Ask the master gardener: aloe plants offer benefits besides their beauty

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Reply: The aloe plant is a very popular succulent houseplant because it is easy to grow, has medicinal value (the gel inside the leaves is used to treat burns), and is quite pretty. Your plant is new, so it probably doesn’t need to be repotted, but if there are any roots sticking out of the holes in the bottom of the pot, then it does. Aloes produce babies, called puppies, around its base. When the puppies have a few sets of leaves, separate them from the mother plant. Take the plant out of the pot and cut the puppies with a sharp knife. If the puppy has roots, plant it in a small pot with potting soil made especially for succulents. If it doesn’t have roots, place it on a piece of newspaper or cardboard in a dark, cool, dry place for 24 hours to develop a callus, then put it in a pot. Puppies with roots need deep watering at first when the soil is completely dry. Water rootless puppies less often to promote root development. Keep the puppies out of direct sunlight while they are starting. It will probably take about a month or two to find out if your spread has been successful.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Caring for Colorful Cyclamen Plants

Dear Master Gardener: Holly is so pretty in the landscape and for the holiday decor. Can we grow it in Minnesota?

Answer: The short answer is no. American holly, Ilex opaca, will not grow in Minnesota as it freezes, blackens, and dies when temperatures drop below 26 degrees. Often florists wear it around Christmas time so you can add it to your holiday decor. Holly leaves wither and drop from their stems after 7-10 days, but hormone therapy and an antiperspirant spray can prolong their appeal for up to 14 days. Fortunately, florist holly has usually been treated for you. Nevertheless, it will be best served by placing it out of direct sunlight in a cool place. U0009

There is a Minnesota holly, Ilex verticillata, commonly known as a winterberry. It has abundant, showy red berries but its deciduous leaves are neither shiny nor prickly. It is a low, attractive shrub in a landscape, and the stems with berries can be tucked inside during the holidays.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: The Benefits of Feeding Birds in Winter

Dear Master Gardener: I just found daffodil bulbs on my potting bench that I forgot to plant. It’s too late?

Reply: Although this is not ideal, as long as the ground is not frozen, you can still plant them. Daffodil bulbs are best planted in late September or early October. I know someone who planted forgotten daffodil bulbs last year around the same time that there was snow on the ground but it was not frozen. They arrived very well in the spring.

Related: Ask The Master Gardener: There Are Good Reasons Not To Cut Hardy Plants For Winter

Dear Master Gardener: My African violet is wilted and soft even if the soil in the pot is wet. What is wrong with my plant?

Reply: Most likely your African violet has been overwatered. First, check if the roots are mushy, brown and slimy. If so, your plant has root rot and is unlikely to survive. If the roots appear healthy, repot the plant in a container that drains well. Let your plant dry out between each watering. Never let your plants sit in the water.

Related: Ask The Master Gardener: Timing Is Key For Sleeping Lawn Seeding

  • Before the snow covers the ground, cover your strawberry bed with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Straw and leaf mulch are good choices.

  • Check your dahlia, canna, and calla tubers, as well as products such as potatoes or winter squash that you have saved for later use. Get rid of anything that has significantly withered, developed soft areas, has a weird smell, or shows other signs of rot. If the potatoes germinate, it means that they are not cooled enough and if they turn green, it means that they are receiving light.

  • The best way to protect icy sidewalks, steps, and driveways without damaging nearby plants is to rely primarily on cheap sand, gravel, or clay litter rather than de-icing compounds. Eventually the defroster will drain and collect in the ground. The more you use during the winter, the more your grass and plants are likely to be “burnt” by the salt.

  • Poinsettias are easy to grow holiday plants. Make sure you bring them (and all plants) home without suffering damage from the cold. Plants should be well packed, then transported in a heated vehicle, and not left in the car while you do other errands. Cut off the bottom of foil or other decorative covering (or poke holes in the bottom) to allow excess water to drain out and place your poinsettia in bright, indirect light. Water thoroughly when the soil surface begins to dry out, then fertilize monthly after four to six weeks.

  • Don’t hesitate to buy a fresh Minnesota Christmas tree. It is a renewable crop produced on marginal agricultural land. As the trees are harvested, more are planted for future sales. As conifers grow, they reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife. Once you have brought the tree home, cut off about 1 inch from its base, then immediately place it in a holder with plenty of water. No additives are necessary; just make sure that the water does not run out.

  • December has the lowest light and the worst growing conditions of the year. Therefore, do not fertilize houseplants this month. Keep the plants sufficiently watered.

  • If you haven’t already, clean and oil garden tool blades and wooden handles to extend their life and appearance.

Related: Ask The Master Gardener: Pumpkins, Squash Used For Holiday Decorations Are Usually Inedible

You can get answers to your garden questions by calling the new Master Gardener Helpline at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will call you back. Or, emailing me at [email protected] and I’ll respond in the column if space allows.
The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. The information given in this section is based on academic research.


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