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20 Sep 2014

How to Grow and Care for Aloe Vera Plants


Aloe barbadensis


An Aloe Vera Plant in Bloom, Aloe barbadensis There are over 250 species of Aloes in the world, mostly native to Africa. They range in size from little one inch miniatures to massive plant colonies consisting of hundreds of 2 foot diameter plants.
Although most Aloes have some medicinal or commercial value, the most commonly known is the Aloe barbadensis... better known as the Aloe Vera.
All Aloes are semi tropical succulent plants, and may only be grown outdoors in areas where there is no chance of freezing (USDA zones 10-11). However, they make excellent house plants when they are given sufficient light. Container grown Aloe plants benefit from spending their summer outdoors. Older specimens may even bloom, producing a tall stock covered with bright colored coral flowers.
The nectar from Aloe flowers is a favorite food for hummingbirds!

Growing Requirements for Aloe Vera Plants


Because Aloe Vera plants are very succulent and consist of 95% water, they are extremely frost tender. If they are grown outdoors in warm climates, they should be planted in full sun, or light shade. The soil should be moderately fertile, and fast draining. Established plants will survive a drought quite well, but for the benefit of the plant, water should be provided.
Because of their popularity, Aloe vera plants are available at almost every garden shop or nursery. Unless you live in area with a very mild climate, it's best to leave your Aloe plant in the pot and place it near a window that gets a lot of sun.
You can move the pot outdoors during the summer months. Aloe Vera is a succulent, and as such, stores a large quantity of water within its leaves and root system. During the winter months, the plant will become somewhat dormant, and utilize very little moisture. During this period watering should be minimal. Allow the soil to become completely dry before giving the plant a cup or two of water.
During the summer months, the soil should be completely soaked, but then be allowed to dry again before re-watering. Aloes have a shallow, spreading root system so when it is time to repot choose a wide planter, rather than a deep one. Use a planter with a drainage hole, or provide a 1-2 inch layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot to ensure adequate drainage. Use a good commercial potting mix with extra perlite, granite grit, or coarse sand added. You may also use a packaged 'cacti mix' soil. Fertilize yearly, in the spring with half strength, bloom type fertilizer (10-40-10). Aloe Vera plants are propagated by removing the offsets which are produced around the base of mature plants, when they are a couple inches tall (or larger). They can also be grown from seed.

The Medicinal Properties of Aloe Vera


The medicinal properties of Aloe vera have been known and recorded since biblical times. It has been used for a variety of ailments, and as an ointment for burns, cuts, and rashes, as well as an ingredient in various beauty preparations.
The sap of the Aloe is a thick, mucilaginous gel. It is this gel which is used medicinally. The outer skin has essentially no value, but because it is commercially easier and less expensive to utilize the entire leaf, 'whole leaf' Aloe juice has been hyped as the 'best'. This is not the case.

Using Aloe Vera Gel


As to the claims of the medicinal properties of the Aloe plant, I can only speak from my personal experience. I have kept an Aloe plant around for years, primarily for burns.
In case of burns, an immediate application of fresh gel has relieved much of the pain, and prevented blistering for me, many times.
I also found it to be quite effective to relieve itching from stings, bites and various 'stinging' plants, such as poison ivy.
Aloe gel is also good for the same problems when they are encountered by your pets.
When you need to use it medicinally, just remove a lower leaf from the plant, slice it open, and apply the gel on the affected area.

How to Grow and Care for African Violets


African Violets were first collected from eastern Africa and Tasmania in the late nineteenth century. Their attractive, velvety foliage, compact growing habit and wide variety of long blooming flower colors have made the African Violet the most popular flowering house plant in the world.
There are twenty species and thousands of hybrid African Violets in cultivation today.
Unfortunately African Violets are only hardy in USDA zones 11-12 where they should be planted in moderately moist, rich, well draining soil in partial shade.

