Aloe: A Little TLC Goes a Long Way

By Scott Aker
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Q I like the idea of growing an aloe vera plant in my garden as a medicinal plant. Where would I find one, and will it survive the winter months in the garden?

A Aloe vera is a common houseplant and available just about anywhere houseplants are sold. It is not hardy in our area and will not survive a hard frost. It is commercially grown in some of the drier parts of the tropics.

It is popular because it is forgiving. It needs only occasional watering and bright light indoors to grow well. If allowed to spend the summer outdoors, it will grow rapidly. However, you should grow it in a container so that you can bring it inside this time of year.

Take care not to overwater the aloe, particularly during its semi-dormant state in winter. Large plants produce long spikes of orange or yellow flowers in late spring or early summer, and they are used as ornamental plants in gardens in frost-free areas.

We have had difficulty growing grass in the area above our septic tank; it is an area of dirt and weeds. Why won't grass grow there?

You should ask a reputable septic tank installer to look at your system to determine why the soil won't support turf grass. It could be that the soil over the tank is too shallow, and you may be able to add a few inches to the top to improve the chances of establishing grass.

In the course of installation of any septic system, subsoil is bound to make its way to the soil surface. Because of its acidity and lack of nutrients, it may not support grass. It may simply be that subsoil was placed over your septic tank, and you may be able to remove some of it and replace it with good topsoil. You can seed this month.

We have an old, large stand of Japanese anemones with lovely pink blooms in late summer. However, they have spread beyond reasonable bounds. Can they be easily moved, and if so, how and when is that done?

Japanese anemones spread by sprouting new plantlets from their roots. The spread can be rampant in organic soil that is constantly saturated.

Transplant your anemones now to give them time to establish before winter arrives. Dig up some of the crowns of foliage at the perimeter of a large clump. You should see healthy, tan-colored roots growing from each division.

Inspect the leaves for foliar nematode damage, which will appear as dead areas in the leaves, bounded by the larger leaf veins. Remove all infected leaves or give the divisions a hot water soak for about an hour, maintaining a temperature of 110 degrees. After the soak, plant the divisions immediately.

Scott Aker is a horticulturist at the U.S. National Arboretum.

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