Aloe vera plants are one of the most popular houseplants in the world. With its tested medicinal properties and stunning good looks, it’s not hard to see why!
These plants were always a staple in my home growing up. My mother kept multiple plants throughout the home, ensuring that those healing leaves were always on hand to treat scrapes and minor injuries.
When I had kids of my own, I knew that I wanted to get some plants to prepare for their rambunctious years. Instead of just purchasing a ton of plants at my local nursery, I decided to learn how to grow aloe vera for myself. Now, my home is filled with perky plants that are always on standby whenever we need them.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera plants are beautiful succulents with a very long history. In nature, these plants are typically found in dry arid climates. Like all succulent plants, aloe vera stores water in its leaves to prepare for long dry spells.
These are perennial crops with a distinct look. Rather than the lush green foliage that most people are used to with garden plants, aloe veras are composed of thick fleshy leaves. Depending on the cultivar, these leaves can get pretty long with the proper care. They fill up fast, too, producing a ton of usable gel.
Each leaf usually has serrated edges as well. While they look intimidating, most of them are relatively soft and easy to handle.
Aloe veras have been used for a very long time and were often present in some major historical events! The first recorded uses were by Ancient Chinese and Egyptians. Back then, these plants were the go-to for treating sunburns and wounds.
The aloe vera plant quickly became widespread. Thanks to its highly adaptable nature, these plants made their way throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and more. They were even utilized by Christopher Columbus when he explored the Americas!
The fascination with aloe vera plants continues to this day. It’s considered to be one most-researched plants in the world and has been used in various industries. The plants have a place in the pharmaceutical industry, the beauty industry, and more. In total, it’s estimated that the plant’s role in these industries gives it an estimated market value of 13 billion dollars globally!
Potential Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
There are several reasons why the aloe vera plant has been able to stand the test of time. It has some notable medicinal properties that are worth investigating. Despite its relevance in human history, research for aloe vera is still ongoing. Even so, people still swear by the stuff and see some pretty impressive results.
Perhaps the most common use for aloe vera plants is to heal minor injuries. The gelatinous material inside the thick aloe vera leaves is known to have anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. While the experience people have is different across the board, most will notice that regular application will heal burns faster than traditional over-the-counter products. The effects are so well-documented that you can easily find aloe-based products out there to help with skin issues.
Thanks to its anti-bacterial nature, aloe vera is also known to provide some other health benefits. You might find the plant used in toothpaste and other dental products to fight periodontal disease. It’s also a staple in many skincare products to reduce the effects of oil and acne.
Internally, the jury is still out on aloe vera. You can find parts of the plant being used in drink and dessert products around the world. The leaves are generally safe to eat. However, those aloe vera plants are heavily processed to remove the aloe vera latex, which is known to be toxic in high concentrations.
The plant is often used to treat digestive problems and constipation, but it can also cause stomach upsets. As a result, we don’t recommend that you eat your aloe vera plants at home. Instead, stick with topical applications if you plan on taking advantage of the plant’s medicinal properties.
What are the Different Varieties Available?
In total, there are more than 400 different types of aloe vera out there! These are stunning plants with a lot of variation between cultivars. While most people think of those simple green succulents they see at their local garden store, these plants can be quite ornate.
Contrary to popular belief, these plants don’t always keep their small bush-like shape. In the right conditions, aloe vera plants can produce long stalks and flowers filled with color! Depending on the specific variety you have, the flowers may be covered in yellow, deep purple, and more.
Typically, aloe vera plants will not bloom in the home. While they are kept in a wide range of climates, these plants are tropical through and through. Thus, they will typically only bloom when kept outdoors in near-perfect conditions.
Even if you’re not going to get those brightly-colored blooms, you still have a lot of options to choose from in terms of variety. Some aloe plants take on a unique hue as well, adding some visual interest to your indoor garden. Here are a few of the most popular varieties to try out.
Stone aloe plants are some of the most widespread in the indoor garden community. They have the classic aloe vera look and are very easy to care for. When fully grown, they can get pretty massive measuring two feet tall and about 3 feet wide!
In addition to providing you with all the health benefits you would come to expect, stone aloe plants are known to be good for air quality, too. They can remove impurities, making your home or apartment a much healthier place to live.
