactus variety grows wild in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Prickly pear cactus have deep green branching pads, grow up to 15 feet tall and as wide around in as little as 5 years. The oval cactus pads can be up to three feet long and over a foot across.

In spring Opuntia ficus-indica gets stunning bright yellow to orange flowers measuring 3 to 5 inches across. These turn into pinkish red, edible prickly pears. Over time these cacti form brown, woody trunks. Most Opuntia varieties are not fussy about soil conditions, are cold hardy to 30 degrees below zero and many also have edible pears and pads. Cattle are also known to have a taste for Opuntia cactus and in some parts of the world it is used as feed.

Outdoors, prickly pears look especially good in silhouette against a sunset. They also make very effective security barriers. They can take regular pruning to maintain shape. Always cut at the joints, where the two pads meet. Cuttings can easily be rooted by burying part of a pad in moist, well drained soil. Opuntia species have also been known to take root where pads have fallen on the ground.

Indoors, Opuntia cactus can be grown in pots but they generally don't grow to more than a few feet tall. They do best in full sunlight with very little water. No cacti like to be over watered and they will rot if they remain in saturated soil. Water sparingly and improve soil drainage in areas that receive a lot of rain. My cactus lets me know when it needs water with thin pads and droopy tips. One year we got over 20 inches of rain and the pads swelled up with so much moisture they broke off under their own weight.

The cactus pads do not have prominent thorns. Instead, they have clumps of small, hair-like needles. It is very easy to get the needles painfully lodged in your skin just by brushing against the pads. Usually the only way to get them out is with tweezers and a magnifying glass. It is recommend to use tongs, a large fork, or cardboard to handle any part of cactus. You should also wear leather gloves or two layers of cotton gloves. The gloves will need to be checked for thorns though, so you may want to avoid handling cacti using your hands.


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