Aloe Vera

The aloe vera has a well established reputation as having medicinal properties. Aloes are semi-tropical and will not tolerate freezing conditions. However with sufficient light they do well indoors. Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) is just one of over 250 species of aloe, most of them endemic to Africa. It is short and thick-stemmed with fleshy leaves. It is classed as a succulent.

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The sap is a thick, mucilaginous gel. Aloe vera has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties. The gel brings almost instant relief to minor irritations. Snap off a piece of a leaf and apply the gel to the affected area. It has a cooling, soothing effect on insect bites, minor burns and rashes. The juice from the aloe is also used in a variety of commercial preparations.

In warm climates, the plant can be grown outdoors in full sun or light shade. They like a well-drained soil and reasonably fertile soil. Too wet a soil mix will result in rotting. In hot climates, a dappled shady position is to be preferred as full sun can result in burnt leaves.

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Being a succulent, a large amount of water is stored in the leaves and root system. During winter months, watering should be minimal as very little water will be  utilised at this time. Allow the plant to completely dry out between waterings. In summer, soak thoroughly then allow to dry out again.

The root system of aloes is shallow and spreading so plant in a wide pot rather than a deep one. Several cm of gravel in the base of the pot will provide good drainage. Fill the pot with a commercial cacti mix soil or add extra perlite, grit or coarse sand to a normal potting mix. Feed annually with a half strength bloom type fertiliser.

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Many of the aloe plants sold in nurseries will be hybrids. As such, they are tough and hardy. Occasional feedings with dolomite will benefit your aloe plant. In the absence of dolomite, 1/2 a teaspoon of Epsom salts and 1 teaspoon of lime can be mixed and applied once a month over the wet season. This helps maximise levels of calcium and magnesium.

Aloes are an easy-care plant. The only real problems that may be encountered when growing aloes are rotting by over-watering and infestation by ants. Ants carry aphids into the crevices of the plant. This will cause the plant to rot.

Aloes produce new, small plants (offsets) round the base of mature plants. Once these are several inches high, they can be carefully removed and potted on in freely draining, lightly packed sandy soil to become new plants. Aloes can also be grown from seed.