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, and 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 plants. If you’re eager to get started, refer to the quick guide!
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]
Aloe Vera Plant Care Requirements
Light: Bright artificial light and/or indirect sunlight. Some tougher varieties can tolerate full sun.
Temperature: 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 27 degrees Centigrade).
Water: 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. Outdoors, use of rich, organic mulch and compost should provide ample nourishment.
Soil: Use well-draining potting mix such as cactus mix indoors. Outdoors, provide well-draining soil amended with organic compost, sand, fine gravel, etc.
Propagation: Divide aloe vera pups from the parent plant at time of repotting. Repot only when root-bound.
Pests & Problems: Over-watering 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.
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]
Recommended Aloe Varieties As Houseplants
Run of the mill aloe vera is easy to come by and attractive, but there are also quite a few splashy varieties that take no more care than standard aloe and present a much prettier houseplant. Here are a couple of the best.
Aloe variegata (aka Partridge Breasted aloe or Tiger aloe) sports showy stripes! [source]
Aloe aristata (aka Guinea Fowl Aloe or Lace Aloe) is pleasingly speckled! See it in this video, which also demonstrates just how easy it is to propagate aloe of all sorts.
Growing Aloe Vera Indoors – Nothing Could Be Easier
Common aloe plants adapt to most indoor settings. They can tolerate a low-light environment, but prefer bright, indirect artificial light or sunlight (or a combination of the two).
If the phrase “forgetful” describes your gardening care, you will find aloe very forgiving of infrequent watering. In fact, it prefers to be a bit thirsty. If you over-water, you will be inviting root rot, fungus, and problems with juice-sucking insects.
If your plant is unhappy because of too little light, not enough water or not enough warmth, it will shrink and turn slightly reddish. If this happens, review your plant care techniques and make adjustments accordingly.
5 Questions To Help You Evaluate Aloe Care Problems
Is The Soil Ideal?
If your plant is root-bound or not in the right kind of soil, you may need to repot. Provide a well-drained potting mixture by investing in a good cactus mix or mixing up a combination of good potting soil and sand.
Do You Have The Right Container?
The wrong container may cause root rot. The best containers for aloe plants are those made of unglazed terra cotta. These allow for good air circulation around the roots.
If you only have a glazed pot, a plastic or resin planter, make certain it has plenty of drainage holes to avoid having water trapped next to the roots.
Your container should be just big enough to accommodate the plant’s roots with a little bit of planting mix. It should also be heavy enough to prevent the plant from toppling over.
Is The Plant Getting The Right Amount Of Light?
A sunny window is a good location for an aloe plant, but it should not get bright, direct sunlight as this may scorch your plant. At least six hours a day of bright, indirect sunlight is ideal.
If you are not able to provide this, add a grow-light or fluorescent light to supplement the natural lighting.
Is The Plant Getting The Right Amount Of Water?
Be very careful not to over-water your aloe. A deep watering every couple of weeks should be sufficient. Check the soil before watering to be sure it is dry. If not, give it a little more time.
If the plant’s spears turn brown and/or become limp, you are probably watering too much. Remember these plants come from dry, desert areas. A little bit of water daily is unnatural for them. Occasional, deep watering is natural and ideal.
Could The Plant Benefit From Some Time Outdoors?
If you have nice weather in the spring and summer, you can let your houseplant live outdoors during this time.
Be sure to transition the plant gradually by allowing it a few hours of outdoor time daily for a week or two before moving it all together.
Start out by placing it in a sheltered area where it will not get direct sunlight at all. Move it to sunnier locations bit-by-bit. If you see signs of stress, give it a little more shelter. Although aloe vera plants are reputed to enjoy full sun, sometimes direct sunlight can be too harsh.
NOTE: I’m not a fan of moving plants from the indoors to outdoors and back again as weather changes. The response is due to the many questions received on the topic.
Grow Aloe Vera Outdoors Year-Round In A Warm Climate
If you live in USDA hardiness zones 8-10 you can grow aloe outdoors as a bedding plant. Understand that in Zone 8 you will need to provide some shelter and protection.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast. If the temperature is expected to drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, cover the aloe plants with a blanket. If the plant freezes, the leaves will burn and die back. As long as the roots don’t freeze, the plant should survive and send out new sprouts when the weather warms up.
The soil in your aloe bed should be light, airy and well-draining. When you first put plants out, water them deeply every week or two. Once established, you may not need to water them at all except in times of drought.
There are lots of beautiful types of aloes that can be planted outdoors in warm climates.
How To Maintain Your Aloe 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Propagation 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 Plant 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.
No matter where you live, there’s sure to be an aloe (or several) that will thrive in your setting.