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Popular as a houseplant, aloe vera is good for what ails you. For example, many people use aloe vera gel made from aloe leaves to treat sunburn, mild burns, and skin irritations.
Aloe plants, scientifically known as aloe barbadensis, are found in arid deserts and lush tropical jungles alike. They range in height from only a few inches tall to more than 5 feet in length and width.
Aloe vera, or medicinal aloe, as it is commonly called, has been used medicinally for thousands of years by ancient civilizations around the world, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese. Many people of different cultures still use aloe vera to treat various skin irritations.
Here’s how to grow and take care of an aloe plant so you can reap all its benefits year-round.
Fast Facts on Aloe Vera Plants
Most people know of the aloe vera plant as a succulent that stores water in its leaves. With enough sunlight, plenty of water, and the right temperature, an aloe plant will grow a tall spike bursting with tubular blossoms. Although rarely seen on indoor plants, aloe vera plants can produce dozens of these orange or red flowers.
|Common name||Aloe vera|
Southern and eastern Africa
Bright, indirect sun
Average mature height
1–2 feet tall
Well-drained commercial potting mix
Frequency of watering
1–2 times weekly
Nontoxic to humans, mild to moderate for cats and dogs
Ideal humidity level
Common variations (cultivars, close relations)
Aloe Barbadensis Miller (medicinal aloe), Aloe Crosby’s Prolific (dwarf aloe), Aloe Ferox (Cape aloe)
Aloe is a genus of plants belonging to the larger lily family. Aloe vera is the most common of the 420 species of aloe and also the most noted for its benefits. The plant is native to southern and eastern Africa and is now grown worldwide.
Today, many people use aloe vera as a natural remedy for burns or other skin conditions, but it has a more storied history. In ancient times, Cleopatra employed aloe vera as a skin softener, and Alexander the Great used it to treat his soldiers’ wounds. Aloe was first introduced to the United States as a laxative.
Modern aloe vera plants offer many practical benefits and are generally easy to care for.
Care Guide for Aloe Plants
Since aloe thrives on lots of light, little water, and almost no fertilizer, it makes an ideal plant for beginners. Your indoor aloe sprout can live up to 12 years with proper care.
Aloes are not heavy feeders, so they don’t need a lot of fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can harm your aloe plant.
The best time to fertilize your aloe is in the spring before new growth begins. You can use a standard houseplant fertilizer or a succulent-and-cactus fertilizer. Be sure to follow the directions on the package and dilute the fertilizer to half-strength.
To stay healthy, aloe plants need bright, indirect sunlight. Often, you can set the plant in your kitchen window, and it will get plenty of sunshine. If you’re growing aloe vera outdoors, it should go in a sunny spot. Don’t just move an indoor plant to full sun, though, as it can, ironically, get sunburn.
If you live in a climate that doesn’t provide enough natural light, you can supplement it with grow lights. If you choose artificial light, though, be sure to give your plants a rest by placing them in a dark room or closet.
Potting Your Aloe Plant
Choose a terra cotta pot or one made with another porous material for your tender plant. These will help the soil stay dry. Plastic pots may work, but they will keep the soil moist for longer. The pot should be about as wide as it is deep and must be heavy enough to avoid tipping over.
Aloe plants grow best in well-draining soil. Gardening soil is not a good choice. Instead, use a commercial potting mix or make your own by mixing equal parts sand, peat moss, and perlite.
Your aloe plant will also need a pot with drainage holes to prevent the roots from sitting in water. You do not need to layer the bottom of the pot with gravel.
Aloe plants like it warm, so their ideal temperature is between 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets too cold, the leaves will turn yellow or pucker. These plants also don’t like drafts, so ensure they’re not in a spot where a door or window is constantly opening and closing.
Aloe plants are succulents, so they don’t need a lot of water. They’ll start to rot if you overwater them.
So, how often should you water your aloe plant? Once per week should be plenty unless the plant is in a very hot, dry environment. Then you may need to water it twice a week. Make sure the soil is completely dry before watering again.
Aloe veras like to drink deeply, so when you water your plant, give it plenty of liquid.
How to Prune Aloe Plants
It’s essential to prune the leaves regularly to ensure your aloe plant stays healthy and grows properly. When the tips of its spikes get brown and brittle, pluck these off with your fingertips. To trim the plant more deeply, cut the older growth first and then move to the fleshier parts.
