Some like it hot -- and dry.

Picture Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Plant Taxonomy: Plant taxonomy classifies aloe vera plant as Aloe barbadensis. Plant Type: A. barbadensis grows as perennial in tropical and sub-tropical regions, where the leaves of these clump-forming succulents areevergreen. Typically found in the wild in hot, dry climates, they're a natural for desert landscaping. Characteristics: While capable of achieving a height of 3 feet, aloe vera plants more typically mature to be 1 or 2 feet tall. If you grow these tropical plants indoors in containers, they most likely will remain on the shorter end of the height spectrum. When grown outdoors in warm climates, mature plants will produce yellow or orange flower heads on tall stalks. The swordshaped, often grayish-green leaves grow in rosettes and are sometimes studded with white flecks. Short teeth run up the edges of the leaves. Planting Zones for Aloe Vera Plants: Grow these succulents in planting zones 9, 10 or 11. They are thought to be indigenous to Africa. Sun and Soil Requirements: Grow in full sun to partial shade and in a well-drained soil. These succulents are drought tolerant plants once established. Care for Aloe Vera Plants: The key to growing these cactus-like plants is providing good drainage. When using aloe vera as a landscape plant, incorporate sand into the soil. For potting, be sure to place crushed stone at the bottom of the container, which should, of course, have a drainage hole in its bottom. Aloe vera plant is relatively dormant in winter, meaning it will need very little water at that time. Even during the summer, be careful not to over-water established specimens. If the leaves show signs of browning, consider cutting back on sun exposure. As a houseplant, provide bright light.

Medicinal Uses for Aloe Vera Plants: Famous for its soothing medicinal properties, potted A. barbadensis is kept as a houseplant by many people who treat it as "living first aid." E.g., when they burn a finger, they'll break off a lower leaf and rub the juice on the burn. Removing the leaf does no damage to the plant. This medicinal wonder's motto is, "Doctor, heal thyself": the wound where the leaf was removed heals quickly. Where to Use Aloe Vera Plants: As a potted plant, it may be treated as a houseplant to be used in interiorscaping or installed on patios, decks, etc. In the landscape (in zones 9, 10 and 11), its need for good drainage makes it an excellent candidate for rock gardens. These drought-tolerant succulents are also a natural for xeriscapedesign. Propagation is easy: just break off the offsets, allow them to make contact with the ground (sand is a preferred rooting medium) and watch them root! Meaning of the Name: There are many types of aloes in the world. Aloe vera plant is just one type, although it is, to be sure, the best known of the aloes. Perhaps that's why Linnaeus referred to this aloe asvera (Latin for "true"). The term stuck as part of the common name, but for the scientific name, many now prefer the designation of Philip Miller, a Scottish botanist: Aloe barbadensis. Miller's species name, barbadensis means "of Barbados." That's a rather misleading name, since most experts do not believe the plants to be native to Barbados (asserting, instead, that they were brought there by the Spaniards). As for the genus name, Aloe, the Online Etymology Dictionary states that the word derives from the Greek, aloe, a translation of the Hebrew name, ahalim. The plant is, indeed, mentioned in the Bible.

Picture: the rich gold color of this planting in my yard is much appreciated after a long winter. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy: Taxonomy places crocus bulbs in the genus Crocus. Since the common name and scientific name are, then, the same in this case, I distinguish between them by capitalizing only when referring to the genus name. Don't confuse them with the Pasque flowerrelative nicknamed "prairie crocus." Plant Type: These plants are grouped with other bulb plants, such as daffodil bulbs, for classification purposes, even though, technically, their underground tubers are considered "corms." Characteristics: Crocus plants are relatively small, reaching just 3-6 inches in height (depending on the variety). The leaves are grasslike, generally with a light stripe running up the middle. Many of the spring-flowering crocus bulbs are among the earliest bloomers (C. vernus tends to bloom a bit later). The crocus bulbs with which I'm familiar produce multiple flowers per corm. Typical flower colors are yellow, gold, purple, white and lavender, although bi-colored and tricolored types also exist. The blooms pucker up at night (and also when it's cold and/or cloudy). Planting Zones: Indigenous to a vast swath of the Old World, crocus bulbs will grow in planting zones 3-8. Warmer areas generally fail to meet chilling requirements. Sun and Soil Requirements: Grow in full to partial sun and in a well-drained soil. The light requirement isn't as difficult to meet in this case as it is for many sun-lovers, since crocus flowers bloom in spring, meaning they can be grown under deciduous trees. Crocus flowers get enough sun in the spring (before the trees leaf out) to grow and acquire the nutrients they need for the growing season. But don't grow them under evergreen trees, since the latter cast shade during the entire year and would deprive your crocus plants of the necessary springtime sunlight.

Types of Crocus Bulbs: The name derives from the Greek for "saffron." Indeed, saffron is harvested from the stigmas of one particular type of crocus: C. sativus. C. sativus, like Colchicum autumnale (different genus but bearing a striking resemblance) and similar plants, is one of the fall-blooming crocuses. It is planted in spring or summer, unlike the spring-blooming types (which are planted in fall). Spring-blooming types include:

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C. vernus C. chrysanthus C. tommasinianus C. sieberi Problem is, if you buy them from a home improvement chain store in the U.S., you won't necessarily know exactly what it is you're planting, as the scientific plant name may not be included. When to Plant Crocus Bulbs: Spring-blooming types are planted in autumn (the colder your climate, the earlier in the fall you plant), while fallblooming types are planted in spring. How to Plant Crocus Bulbs: Plant 2 inches deep and provide 2-3 inches of spacing. The pointy part should face up. Some fertilize at planting time with bone meal. Others say bone meal is unnecessary at this time and invites pests to dig around, which could dislodge your crocus bulbs. If this is a concern, lay chicken wire on top of the ground after planting. Or you could hold off on the bone meal till spring and just use some compost when planting. Divide to prevent overcrowding and/or to propagate. Plant Care: For the sake of plant nutrition, leave the foliage alone after blooming until it fully yellows. If you're growing your plants in a planting bed, it's easy to leave them alone for this time period. But if you're growing crocus flowers in the lawn, it may be difficult to remember that you won't be able to mow until the foliage yellows (about 6 weeks after bloom). That's because the leaves are so grass-like that they blend in to lawns. To help yourself remember not to mow in that area, stick stakes in the ground as the blooms of your plants start to fade, to mark the "no-mow zone." Crocus Bulbs: Uses, Squirrel Control: Crocus flowers are well-suited to woodland gardens. Most types naturalize readily. Since they require well-drained soil, also consider growing crocus flowers in rock gardens. Squirrel pests like to dig up crocus bulbs. Spreading blood meal around the planting bed will help deter the pests (and green up the grass considerably, if you're planting crocus bulbs in a lawn area), but a surer squirrel-control method is to lay chicken wire on top of the ground where you have just planted your crocus bulbs. The nice thing about protecting crocus bulbs in this way is that, since crocus plants are relatively small, there's no need to remove the chicken wire later, unless it's an area you'll need to mow (for bulb plants that grow bigger, you'd have to remove the chicken wire before they push up in spring, lest the foliage be cut on the sharp wire).

Rabbits present a challenge in growing crocus, too. These pests will treat the above-ground growth as if it were part of a salad bar. For quick rabbit control, you can apply BirdBlock over your plants, but this netting spoils the overall effect. I recommend planning ahead, instead, and setting up a rabbit-proof fence.