Aloe vera is a common succulent plant you can easily grow as a houseplant. It can also grow outdoors in warm climates. The plant is said to have numerous healing properties.
Even without the healing properties, it is an attractive, easy-to-grow addition to any home, patio or garden. In this article, we will share the care and uses of aloe plants. We will also introduce information about several interesting varieties. Read on to learn more.
Where Do Aloe Plants Come From & Where Can They Grow?
Most horticulturists believe that aloe plants originated on the African continent; however, you’ll find many varieties growing wild all around the world. The plant has been in use as a natural remedy for a couple of centuries before the time of Christ.
This tropical plant is hardy outdoors in USDA zones 8-10 in the United States. It makes an excellent houseplant and plant for decorating a bathroom in every state in the union.
Aloes of all sorts are easy to come by as they are popular at most garden centers and once an aloe finds a good home, it shows its appreciation quickly and abundantly by producing pups.
If you cannot find the aloe of your dreams at your local garden center, try contacting gardening groups in your area. You will surely find aloe enthusiasts standing ready to share baby aloe vera plants. If you’re eager to get started, refer to the quick guide!
Aloe Vera Plant Quick Growing Guide:
- Family: Asphodelaceae, Liliaceae or Xanthorrhoeaceae
- Botanical Name: Aloe barbadensis miller
- Origin: Africa, Madagascar, India, the Middle East
- Common Names: Flower of the desert, Mediterranean aloe, Unguentine cactus, Lily of the desert, Elephant’s gall, Miracle plant, Barbados aloe, Coastal aloe, Common aloe, Medicinal aloe, Star cactus, Indian aloe, True aloe, Aloe vera, Burn plant, Aloe
- Uses: In cool areas, aloe is kept as a houseplant. In desert and tropical settings, it grows as a garden or outdoor container plant.
- Height: Varies considerably (7 or 8″ to 4-6′) depending upon the variety. Most houseplants are under a foot high.
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-10
- Flowers: Occasional red, orange or yellow bell-shaped flowers.
- Foliage: Thick, gel-filled, variegated leaves or spears.
Why Grow Aloe Vera?
Hardy, attractive aloe plants have been grown for their health, medicinal and personal care uses, along with their innate beauty, for many centuries around the world.
The name “Aloe vera” is a testament to the wide-spread of this hardy, useful plant. “Aloe” comes from an Arabic word (alloeh) which means “shining bitter substance.” “Vera” is a Latin word which means “true.”
Historical evidence reveals that ancient Greek scientists thought of aloe vera gel as a cure-all. In ancient Egypt, the gel was used by royalty as a beauty aid, and the Egyptians referred to the source of the gel as the “plant of immortality.”
Other civilizations around the world have used the gel of this humble plant for personal care and wound healing, and references in Asian, Mexican and East Indian history date back thousands of years.
The value of the gel has been known to western medicine since the 1600s, and in the 20th Century, it proved useful in treating skin irritation caused by exposure to radiation. [source]
How To Care For Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe Light Requirements: Do aloe plants need sun? Bright artificial light and/or indirect sunlight. Some tougher varieties can tolerate direct sunlight and full sun.
Temperature: 55° – 80° degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 27 degrees Centigrade).
How to water aloe vera: Deep, occasional watering. Allow the top one or two inches of soil to dry before watering thoroughly.
Fertilizer: Indoor plants like balanced houseplant mix once monthly in the spring and summer. Aloe vera plant care outdoors, use of rich, organic mulch and compost should provide ample nourishment.
Soil: Use well-draining potted aloe plant mix such as cactus mix for growing aloe indoors. Outdoors, provide well-draining soil amended with organic compost, sand, fine gravel, perlite, etc.
Propagation: Divide aloe vera pups from the parent plant at time of repotting. Repot only when root-bound.
Pests & Problems: Overwatering leads to problems such as root rot and fungal infections. It also makes the plants susceptible mealy bug attacks and insect infestation by such culprits as juice sucking plant scale. If you maintain a sparing watering schedule, your plants should not be bothered by infections or infestations. Keep on the look out for Aloe mites that can distort leaves.
Miscellaneous: Keep an aloe vera plant on your kitchen windowsill for easy access to the burn-soothing gel. To treat a minor burn, cut off a spear, split it and smooth the gel over the burn. Alternately, you can just lay the opened spear over the burned area. The gel is also useful for treating blemishes and cold sores and as an additive to many homemade health and personal care products.
Toxicity: Although the gel is edible and harmless, the plant’s tough skin contains anthraquinones and saponins which may cause lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested by cats, dogs and other pets. [source]
Related: Is Aloe Toxic To Cats?