Just don’t trim the center leaves because these are the youngest and healthiest parts of your plant. It’s a good idea to leave five to six leaves when you prune your aloe vera so it can absorb enough sunlight.
How to Plant or Repot an Aloe Plant
To plant or repot an aloe plant, take the following steps:
- Start by finding a pot that is wide and shallow with drainage holes.
- Fill the pot with a well-draining potting mix, and make a small hole in the center.
- Gently remove the plant from its current pot, and place it in the new one.
- Water the plant deeply, and allow it to drain before putting it in a sunny spot.
How to Propagate Aloe Plants
One way to propagate aloe plants is by offsets or pups. Pups are miniature replicas of the parent plant that form around the base of the aloe plant.
- To remove a pup, carefully twist it off from the mother plant, making sure to get as much of the root system as possible.
- Once you have removed the pup, allow it to callous over for a few days.
- Repot your pup in a well-draining cactus mix.
Common Issues with Aloe Vera Plants
Although aloe vera plants are easy to maintain, they are susceptible to disease, pests, and other problems.
Aloe vera plants originated in desert-like environments where the weather was hot and the soil was sandy. Consequently, these plants thrive in hot, dry climates and have low over-watering tolerance.
Excess water causes an aloe plant’s leaves to turn brown or yellow. They often feel a little mushy and may develop a slightly rotten smell. When you lift the plant out of its container, you may see the roots starting to blacken.
If your plant has been overwatered and is failing to thrive, you may be able to nurse it back to health. First, let the soil dry out. Then, take a look at the roots. Cut away any that appear to have rotted. Next, prune any yellow or brown growth, leaving only healthy-looking green leaves. Finally, repot your plant in well-draining soil.
Aloe vera plants can grow in low light conditions but prefer bright, indirect sunlight. If denied an adequate light source, the plant will start to sage, and the leaves will crease. Its lovely natural rosette will start to appear wobbly.
If your aloe vera plant is not getting enough light, it will start to stretch out and become leggy. This is called etiolation, and it causes the leaves to lose their vibrant green color and become pale. The plant will also start to produce fewer offsets.
Is your aloe vera plant looking droopy? A sunnier location may be the solution. Do not place your aloe vera plant in direct sun, as it can also cause the plant to burn.
USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through 12 provide the best natural environment for aloe vera plant care. Gardeners in these locations should stop watering the plant during winter and resume when the growing seasons start again.
Bring aloe vera plants inside before the first frost if you live in a colder climate. Aloe vera can die if temperatures stay below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pests and Diseases
Mealybugs, spider mites, and snout beetles all love a taste of the aloe plant. If you notice pest damage, you can wash your plant’s leaves and dust them with a powdered fungicide. Diseases such as aloe rust, sooty mold, and basal stem rot can also damage an aloe plant. Talk to a plant health expert or pest control professional about keeping your home free of damaging insects.
Aloe plants are easy to care for and make a great addition to any home. Here are our recommendations on how to take care of your aloe plant:
- Allow the soil in the pot to dry out before watering it again.
- Water only when the leaves show signs of wilting or if the soil is dry at least 1 inch below the surface.
- Check that your plant has adequate light—too much or too little will cause problems with growth, health, and coloration—and adjust as needed for best results.
Aloe Plant FAQ
How do you care for an indoor aloe plant?
Aloe plants flourish indoors, provided they get enough sunlight and plenty of drainage. When you bring your new plant home, root it in a terracotta pot wide enough to accommodate the base of the plant with 1 to 2 inches to spare. Place the pot in a bright spot, such as your kitchen window. Water the plant once every two to three weeks in the summer months and less often during the rest of the year. Allow the soil to dry completely between watering.
How do I know if my aloe plant needs water?
Your aloe plant is probably thirsty if it looks wilted, dry, or brown. To check if your plant needs water, stick your finger about 2 inches into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water. If the leaves are soft or mushy, you’ve overwatered.
Where should I put aloe vera in my house?
Aloe vera can grow indoors and outdoors, but if you’re growing it inside, make sure to put it in a spot where it will get plenty of sunlight. South- or west-facing windows are ideal. You’ll also need to water your aloe plant regularly, about once per week or when the soil is dry to the touch. Be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot. Fertilize your aloe plant about once a month using a succulent fertilizer.