Aloe Vera is a very useful and easy to grow plant. In this guide, I will tell you all you need to know in order to grow Aloe Vera successfully!
So let´s get started with how to Identify the right kind of Aloe!
How do I Identify Aloe Vera?
There are over four hundred varieties of Aloe, but the most common variety that is available for purchase is Aloe Barbadensis Miller, or Aloe Vera.
This is the plant that most people picture when they think “Aloe”. This succulent has thick, fleshy leaves that are edged with spikes; these spikes are soft when the plant is young, but as the plant ages they harden and can be capable of breaking skin or tearing clothing if you’re not careful.
Aside from the firmness of the spikes, another way to tell the age of Aloe Vera is the spots on the leaves. Young plants are speckled with white dots; these dots fade as the plant ages.
This plant is one of the most valued medicinal plants in the world, and also has extensive use in skincare and beauty products.
Which Container is Best for Aloe Vera?
The type of pot you select to grow your Aloe Vera matters more than you might think.
The material, the pot is made of, can have an effect on the state of the soil, and thus, the happiness of your plant.
If you live in a warm, dry location, a plastic container is fine; if you live in a wetter or colder climate, however, you will want to select a clay or terra cotta pot to ensure that the soil gets enough drainage.
The first instinct you may have is to get your plant a large pot so it has room to grow.
That’s not the best idea in this case, however.
Aloe Vera, like all succulents, prefers smaller pots – this allows the water to drain better from their roots. You can gauge the right sized pot for your specific plant by looking at its roots.
Ideally, the roots of your plant will take up 2/3 of the space within the pot.
The smaller the pot, the less soil there is within it, and thus less water retained in the soil.
It is also a good idea to look for a wide pot rather than a deep one.
The roots of Aloe Vera grow horizontally, not vertically, so a wider pot will give the roots space to spread without leaving unused space and thus keeping extra soil (and the water it will hold) in the pot.
Most plants are happiest with a drainage hole in their pot.
This allows water to easily escape, preventing overwatering. Aloe Vera is no exception.
To prevent draining water from pulling soil out with it and making a mess, a coffee filter, landscape fabric, window screen, or drainage netting can be placed over the hole before soil is poured in.
Do not put gravel at the bottom of the pot, as this can prevent the excess water from escaping quickly.
What is the Best Soil For Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera grows best in sandy soil that mimics its native home of north Africa.
They thrive in sandy, gravelly, well-draining soil.
Commercially available cactus soil is suitable for Aloe Vera to grow in, though if you like, you can also make your own soil mix for your plant.
Commercial potting soil mix combined with sand, perlite, and granite grit will provide a good growing environment as well.
When creating your own mix, be sure to use builder’s sand or another coarse variety; finer sands like playground sand can compact quickly, which is not ideal.
A third option is mixing equal parts of cactus soil and potting soil. Combining 1 part soil, 1 part sand and 1 part peat moss is also okay.
If potting soil is used for your Aloe Vera’s container, water the plant slightly less as the heavier soil will retain water better than straight cactus soil, and overwatering your plant can result in root rot.
If you squeeze the soil after adding some water and it sticks together in a clump, it’s too thick; cut with more sand or cactus soil. When the moistened soil crumbles in your hand, it’s the correct consistency.
How to Fertilize Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera is a tough plant to kill and it survives in poor quality soil rather well.
That doesn’t mean that a little fertilizer every so often can’t help it look its best.
This plant can be fertilized through the spring growing season starting in March; apply fertilizer about once a month until late summer or early fall.
Too much fertilizer will harm your Aloe Vera, so if you’re unsure on the amount, less rather than more is the way to go.
The best fertilizers to use are succulent-specific mixes, or liquid 10-40-10 mixes for houseplants diluted to half strength.
Do not use a granular fertilizer. Salts from the fertilizer you use can build up over time and harm the plant, so it is a good idea to thoroughly water your Aloe Vera between 12 hours to a day before you plan on feeding it.
This will make sure that any lingering salts are washed away and will put protective moisture around the plant’s roots, preventing nitrogen burn. Always pour fertilizer at the base of the plant, not the leaves.
How to Plant Aloe Vera?
When you have assembled your pot and your choice of soil, the next step is actually planting your Aloe Vera.
