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Ask the Master Gardener: Aloe plants offer benefits aside from their beauty

Aloes produce babies, called pups, around its base. When the pups have a few sets of leaves, separate them from the mother plant.

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An aloe plant with some "pups." Contributed / Jennifer Knutson
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Dear Master Gardener: I purchased an aloe plant a month ago and now it has little aloes sticking out from the base. Does this mean I should repot it?

Answer: 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 lovely. Your plant is new, so it probably doesn’t need repotting, but if there are roots sticking out the holes of the bottom of the pot, then it does. Aloes produce babies, called pups, around its base. When the pups have a few sets of leaves, separate them from the mother plant. Take the plant out of the pot and cut the pups off with a sharp knife. If the pup has roots, then plant it in a small pot with potting mix specifically for succulents. If it doesn’t have roots, put it on a piece of newspaper or cardboard in a dark, cool, dry place for 24 hours to develop a callus, then pot it. The pups with roots need deep watering at first when the soil has fully dried out. Water the pups without roots less often to encourage root development. Keep the pups out of direct sunlight while they are getting started. It will probably take about a month or two to find out if your propagation was successful.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Caring for colorful cyclamen plants

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

Answer: The short answer is no. American holly, Ilex opaca, will not grow in Minnesota because it freezes, turns black and dies when temperatures go below 26 degrees. Often florists carry it at Christmas time so that you can add it to your holiday decor. Holly leaves dry out and fall from their stems after 7-10 days but hormone treatment and anti-transpirant spray can extend their attractiveness up to 14 days. Fortunately, florist holly has usually been treated for you. Nonetheless it will be best served by placement out of direct sun in a cool spot.\u0009

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There is a Minnesota holly, Ilex verticillata, commonly called winterberry. It has abundant and showy red berries but its deciduous leaves are not shiny and spiny. It makes an attractive, low shrub in a landscape, and stems with berries can be brought indoors at holiday time.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: The rewards of feeding birds in the winter

Dear Master Gardener: I just found some daffodil bulbs on my potting bench that I forgot to plant. Is it too late?

Answer: Although it is not ideal, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, you can still plant them. It’s best to plant daffodil bulbs in late September or early October. I know someone who planted forgotten daffodil bulbs last year at this same time when there was snow on the ground but it wasn’t frozen. They came up in the spring just fine.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: There are good reasons to not cut down hardy plants for winter

Dear Master Gardener: My African violet is wilted and limp even though the soil in the pot is moist. What is wrong with my plant?

Answer: Most likely your African violet has been over-watered. First, check to see if the roots are mushy, brown and slimy. If they are, your plant has root rot and probably won’t survive. If the roots look healthy, repot the plant in a container that drains well. Allow your plant to dry out between each watering. Never let your plants sit in water.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Timing is critical for dormant seeding of a lawn

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December Gardening Tips

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

  • Check on your dahlia, canna, and calla tubers, as well as produce such as potatoes or winter squash that you have stored for later use. Get rid of anything that has shriveled significantly, developed soft areas, smells funny or shows other signs of rotting. If the potatoes are sprouting it means they are not being kept cool enough and if they are turning green, some light is getting through to them.

  • The best way to keep icy sidewalks, steps and driveways safe without damaging nearby plants is to rely primarily on sand, grit, or inexpensive clay kitty litter rather than de-icing products. De-icer eventually runs off and accumulates in the soil. The more you use over the winter, the more likely that your grass and plants will be “burned” by the salt.

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

  • Don’t hesitate to buy a fresh Minnesota grown Christmas tree. They are a renewable crop produced on marginal agricultural land. As trees are harvested, others are planted for future sales. While conifers grow, they reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife. Once you get the tree home, cut approximately 1 inch off its base, then set it immediately in a stand that holds plenty of water. No additives are needed; just make sure the water doesn’t run out.

  • December has the lowest light and poorest growing conditions of the year. Therefore, do not fertilize houseplants this month. Do keep plants adequately watered.

  • If you haven’t done so already, clean and oil garden tool blades and wooden handles to prolong their lives and appearance.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Pumpkins, gourds used for holiday decorations are generally not edible

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at umnmastergardener@gmail.com and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.
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