Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Misadventures in Going Green: Al-Oh No.

Don't get me wrong, I love aloe plants. I use them for injuries, rashes, and general skincare. They help clean benzene and formaldehyde out of the air. They just look cool, with their fleshy, tentacle-shaped leaves. You can't get much greener than a sustainable source of medicine, skin care, and air filtering that fits in a pot by a windowsill. Aloe plants are completely rad in every conceivable way.

There is a limit, however, to how many aloes I can sustain.

When I was still at my old laboratory job, I thought I'd hit some kind of jackpot with the aloe plant I kept there. My supervisor had brought it back for me from a plant show, and I did my best to take care of it -- kept it in a sunny window, fertilized it regularly, talked at it when I had the chance, the whole nine yards. It responded by growing like some kind of mutant; it almost sextupled in size while I was there, spreading its leaves out and sending a two-foot-high spike of pointy, drippy flowers into the air.

When my S.O. and I still lived in our old apartment, he was nice enough to buy me an aloe plant to help keep the air clean after I told him the story of my abortive attempts at raising a confidence cactus. This aloe wasn't as large as the one I had at the lab, but it's still healthy and thriving. Unlike my first plant, it hasn't sent up a spike of flowers yet. It has, however, demonstrated its appreciation for my meager horticultural skills in the form of aloe pups.

Lots and lots of aloe pups.

See, unlike many other plants, aloes reproduce chiefly by sprouting off baby plants near the base of their leaves. It's really cute, to be honest -- you just see all these tiny, bright green  leaves poking out around the base of the parent plant like a bunch of baby chicks around a hen. When they get large enough, you can separate them and pot them up on their own where they'll continue to grow and produce pups of their own.

Or, you can be busy with moving for awhile and have all of your aloe plants decide to just keep reproducing in the same pot.

[caption id="attachment_3318" align="aligncenter" width="513"]aloe, aloe pup, succulent Like that.[/caption]

Even before it began pupping furiously, I felt guilty enough as it was for not having the chance to repot it -- I know cacti and succulents don't mind being a little under-potted, since having too much space tends to allow them to rot more easily, but I still worried about my plant becoming malnourished and sickly. I even had to sit with some cotton swabs and a bottle of alcohol to clean off an infestation of scale insects that I was almost certain was going to do the poor thing in. We don't even have as much light here as the old apartment did, because of the grove of trees outside. Nope. Scale bugs, lack of light, and crowded pot be damned, this aloe seemed to have no intention of stopping its ludicrous streak of fecundity.

[caption id="attachment_3319" align="aligncenter" width="513"]aloe, aloe pup, succulent Not even when some of them started trying to make a break for it.[/caption]

I'm at the point where I'm saving yogurt cups, old mugs, shoes, anything that can hold more than a half cup of potting mix and a tiny aloe. Still, it keeps producing more. It seems like every time I water it, I discover another little green baby poking out of the soil.

I do love all of my plants, but I'm not sure what to do with them all! We don't quite have room for them, but I wouldn't feel right culling some to fillet for gel and juice.

Do you have a succulent collection?


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