Sand aloes look similar to Stone aloes. However, they tend to be a bit more vibrant in the color department. Not only that, but the serrated teeth on its leaves are much sharper. These plants can be a bit uncomfortable to handle, so make sure that you have some gloves on hand!
The interesting thing about sand aloe is its resilience. The plants are capable of staying healthy in temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Native to South Africa, Soap aloe is a beautiful specimen. The leaves are broad and thick. They’re usually covered in white spots. Depending on the quality of care you provide, they might even take on pinkish tips!
If you place these plants outside, they can bloom to produce vibrant pink flower heads.
In the right conditions, Climbing aloe can bloom every year. It produces orange and red flowers, creating a nice show in your backyard. This variety is one that you will need to move outside at some point. The leaves can get to be up to 12 feet in length, making it a massive variety that needs tons of space to thrive.
Lace aloes are another beautiful cultivar that works great indoors. It grows in dense clumps, making it easier to manage. That said, don’t make the mistake of thinking an innocent Lace aloe can’t get big. It can get to be about 20 inches in size when fully grown.
This variety can be identified by its speckled appearance. The leaves take on a deeper green color as well.
When is the Best Time to Plant?
Typically, the best time to plant aloe vera is going to be in the spring and summer. These plants thrive during the warmer months. Depending on where you can live, you might even be able to let your plants spend some time outside during the warm growing season! Doing so will result in some impressive growth and the development of offshoots. We’ll get into that later.
Aloe vera plants do best when kept in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This falls in line with standard room temperature for most homes. As a result, you can technically start growing your plants at any time of the year indoors.
This is especially true if you’re simply transplanting aloe vera. Many aloe vera plants these days are purchased as pups. Basically, pups are propagated aloe vera plants that come from a mature specimen. Interestingly enough, those tiny plants are clones of the original.
It’s possible to grow from seed, but most gardeners will simply purchase established pups. If that’s the case for you, planting can be done at any time during the year. It’s recommended that you wait until it’s a bit warmer to avoid any potential shock issues. But, it can be done safely in a warm home and access to plenty of sunlight.
Where Can You Plant Aloe Vera?
While aloe vera plants are tropical by nature, they are hardy enough to withstand a lot. They adapt well to most situations and can thrive if you provide them with the basics. Whether you’re growing your plants indoors or out, there are some key placement factors to consider.
If you plan on keeping your aloe vera plants indoors, the environment in your home should be just fine year-round. That is a big reason why aloe vera plants are such popular houseplants!
Aloe does best in warm, hot, and arid climates. But, you can easily replicate that experience by managing water and sun exposure.
The most important thing that your plant is going to need is sunlight! That’s true for all plants. However, it’s important to do some careful planning for indoor houseplants. At the very least, the aloe needs to get between 8 and 10 hours of sun exposure. This is pretty easy to manage outside. But finding a spot indoors is a bit tougher.
Most gardeners will keep their aloe vera plant on a south-facing window ledge. You can often see them in kitchens and bathrooms. Choose a room that has plenty of windows to keep the space as bright as possible.
If you can’t get those required hours of sun, you can always move your plant around throughout the day as needed. If you don’t, the plant could get quite leggy. It’ll develop long thin leaves as it tries to reach the sun.
The tricky thing about aloe vera plants is that you shouldn’t provide too much direct sunlight. Having the sun’s rays hit your plant for hours on end could lead to dehydration issues. Your leaves will turn yellow and the plant could die off. A bit of direct sunlight is fine. But, you should focus more on keeping the plant in a bright space with indirect sunlight instead.
Soil Quality and Drainage
One of the biggest challenges you’re going to face with your aloe vera plant is proper drainage. Remember, these are succulents. They sip water slowly. Having too much hydration can lead to root rot and soggy leaves.
Whether you’re planting indoors or out, you need to ensure that you’re providing a good soil mix that’s designed to promote adequate drainage. There is no shortage of potting mix products that are specifically designed for succulents.
If you’d rather take a more hands-on approach, you can also prepare the soil yourself. You can add things like lava rock, perlite, or coarse sand to the soil. This will prevent compaction and allow water to drain efficiently.
How to Plant Aloe Vera in the Garden
Planting aloe vera is pretty easy. However, the exact technique you’ll use depends on where you’re planting and what you’re growing your new plant from.
