Aloe is a plant genus containing 581 accepted species, but of these aloe vera is clearly the belle of the ball. This succulent is prized because of its medical uses going back to ancient civilizations. Many of these treatments are still in vogue today. As a not-so-small bonus, it also happens to be one of the easiest plants to care for, particularly among indoor plants. You don’t need to have a green thumb to get started with this plant.
In this article, we’ll go over how to grow aloe vera in the home. It’s not too hard.
Useful Info On Aloe Vera
Before we get into growing it, let’s take a look at some of what makes aloe vera special, and what you should know before getting started.
|Aloe Vera Basics|
|Alternative names||Aloe barbadensis, Aloe perfoliata|
|Space to plant||12 inches initially, may need to be repotted as the plant gets larger roots|
|Soil mix||Cactus, regular potting soil with added perlite or sand|
|Light||Plant thrives best with lots of indirect sunlight; limit exposure to direct sunlight as it may burn the leaves|
|Water||These plants should be watered deeply, but infrequently. Allow the soil to fully dry in between waterings.|
|Plant hardiness||Indoors or outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10 – 12|
|Height||A healthy aloe vera plant will be no more than a foot or two high.|
|Flowering||1 – 3-inch blooms in winter and spring with gold/yellow, orange or red/burgundy colors (likely won’t flower indoors)|
|Special uses||Aloe vera has historically been used to treat things like burns and cuts. The juice from the plant is squeezed directly from the leaves and applied topically. However, it should never be ingested by mouth.|
The blooms of an aloe vera plant can be quite colorful, but it’s only going to bloom in sunny conditions typically. This is extremely hard to achieve indoors, no matter how much lighting you can give.
Therefore, the real value to an indoor aloe vera plant grower comes in the medicinal properties of the gel. By removing the outer portion of the leaf, you can access a gel that can then be directly applied to the skin to soothe such things as sunburns, cuts, and a range of skin conditions.
If ingested directly, the leaves of an aloe vera plant function as a low-level poison. Because of this, the plants should be kept away from small children, dogs, cats, and horses. Some people are also allergic to the actual gel. In order to determine if that’s the case for you, test it on a small patch of skin to make sure the area doesn’t become red.
Grow Aloe Vera Indoors
Now that you have some background, how do you actually grow the plant? Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the process.
Where To Buy An Aloe Vera Plant
You should be able to get aloe vera at any nursery or greenhouse as it is a very common house plant. In much of the country, though, you probably can’t go out to a nursery right now. You may have to wait a while due to higher priority shipments, but Amazon has multiple options. Is there anything they don’t sell?
Potting And Repotting
When it comes time to finding a home for your aloe plant, you’ll want to find a pot with good drainage properties. Terra-cotta will typically fit the bill, although you can use other materials.
Because of the importance of letting water drain, there must be a drainage hole in the pot. Cut one if there isn’t one already. Place a piece of screen over the hole to keep the potting mix from escaping. Rinse the pot out if it’s new. If it’s one you’ve used before, a more thorough cleaning may be in order. After letting it completely dry, fill about a third of the pot with your mix. We’ll get into what this should look like in a minute.
Once you’ve done this, put your plant in the pot. Fill in the potting mix around the plant. A good rule of thumb is that the bottom leaves of your aloe vera plant should be just above the mix. Everything you’ve been taught about normal plant rearing will tell you to water at this point. Resist the temptation!
You’ll have to re-pot in a bigger pot when the root systems outgrow the current pot. A root-bound plant will be one that has the roots tightly packed together, such that it looks like they have nowhere to go. When you see this, it’s time for a move.
When you think of growth mediums for plants, you may typically be thinking of soil. When you work with aloe vera, you won’t be wanting to use a traditional soil mix at all.
A succulent is related to the same family of plants that includes cacti. To have a shot at growing like their Saguaro cousins, help them thrive in a potting mix that drains well. A good mix will consist of a combination of coarse sand, perlite, and lava rock. An off-the-shelf mix should work well.
DIY Potting Soil
if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, it is possible to make your own cacti mix for succulents.