Informative Aloe Video From Gardening Australia
How To Maintain Your Aloe Vera Plant
Enjoy The Flowers!
If your aloe is very happy, it may produce a tall, slender stalk of flowers. These blossoms are delicate and bell-shaped along with being very attractive to bees if your plant is outdoors. Care for these flowers as you would orchid flowers. Allow them to finish blooming and then trim the stalk all the way back to the base for a tidy appearance.
How to plant an aloe vera plant?
Plant aloe from seed, if you want to go to a great deal of trouble!
Since aloe plants grow so readily from pups, planting from seed is not recommended unless you are trying to grow a rare variety.
If you want to collect seeds and attempt to grow aloe vera from seed, you must wait for the flowers to dry and develop seeds. Collect the dried flowers carefully and remove the seed. Plant as shown in this video.
Growing Aloes From Seed
Repot Aloe Vera Occasionally
How to repot aloe vera plants indoors?
Occasionally repot to correct problems, propagate and/or provide more space.
You won’t need to repot Aloes frequently because they prefer to be a bit crowded. However, if your plant tips over, it’s a sign you need a larger, more substantial pot. Always use a well drained potting soil and a pot with a drainage hole.
Also, if the plant becomes leggy and develops a long stem, it can be unsightly. If this happens, you can repot the plant and just bury it deeper to cover its bare, ugly stalk.
Once the long stem is covered with soil, it will send out new roots. When you repot, shake all the old soil off the roots and trim away any dead, brown roots. Just leave the light-colored, plump roots.
Another reason for repotting is an abundance of aloe vera pups. If your mother plant has put out lots of babies, separate them and give them their own pots. It’s easy to simply pull them off the parent plant (as demonstrated in the Aloe aristata video earlier in this article).
You can repot the pups immediately or leave them out to cure for a week or so. Either way is fine.
Don’t water plants immediately after placing them in the slightly damp soil as the roots will grow better if forced to seek water. Give them about a week and then water lightly.
Keep the soil very lightly moist until the pups have set roots then taper back watering to only water when the soil surface is dry.
Propagating aloe vera by division is the easiest and most natural way to grow aloe plants, but Aloe vera will also grow from a leaf.
To do this, cut off a leaf tip about three inches long and either poke the cut end right into soil or allow the cutting to dry for a few days before planting. Some hobbyist suggests that it is helpful to dip the cut end in honey before planting.
Results with this method are hit-and-miss, and most people feel it is more trouble than it’s worth since aloes typically produce many offsets. [source]
How To Harvest, Store & Use Aloe Vera Gel
When it comes to herbal remedies, everyone has heard of aloe vera gel and juice. These soothing substances are often used to treat burns, bruises, abrasions and minor skin irritations. The juice can also be used to soothe the tummy, relieve constipation, style and condition your hair and more.
Harvesting and using aloe vera gel is simplicity, itself. Just cut off a mature leaf with a sharp knife and split it lengthwise.
- Squeeze the gel directly from the leaf onto your minor burn, sore spot or skin irritation.
- Make an aloe compress by splitting the spear lengthwise, opening it up and laying it on the affected area.
- Keep in mind that aloe gel should not be depended upon to treat large or deep burns, severe wounds or severe skin conditions. [source]
To harvest a larger amount of juice to keep on hand ready for use. Do the following:
- Harvest the number of aloe leaves you want.
- Slit the leaves
- Scrape the gel out with a spoon and put it directly into a clean, glass container.
- The gel will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about a week.
To store aloe gel for longer periods of time, put the gel into ice cube trays and freeze it. Once the cubes are frozen, move them into zip-lock plastic bags or sealable freezer containers to protect them from accidental contact contamination.
An aloe vera ice cube is incredibly soothing to a minor bruise, sunburn or kitchen burn. You can also thaw these cubes out a few at a time to use as hair conditioner.
Use the gel undiluted as a rinse-out conditioner. Dilute it 50/50 with filtered water for a leave-in conditioner. Add a few drops of light, natural oil such as jojoba oil for more conditioning power. Essential oils add a pleasant scent.
The Aloe Vera A Green Companion
It’s easy to see that keeping one of the many aloe varieties in your home or garden is a smart idea and a great green companion. The gel is beneficial in so many ways, and even if you never have reason to use it, the pretty plants brighten your environment and add an element of carefree joy to every day.
Where does aloe vera grow?
No matter where you live, there’s sure to be an aloe (or several) that will thrive in your setting.