Place some of your soil 1/3 of the way up the pot, then place the Aloe Vera’s root ball on top of that.
Add more soil on the root ball, covering it up to the root crown; the lower leaves of the plant should be just above the top of the soil.
It is a good idea to have at least 3/4 of an inch of space left between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot.
Hold off on watering your plant for a week, as the roots need time to heal from the disruption of being planted. Damaged roots are more susceptible to root rot.
How to Care For Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera is a very accommodating plant, temperature-wise. It can be kept inside at all times or taken outside in the late spring to early fall; as long as it is within a temperature range of 55 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, your plant can cope.
If you do decide to take your plant outside for the warm weather, it is important to introduce it by staggering its exposure to the sun.
Start putting the Aloe Vera outside for an hour, then the next day for a few hours, increasing the amount of time outside over the course of a few weeks.
This will acclimate your plant to sun exposure. Taking a plant used to indoor conditions and placing it outdoors with no time to adjust will result in your plants getting badly sunburned.
Outdoors, once acclimated, Aloe Vera can be grown in full sun or partial shade.
If temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be a good idea to move the plant out of direct sun.
If a plant in an outdoor pot needs repotting, do so before you bring the plant indoors.
Be aware that plants brought in for the winter can take some time to adjust to the new conditions – it would not be uncommon for some leaves to yellow, droop, or fall off as it gets used to being inside.
For indoor growing, Aloe Vera needs to be given lots of bright light, but not direct sun – be sure that the location you place the pot in will not be blocked by the shade from a tree or your window treatments.
Western or Southern facing windows are very good locations for your Aloe Vera to be placed in.
As previously mentioned, Aloe Vera is very sensitive to being overwatered.
During the spring and summer, Aloe Vera should be watered thoroughly, then the soil should be left to dry to one inch down before being watered again.
During the winter, the plant needs even less water; permit the soil to dry out completely before watering.
Some large Aloe Vera plants might only be watered a handful of times the whole season. If you’re concerned about under- or over-watering, you can purchase a moisture gauge for the soil.
It is said that Aloe Vera thrives on neglect. Most of these plants die as a result of being overwatered.
Aloe Vera leaves should be wiped clean with a soft, damp cloth every so often to clean off dust and prevent insects and disease from the surface of the plant.
While it is possible for Aloe Vera to put out yellow flowers, this is not a guaranteed thing even for happy and healthy plants.
If you don’t see flowers, don’t worry. If you do, enjoy them!
Propagating Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera can be propagated using two different methods: division and stem cutting.
Division is the easier and more surefire way of propagating your plants. Aloe Vera will put out small plants, called “pups”, that are genetic clones of the mother plant.
These can be removed from the mother plant and be transplanted into new pots; they will grow to be full, healthy plants that will eventually put out pups of their own.
The pups need to grow large enough to be able to survive separation, which they are able to do when they have developed a root system that can sustain them.
The best way to check to see if roots are present is to carefully remove the entire Aloe Vera plant from its pot and take a look.
If you don’t see distinct roots on the pups, then put the plant back in the pot to let everything grow for a few more months.
If the pups are ready to be removed, the next step is to loosen dirt from the roots.
This is a delicate process, so it is important to do so slowly and carefully. If the pup is still attached to the main plant by the stem, take a sharp knife or clippers and cut them loose.
You can then work on detangling the roots more easily. The most important thing is to avoid damaging the roots as much as possible.
Once the pup is separated, the mother plant can be put back into the old pot with a little more potting soil, or it can be repotted if it needs an upgrade.
The pup itself can be planted in a small pot using the same mix used for the mother plant. Don’t water them for a few days, so they have time to recover from the shock of separating and replanting.
The other primary method of propagating Aloe Vera is through stem cutting.
If your plant is large enough to have a long stem (preferably with some roots already growing from it) and you’re willing to take a chance, your Aloe Vera can be cut.
Cut through the stem, under the exposed roots and above the soil line. The lower half of the plant in the pot can remain where it is, and it will regrow leaves in time.
Both parts of the plant need time to recover from the cut, so set the top aside and let it dry out for a few days. When the injury is sealed over, the top portion of the plant can be dipped into rooting hormone, then placed in a new pot using the same soil mix used for your other Aloe Vera.