There are various formulations you can take a look at, but this was the simplest I’ve found. In any case, you’ll want something that is light, well-aerated (fancy gardener speak for lets the oxygen in) and does a superb job of drainage.
Aloe Vera Plant Care
Once you plant aloe vera, what do you have to do to take care of it? Actually, not much. Here are a few guidelines.
How Much Sunlight Do Aloe Vera Plants Need?
Aloe vera plants succeed best when they have plenty of sunlight. Make sure to put them in a place where they’re going to get it. A south or westward-facing window is best. While plenty of light is necessary to help them be the very best plants they can be, you’ll want to limit the amount of direct sunlight they get. Too much direct light threatens to burn the leaves.
If bright sunlight is tough to come by in your space, one thing you can do is get a grow light so that the plant is getting what it needs. To encourage flowering, you can put it outside in the summer months. You just may want to slowly introduce it to the outdoors by finding a spot with partial shade at first before moving it to a more permanent space for the season. You should bring it back in when the nighttime ambient temperature dips below 50°F.
If the stem starts getting too long, it could be a sign that the plant is getting leggy and is the first sign of a problem in the lighting. The plant will literally try to stretch itself upward toward the sun or even bend toward a light source. If you notice this and find a different spot for the plant quickly, it’s possible to save it, but any bending that has already taken place can’t be undone. If it’s growing straight up, it’s possible to move the plant and then trim the excess, but you have to be careful because you want to leave enough of the stem so as not to damage the plant.
How Much To Water Aloe Vera Plants
Although it’s pretty hard to kill an aloe vera plant, one way to do it is by overwatering. Although it’s possible to not give enough water as well, it’s important to go against what might be your typical plant instincts.
When you first pot your plant, you want to put it in a warm spot that gets lots of indirect sunlight and leave it alone for a while. You shouldn’t water until the plant has settled in and the roots have taken hold.
When you do water, give it plenty, but don’t ever let the plant sit in standing water. During the summer, you might water every 2 – 3 weeks. To help you know when it’s time, you can use your finger. Don’t water until the potting mix is bone dry for a depth of an inch or two around the plant.
Like many plants, in the winter, your aloe vera should enter a state of dormancy where it’s not in an active growing cycle. Over the winter months, the succulent may be able to go longer without being watered.
Resist overwatering, and a mix that drains well will help take care of any other excess water. Signs of overwatering are mushy stems and leaves. They may also become brown. On the other hand, if the leaves are dry and shriveled, the plant isn’t getting enough water.
Pests And Diseases That Affect Aloe Vera Plants
The biggest problem that can affect your aloe vera plant is root rot, which is often a direct consequence of overwatering. These plants thrive on your neglect. Too much water can drown the plant and cause damage that the root system may not be able to recover from.
Beyond that, they’re susceptible to many of the same issues that plague other indoor plants. Indoor insects such as aphids and mealybugs are a scourge that should be dealt with carefully as they can lead to problems like scale, which is when the bugs suck sap from the leaves. If you get this or sooty mold, which will cause dark spots on the plant, you can take a look at insect treatments and pruning as options for mitigation.
How To Grow A New Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe vera propagates by a process known as division. A mature aloe plant will have what are known as pups or plantlets that start to show up. These are technically a clone of the mother plant. These can be separated from the plant and used to create new aloe vera plants.
In order to do this, use pruning shears or sharp scissors. Locate where they are attached to the plant and cut them off leaving an inch of stem or more on the pup. Leave the pup alone on a windowsill or other location that gets plenty of bright, indirect sunlight for some time until a callous forms over the area where you made the cut. This helps to prevent root rot. Once calloused, plant it in soil and wait at least a week to water. You want the potting mix to be fairly dry.
The aloe plant not only has some great healing properties, it happens to be fairly easy to grow with a little help from indirect sunlight or a grow light. In fact, they often do better if you leave them alone, so don’t worry too much about not giving it enough water. The watering can happen less than you think, particularly in the winter. This could be the perfect option for first-time growers.