There’s a good chance you know the plant being highlighted today (and you probably even know it’s scientific name, you smarty-pants): Aloe vera. In the past it has also gone by the name Aloe barbadensis, but the most recent information I could find has grouped Aloe vera and Aloe barbadensis back together under the Aloe vera name.
I realize it’s summer, and there are plenty of outdoor plants we could talk about, but this particular houseplant has an increased usefulness in the summer (and throughout the year, really).
You know the green goop you buy from the store to soothe sunburns? You could be growing it on your windowsill instead. And if that windowsill is in your kitchen, you’ll always have it handy for other minor burns; just snip off a leaf, or even just a leaf tip, squeeze out some of the gel (which fortunately is a less alien-looking green color than what you buy from the store) and apply it to the affected area.
My particular aloe plant was rescued by my husband (though he wasn’t even my fiancee at the time) from his work’s breakroom. He knew even then my love for rescuing plants, and saw this plant in dire need of good care. So, he brought it to me and I’m happy to report that it has been thriving.
The problem with the aloe when he rescued it – and possibly one of the more common problems encountered when growing aloe and other succulents – was that it had been chronically overwatered. You’ll want to make sure that your potting mix is very well drained – one that is designed for cactus and succulents is best – and that when you water it you let it dry down a couple of inches before you water it again. In the winter you’ll need to water it even less.
Another thing to keep in mind when growing aloe is that it needs intermediate to bright light, but not direct light. In high intensity direct sunlight the leaves can sunburn (ironic, isn’t it?), but if grown in too low of light it will get pale and spindly. If your plant does get sunburned, don’t fret, you can move it to a less-intense light situation and it should recover just fine. Getting too cold – as can happen on a windowsill during the winter – can lead to some discoloration of the leaves, and decreased growth.
If your aloe is getting to big for its pot, you can always re-pot it into something bigger (again, make sure the potting mix you choose is well draining), or you can divide it in two (or more) and pot the others up to share with a friend. It’s the plant that just keeps on giving.