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Growing easy-care Aloe vera, nature’s burn ointment

Aloe vera plants grow best in sunny windows away from cold drafts. Photo from MelindaMyers.com.

Grow your own burn ointment by adding Aloe vera to your indoor plant collection. This succulent has been used for centuries to treat superficial burns, cuts, sunburns, and more.

The gel inside the leaves is the medicinal part of the plant. Just cut away the outer part of the leaf and use just the gel on the problem areas. Make sure to remove the latex plant sap located between the outer layer (skin) of the leaf and the gel that can cause skin irritation. It is always best to test a small area of your skin first.

You may have read about Aloe vera being used in beverages and desserts. Properly prepare the aloe before consuming. Make sure to remove the latex and use only the gel to avoid cramps, diarrhea, and stomach upset. Keep Aloe vera plants out of the reach of children, cats, and dogs.

Plant Aloe vera in a container with drainage holes. Consider using a clay pot that allows the soil to thoroughly dry between watering and prevent larger often top-heavy plants from tipping over. Use a pot as wide as it is deep whenever possible to accommodate the spreading nature of this plant.

Cover the drainage hole with a coffee filter or piece of paper towel. This prevents the potting mix from leaking out the drainage holes after planting. Use a well-drained cacti and succulent potting mix.

Grow this plant in a sunny window along with your other cacti and succulents. South and unobstructed east or west-facing windows are usually the best. Set it under artificial lights if a brightly lit location is not available.

Water thoroughly whenever the top third of the soil is dry. Avoid applying water over the center of the plant where it can collect between the leaves and lead to rot. Pour off excess water that collects in the saucer.

Prevent early death of your plant by avoiding waterlogged soil. Watering too often or allowing the pot to sit in excess water can lead to root rot and the death of the plant. You will need to water less often in winter when days are shorter, light intensity is lower and plant growth is limited.

Keep plants away from cold drafts and temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit that can damage the plants. Northern gardeners may need to move the plants back a bit from the window in winter as outside temperatures drop.

Clean leaves occasionally with a damp rag. This removes any dust that may collect on the leaves and helps reduce the risk of insect pests such as mealy bugs and aphids. These plants are sensitive to many chemicals so check the label and test a leaf before treating the whole plant if additional treatment is needed.

Watch for small plants to form at the base of the original plant. You can use these offsets, often called plantlets or pups, to start new plants to grow or share with others. Use a sharp knife to separate the small plants, roots and all, from the parent plant. Repot the offsets in small containers just an inch or two larger than the remaining root system.

Enjoy the beauty and medicinal benefits of this easy-care plant. Then consider gifting a few to your favorite gardeners and cooks.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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