With a little luck, your plant will put down new roots and grow well, leaving you with two plants.
Wait to water the newly replanted Aloe Vera until you see new growth from it.
How to Harvest Aloe Vera?
In addition to being a lovely plant to look at, Aloe Vera also has beneficial medicinal properties.
This plant has well-known pain-reducing, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.
Aloe Vera gel is excellent for treating small cuts and scrapes and soothing burns, and some people like to eat or drink aloe for digestive health.
There is no firm proof that Aloe has such benefits, but so long as you don’t consume too much and your system can tolerate it, it shouldn’t harm you.
In addition to treatment for cuts and burns, Aloe Vera has also been used to treat boils, sores in the mouth, minor frostbite, psoriasis, acne, and hemorrhoids.
Some people use it in toothpaste to help kill mouth bacteria. It is used to treat dandruff issues and used as a hair conditioner.
There are currently studies being done to test Aloe Vera’s effectiveness in helping to treat diabetes, lowering LDL cholesterol, many digestive system disorders, and some cancers.
The gel is harvested from the leaves of the plant; larger, thicker leaves will result in more gel.
Pick a mature, healthy leaf and cut it near the stem of the plant; the leaves will not grow back, and the plant itself is slow-growing, so be sure not to take leaves too often.
To use Aloe Vera in cuts, scrapes, and burn treatments simply squeeze the gel of the cut leaf onto the injured skin, or cut the leaf lengthwise and press it against the injury.
Relief is rapid. There is no side effect from using the gel this way, though some people may experience allergic reactions such as itching, swelling, or a rash.
Place a portion of gel against your skin as a test if you’re not sure.
Aloe Vera Pests, Diseases, and Other Issues
While hardy, it is possible for some diseases or pests to harm your Aloe Vera.
- Aloe Rust is a fungal infection that causes black or brown circles to appear on the leaves of the plant. The plant will seal off the infected area, containing it. No treatment is necessary.
- Root Rot is a fungal infection that attacks the root system of the plant. It is caused by poorly draining soil and overwatering. Root rot causes the lower leaves and roots to become dark and soft. The roots may detach from the plant when the plant is pulled from the dirt. Infected plants should be removed and disposed of. Any garden tools should be sprayed with 70% alcohol and allowed to dry to prevent spreading the disease.
- Soft Rot is a bacterial infection that causes the Aloe Vera plant to decay from within. Leaves will turn watery, soft, dark, and may wilt or collapse. Leaves may also bulge due to gas buildup. To prevent the chance of soft rot, avoid watering the plant from overhead; only water at the base of the plant. Infected plants should be removed and disposed of. Any garden tools should be sprayed with 70% alcohol and allowed to dry to prevent spreading the disease.
- Slime Mold is a fungus that results in small white bodies with black interiors growing on the lower leaves of the plant. This fungus does not harm the plant and does not need to be treated.
- Alternaria Leaf Spot is a fungal infection that manifests as sunken, necrotic brown circles on the surface of the leaves. To treat leaf spot, use a fungicide and reduce the amount of water you give the plant. This is not guaranteed to work, and if it does not, then the plant should be removed and disposed of.
- Tip Dieback is a condition where the end of the leaves die, turning brown and firm. The rest of the leaf is unaffected. This occurs as a result of overwatering and overexposure to the sun. Proper care of the plant will help avoid this condition developing. The dead portion of the leaf should be removed; the plant will seal the cut in time.
- Aloe Mites are microscopic arachnids that attack Aloe Vera. Their presence is unmistakable due to the large galls – puffy, disfigured growth – that appear as a result from their feeding on the plant. Affected plants should be removed and disposed of.
- Aloe Vera Aphids are small insects that feed on the plant at the base of the leaves or in curled, damaged parts of the leaves. The honeydew they secrete can encourage the growth of sooty mold. To remove the aphids, use insecticide then wipe the leaves of the plant down, or soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and wipe the leaves of the plant down.
- Sooty Mold is a fungus that appears on Aloe Vera after it is under attack by aphids. It appears as a black ‘soot’ on the surface of the plant. Sooty mold is not dangerous to the Aloe itself, though the insects that attracted it can be.