Aloe vera, also known as Barbados aloe, probably originated from the Arabian Peninsula. Undoubtedly the best known medicinal plant globally, its sap is harvested for use in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and nutritional products. It’s a wonderful first-aid treatment for cuts, minor burns (including sunburn), and bruises.
Aloe vera, like all aloes, are low maintenance, highly-rewarding plant. But there are some golden rules that you need to follow. For example, they are quite fussy about light, ventilation, and humidity, and they don’t like a lot of water. Essentially, if you can provide light, bright living conditions for your Aloe vera plant, it’s going to be happy.
How to Care for Aloe Vera Plants
Sometimes nicknamed the medicinal aloe or medicine plant, Aloe vera is an extraordinary succulent. Its soothing, cooling, moisturizing, and healing properties are legendary.
Aloe vera’s botanical name is Aloe Barbadensis Miller. It has become naturalized or is cultivated in dry regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, America, India, and Australia.
According to the international, inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization, CABI, it is listed as invasive in many countries across Europe, Asia, the West Indies, and America.
This hardy aloe plant thrives in poor soil types and it requires hardly any water to survive and spread. It is an easy-to-grow ornamental plant that grows to medium size in the garden.
But it doesn’t like cold climates and only does well outdoors in USDA Hardiness zones 10-12. It will, though, grow in zone 8 and higher.
It develops dense, long, thin, upright rosettes that have creeping rhizomes. These enable it to spread easily from offshoots at the base of the aloe plant.
Mature plants throw gorgeous red or yellow-orange flowers at the end of elongated stalks that often reach close to 3 feet in height. Many people plant Aloe vera because it adds fabulous color to outdoor spaces.
Growing Aloe vera outdoors isn’t difficult. But, ironically, it can be tricky to grow as a houseplant.
Even though it seldom flowers when it’s kept inside, people often grow the Aloe vera plant indoors. This is large because it is a brilliant ready-to-hand first aid treatment for burns and scratches.
The care Aloe vera plants need is generally negligible. But when you first plant Aloe vera, you’ll want to know what plant care your aloe plant needs.
Here are some helpful tips to ensure you get the best from your Aloe vera plant. They include information that relates to the soil, water, light, and all the other important issues that will help you take care of your precious aloe plants.
Whether you grow your Aloe vera indoors in a pot or in your garden, it’s going to need plenty of sunlight. A lack of light is one of the main reasons they can be difficult to keep healthy as houseplants.
It needs bright indirect sunlight and lots of it. A good rule of thumb is six hours of sunlight every day. It should be in partial shade for the rest of the day.
While you can’t change the way Mother Nature delivers sunlight, you’ll know whether your garden is likely to be able to deliver.
When growing Aloe vera indoors, you need to find a place to locate it near a window or some other source of light. If the interior of your home isn’t generally sunny and light, you’ll need to consider some artificial forms of lighting. Just remember that the intensity of artificial light is quite different from sunlight.
Minimal fertilization is required to keep Aloe vera plants healthy. Be sure to avoid any types of plant food that have a high nitrogen value.
If anything, feed your indoor aloe plants a balanced organic houseplant food once to three times a month. And feed only 50% of the strength that is recommended by the manufacturer.
Like most aloes, Aloe vera does well in high temperatures. They don’t flourish when there’s frost.
The New York Botanical Garden recommends that aloes kept as houseplants have a 10-degree or greater fluctuation between day and night temperatures. Daytime temperatures should be between 60 and 75 ℉ and night temperatures between 50 and 60 ℉.
Aloe vera does best in dry, sunny conditions. It does appreciate generous watering in the growing season when the weather is warm, but not too often.
Overwatering your Aloe vera is a sure way to kill it. Aloes are highly drought-tolerant and it is important to let the soil dry between waterings.
Only water your Aloe vera plants when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. And when the plant is dormant, in winter, it needs even less water.
Like all succulents, aloes have shallow roots and are susceptible to root rot. Never drench the soil so that it becomes waterlogged.
Potted Aloe vera plants must never be left standing in water.
How to Water Aloe Vera Plant
Whether growing Aloe vera in containers or in your garden, established plants are best watered overhead. This flushes accumulated soil and dust from their leaves.
A caveat here is that if the water has high salt content, it can leave an unsightly white crust on the leaves. In this case, drip irrigation is a better option.
Your aloe plants will also benefit from occasional misting that will raise the humidity of the air and keep their leaves clean.
Dealing with Pests and Diseases
Healthy Aloe vera plants will be far more resistant to attack from pests and diseases than those that aren’t healthy. For instance, if they don’t get sufficient sunlight, their leaves will tend to be soft and that will make them prone to attack by arachnids and insects.
Mealybugs, aphids, and white-scale insects are all known to attack aloes. Diseases they fall foul to include black rust, leaf spot, and sooty mold.
Overwatering, as we’ve already pointed out, can lead to root rot.
Aloe plant care starts with the soil aloe vera plants grow. While aloes thrive in poor soil in a natural environment, when you pot Aloe vera it’s essential to use soil that drains well.
Any potting media that drains well will do.
In a garden environment, it’s good practice to dig a hole for each new aloe. Then, mix the soil with copious amounts of clean, coarse sand and compost.
Repotting and/or Replanting
The size of any Aloe vera plant grown in a container will be governed by the space it has for the roots. So, to keep your aloe plants small, keep them in smaller pots.
To promote growth, repot your Aloe vera aloe in a larger pot. But don’t increase the size of your container by more than two pot sizes. This will avoid the likelihood of too much moisture remaining in the soil and causing root rot.
Of course, you can also split your Aloe vera plant by removing healthy shoots from the mother plant. Then repot these and return the mother plant to its original pot.
Aloe vera plants are commonly harvested for their sap and fleshy inner leaf gel.
The sap is leaf juice that is commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry. It is also used as an ingredient in tonics and health drinks.
A word of caution: The sap is mildly toxic and can result in abdominal cramping, diarrhea, red urine, and skin irritations.
The gel is the part that we used for first-aid treatments.
How to Harvest Aloe Vera Plants
The leaves are relatively soft and it’s easy to break them off or filet them. Their leaves do, though, have serrated edges like little teeth, which is typical of many aloe plants.
You can use the gel topically to treat cuts and bruises, abrasions, skin disorders, and burns. All you do is a slice through the leaf with a sharp knife and rub the edge over the cut, burn, etc.
If you want to be sure to avoid contact with the toxic sap, use a sharp knife to remove the green peel from the aloe leaf. Do this carefully in your kitchen sink, under a stream of running water.
When you have removed all traces of the sap, slice the leaf as described above.
How to Help Your Aloe Vera Grow and Flower
We have already said that when growing Aloe vera in pots, you can promote growth by increasing the size of the pot. This gives the roots more space to grow.
If you want your Aloe vera plant to flower, best keep it outside, at least during the spring and summer.
When grown outdoors, Aloe vera will start producing its lovely showy flowers in late winter or spring. Healthy plants will continue to bloom right through the summer months.
Unfortunately, they very seldom bloom indoors.
The Aloe vera plant is regarded as a low-maintenance, low-care aloe plant. It thrives in poor soil and needs hardly any water.
It’s an amazingly ornamental plant when it flowers in the garden, but is a lot more challenging to grow as a houseplant.
Aloe vera is probably the most popular aloe globally. If you’re attracted, why not give it a try?