Ask the Master Gardener: Aloe vera plant grown indoors offers surprises

Plant also features an aloe baby -- offsets or pups and produced around the base of the mature plant.

Jennifer Knutson's flowering aloe vera plant.

Dear Readers: The aloe vera plant being grown in captivity at my house has flowered! As it turns out my plant’s flower is neither red nor yellow as anticipated, but is orange with tubular-shaped blossoms. I also discovered I am going to have a baby – an aloe baby that is. Aloe babies are called offsets or pups and are produced around the base of the mature plant. To cut the umbilical cord, wait until the pup is a couple inches tall, then cut it away from the mother plant with a clean, sharp knife. Allow the wounded area to dry and scab over for a few days before planting it in its new home. This will prevent disease organisms from harming the young plant.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: It’s rare but exciting for aloe vera plants to bloom indoors Aloe vera plants are great to keep as a houseplant because the gel that comes from its leaves can be used to treat minor burns, sunburn, or skin irritations.
Dear Master Gardener: Last week you said that birds obtain 75-80% of their food from natural sources rather than bird feeders. How can my husband and I provide the natural sources they need?

Answer: The natural foods birds eat in the winter include insects, seeds, and fruits. Birds can find insects in all stages (eggs, larvae, pupae, or dormant adults) in the bark of trees, seed heads of perennials and wildflowers, galls, and heads of cattails. Certain trees, shrubs, and vines provide long-lasting berries to nourish birds. The berries of the hackberry tree attract about 50 species of birds. Red cedar, juniper, wintergreen, and sumac provide berries long into the winter, but are dioecious (male and female plants), so you may want to plant several in order to increase your chances of getting a female plant which has the berries. Whether or not you end up with a female plant, the male plants offer shelter, so it’s a win-win. Other shrubs with long-lasting berries include viburnum, chokeberry, and snowberry. Virginia creeper and American bittersweet are vines that also provide berries into winter. Some birds find rose hips to be a tasty treat.

The seeds of trees, grasses, wildflowers, and perennials are the main source of nourishment for winter birds. Not only do evergreens such as spruce, pines, and hemlock provide protection, but they also provide cones filled with nutritious seeds. Our native paper birch also has seeds that persist into winter.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: There are positives and negatives to winter bird feeding Dangers for birds eating from feeders in the winter include contaminated food, injury or disease.
Dear Master Gardener: My spider plant has at least 15 babies. For the health of the plant should I remove any? How should I propagate the babies?


Answer: The spider plant is a popular houseplant because it is easy to grow and almost always produces new plants. You can either leave the plantlets on to create a very full look or detach them to produce new plants. Leaving them on does not affect the health of the plant. Spider plants are easy to propagate. At the end of long stems, called runners, miniature plants, called plantlets, will develop following flowering. Plantlets often form short, white aerial roots while still attached to the parent plant. Do not remove a plantlet from the parent plant until it has roots. After roots have developed, cut and remove the plantlet from the parent plant and place it in a pot. If you want to speed up root development, you can pin the plantlet down in another pot with soil and wait for the roots to form (this may take two to three weeks). A professional potting soil containing sphagnum peat moss with little to no perlite is best.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Espalier method is an efficient and elegant way of growing plants Espalier isn’t too difficult, but it does require commitment. The method involves training a plant by pruning and tying the branches to a frame so they grow into a flat plane, limiting their height and width to a defined area.
Dear Master Gardener: I had trouble growing cilantro last year. How can I be more successful this next growing season?

Answer: Most of the culinary herbs grown in Minnesota are members of either the mint (Lamiaceae) or carrot (Apiaceae) family. Cilantro, also known as coriander, is in the carrot family. Most herbs, including cilantro, require at least six hours of direct sunlight in order to grow well – all day sun is even better. Plants in the carrot family tend to have an upright, leggy habit and need deeper, looser soil and moister conditions than those in the mint family. To harvest cilantro, cut each leaf stalk at the base of the plant. Once the plant flowers the foliage will not be as flavorful. Cilantro has a short useful garden life and will bolt (flower and go to seed) in hot, humid weather. To extend your supply of fresh leaves, it is best to make successive sowings every three to four weeks. If you let it go to seed, it easily self-seeds giving you lots of plants the following summer.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Plenty to do for gardeners to keep busy in winter Research, indoor projects and preparation for spring are good options for gardeners in winter.
Dear Master Gardener: I like the look of several houseplants together in one pot or basket. How do I select plants that will go well together?

Answer: Mixed plantings can be quite eye-catching. To create visual interest, mix taller plants with shorter or trailing ones. It can be fun putting together a pleasing plant combination with different foliage texture, color, and variegation. You can even add a flowering plant, such as a cyclamen. Most importantly, choose plants with similar cultural needs (light, soil, and water). For example, succulents and cacti, which need sunlight and little moisture should not be planted with tropical plants, which need moisture and humidity and can tolerate lower light levels. Some plants that play well together include dracaena, palm, peace lily, aluminum plant, mosaic plant, ivy, pothos, spider plant, and philodendron.

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 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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