You usually see aloe vera plants as whorls of green leaves originating right at the soil line. The only sign of age for my plant is that those whorls have inched longer and longer over the years. The oldest ones have telescoped out into foot-long thick, tawny stems with shriveled, old, similarly tawny leaves still clinging to them. This old plant (it was already old when it got here about ten years ago) maintains young whorls of fleshy green leaves at the ends of each stalk, in spite of the fact that the plant has often gone months and months without a drop of water.
I'm not sure if the plant looks any worse for wear as a result of my neglect in watering. After all, leaves age and die even on evergreens such as aloe vera.
I could lop off some plump, green leafy whorls from the ends of the stems and easily root them (the secret is to keep the soil on the dry side) to create new plants whose whorls of leaves are snuggled against the soil. Then again, this old plant does have character, and it's surely easy to care for.
It's not really the time of year to think much about watering anything - let alone the aloe vera - but I had to probe more deeply into a New York Times article that I saw, headlined "Drip Irrigation May Not Save Water, Analysis Finds." I am a big proponent of drip irrigation for saving water.
Briefly, the "analysis" found that because drip irrigation - a type of irrigation that drips water slowly to plants - supplies water at a rate roughly approximating plant needs, plants use it all, so there's no extra water to run through the soil and recharge groundwater. What's more, drip-irrigated plants grow lustier; and lustier plants, being larger and, well, lustier, use more water.
From a public policy standpoint, then, drip irrigation systems should perhaps not be promoted where reining in water consumption is more important than increased agricultural production - as, perhaps, in the Southwest, where this analysis was based. But you still get most growth per gallon of water with drip irrigation.
In my garden and your garden, drip irrigation saves water - typically 60 percent over sprinkling. When using a sprinkler, some of the water traveling through the air evaporates before it ever touches the ground. And some that reaches the ground does, in fact, keep going down, beyond the reach of roots. That's why I try to apply about as much water as plants need. Why waste energy pumping it up from deep in the ground, only to let some of it run back down deep into the ground?
I also recommend drip irrigation because it is so easily automated; I hardly think about watering all season long. And drip irrigation lessens weed problems - one reason why I detail just how to set up such a system in my book Weedless Gardening (Workman Publishing, 2001).
This is not to say that every part of any yard or garden needs drip or any kind of irrigation. I drip-irrigate only my vegetables and young blueberry plants.
A few weeks ago, after bragging on these pages about my chestnut harvest, I detailed the hot water treatment that I used to keep the nuts weevil-free. I ended up treating only a portion of the nuts, because I thought that the soaking (immersion in 120 degrees Fahrenheit water for 20 minutes) might leave the nuts too moist, and thus subject to mold. News Update: The untreated nuts, as well as the treated nuts, are weevil-free.
I'd like to think that the weevil-freeness was because we gathered up the nuts so promptly after they fell or we knocked them off the branches - or because I have a green thumb. Most likely, there are no weevils because it was a bad year for weevils. In addition, my ducks may have helped: They spent a lot of time under those trees, perhaps gobbling up bugs. At any rate, we have plenty of delicious chestnuts to eat this year.
@ Lee Reich
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at email@example.com and I'll try answering them directly or in this Alm@nac column.