Growing Requirements of the African Violet


African violets need about fourteen hours of bright, indirect light each day for the best flowering.
It may be necessary to provide supplemental light for them by using a Gro-Light, especially during the winter months.
They should be planted in the smallest possible container because they need to be somewhat root bound to bloom.
Grow them in a rich soil mix containing 1 part potting soil, 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite or coarse sand. If you prefer, there are also many specialty mix African Violet soils also available.
They should be fed monthly when in growth, but it must be with a fertilizer
formulated specifically for African Violets because they require a soil acidifier
and certain trace elements that aren't available with an all purpose food.
The A V food will take care of these specific needs.
The chlorine used in public water systems can be deadly to many houseplants.
This is especially true with African Violets.
Tiny the Garden Gnome
I always recommend that you fill your watering container, and let it sit for a minimum of 24 hours.
The chlorine will have dissipated by then, making it somewhat more safe for your plants.
The water will also be at room temperature, which is much less of a shock to the plant. When watering African Violets, take care to keep water off of the foliage, flowers and crown of the plant.
Bottom watering is the best method, but never leave your plants sitting in water for more than an hour or so.
This can quickly cause crown rot which is fatal.
African Violets like a great deal of humidity (40-60%) but not wet leaves and stems, so misting is not an option.
Setting the pots onto water splashed, pebble filled trays will often solve this problem, as will having an aquarium in the near proximity.
Spent flowers should be removed as soon as they begin to fade.
This will allow the plants energy to be used to produce new blossoms rather than seeds.
If you have a chance, try growing violets under fluorescent Gro-Lights.
The colors of both the flowers and foliage will become more intense and bright.
Repot your African Violet plants annually with fresh soil. It is best to only increase the pot size by an inch or so.
When you are working with African Violets use care not to touch the stems more than necessary,
because they are by far more succeptable to damage than either the leaves or roots.

Propagating African Violets



African Violets are easy to propagate by division or by using leaf cuttings.
Leaf cuttings can be struck during any season of the year,
but the winter months when the plant is less inclined to bloom seemed to work the best for me.
Prepare a cutting tray or pot by filling it with a loose mixture of peat moss and vermiculite.
Allow about 4 square inches of surface area for each cutting you intend to take.
Water the soil well to be sure that it is settled and moist.

Using a nail or small stick, make evenly spaced, slightly angled cutting holes (the same depth as the length of your stems)
Select a good healthy leaf and remove it (with stem) from the plant by reaching in as close to the crown of the plant as possible,
grasping the stem and gently twisting it until it pulls free.
With a sharp, sterile knife or razor blade, cut the stem at an slight angle (matching the angle of the leaf), 1-1 ½" from the leaf.
Insert your cutting into your rooting media deep enough that about ¼-½" of the base of the leaf is covered by the soil mix.
Gently press the soil around the cutting.Keep the rooting media evenly moist, but never soggy.
Place the tray in a warm (70°-75°), brightly lit area (not full sun).
The cuttings should begin to produce roots in about two weeks, you should have a new plantlet in about eight weeks!
Bottom heat and a grow light will speed up the process considerably.

Growing African Violets from Seed

Growing African Violets from seed is not as fast as growing them from leaf cuttings but it is a great way to add to your A V collection.
Seed packets will usually contain many different varieties and colors of flowers.
Do not cover the tiny African Violet seeds with soil because they require light for germination.
Sow the seeds on a bed of well draining, finely screened growing medium, then cover the tray with a pane of glass.
Maintain a temperature of 70°-75° within the growing medium.
Germination takes 20-25 days but can be sped up with the use of fluorescent lighting.
Blooming takes up to eight months.

HOW TO GROW THE STRAWBERRY TREE FROM SEED


The Strawberry tree is a gorgeous, small, evergreen tree that is noted for its unusual strawberry-like fruits. usually propagated from cuttings,  the Strawberry tree can be rather expensive to purchase but if you can get hold of ripened fruit then you have an excellent chance of growing your own stock of Strawberry trees from seed.

You should sow Strawberry tree seeds when they are fully ripe, usually in March. Use a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' or create your own using 2 part moss peat and 1 part lime-free horticultural sand. Sow the seeds in pans, or large modular trays, water in and then place inside a cold frame.

Once the seedlings have emerged, they can be pricked out, but be careful so as to reduce any damage to the root systems. Plant these on onto individual 3-4 inch pots using John Innes 'No 2', gently water in and place back into the cold frame for another year or so.

The young plants will be ready for transplanting into their final positions in May to March. They will require a sunny sheltered position away from cold northerly or easterly winds. They are happy in an ordinary well-drained, but moist soil, but they will perform best in alkaline soils.

While young plants will benefit from some winter protection, the Strawberry tree will become progressively hardy as it matures.