There are a couple of different options if you’re planting indoors. The easiest and most common method is to use pups from an older plant or a small succulent from a nursery.
Before you start the job, you need to adequately prepare your pot. The beauty of aloe vera plants is that they work very well with ornamental pots that spice up your home decor. However, it still needs to be functional.
Choose a clay pot that’s just as wide as it is deep. Clay pots are preferred over plastic alternatives because they dry evenly. Plastic pots tend to hold onto water and make evaporation tougher. Make sure that there are proper drainage holes at the bottom!
If the holes are large, apply a small piece of mesh to keep the soil intact. Water will get through the mesh. But, the material will ensure that you’re not losing any soil as the roots of the plants get bigger.
Now, take your baby aloe vera plant and remove it from the soil it came in. Gently clean off the root system. If you want to establish the plant quickly, brush some root stimulation hormone powder at the bottom of the tank. It’ll give the plants a nice boost of nutrients.
Fill your pot about a third of the way up with soil. Then, hold the aloe vera plant in the center and continue to fill around the roots with soil. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the pot.
It might be tempting, but don’t water your new plant. Place it in a sunny spot and give it some time to adapt.
If you’re choosing to plant aloe vera outside in your garden, the method is pretty much the same. However, you need to take extra time to prepare your soil. Not only do you need to ensure that it’s loose and well-draining, but you must also enrich it. Consider mixing in some compost or fertilizer several weeks before planting to give your new aloe vera a nice kick of nutrients.
Some gardeners choose to plant directly from seed. To do this, you’ll need to place seeds about an inch apart on the soil. Cover them with a fine layer of soil and drape some plastic over the seeds if you live in an area that’s not warm enough for germination. This can also be done inside with artificial light if needed.
Test the soil daily for moisture. Once the top layer of soil dries down about half an inch, water the seeds. Seeds will sprout in about two to four weeks. At that point, you can transplant them to other growing areas.
How to Take Care of the Aloe Vera Plant
Taking care of an aloe vera plant isn’t hard at all. However, they are not like other crops that you might be used to. Aloe vera plants don’t need a ton of attention like other garden plants. That said, there are a few care tasks you need to stay on top of.
When it comes to watering, there’s a fine balance between not providing enough and providing way too much. Providing too much water causes the entire leaf to become overly saturated. Rather than that crisp and firm texture you want, it will become soggy. This is why proper drainage is key.
Succulents can survive for several weeks without water. The roots need air to stay healthy. Without it, they can develop root rot. The leaves will become bloated as well, eventually splitting open.
Aloe vera plants need deep, but infrequent, waterings. In most cases, you only need to water them once every three weeks or so. Check the soil before watering. It should be dry one to two inches below the surface.
Should You Use Mulch?
Plastic mulch can be used to keep the soil warm during the winter. Use the mulch sparingly and make sure that it’s not a product that absorbs water.
How and When to Apply Fertilizer
These plants can benefit from light fertilization. However, they usually do just fine on their own. As long as the soil is high-quality, it shouldn’t have a problem growing.
If you do want to apply fertilizer, do so during the spring growing season. Utilize a fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus and do a half-strength dosage.
Weeding and Pruning
Like any other plant, aloe vera can fall prey to invasive weeds. When planted outdoors, you should always remove grass and any other plant that sprouts up. Do so gently. The loose soil makes it easy to damage the plant’s roots while you’re pulling.
The cool thing about aloe vera plants is that they produce pups. Also known as babies, they are small offsets that you can remove and replant.
To do that, gently pull the small plants away from the primary plant. Usually, the roots of the baby plants are attached firmly. If it doesn’t come out easily, you can use a knife and cut them close to the base. Next, clean up the root you just cut and let them sit.
You may have to wait up to 10 days. During this time, calluses will form around the bare cutting site. This will prevent fungal infections from occurring. Keep the pups in a well-ventilated area that’s away from direct sunlight.
How to Harvest and Store Aloe Vera
When you harvest aloe vera, you’re collecting the gel. It’s the thick clear substance that’s inside the innermost part of the leaves. You don’t want to collect the aloin, which is a yellowish sap. The aloin will seep out of the leaf after you cut it, so you’ll need to do some preparation.
The good news is that you can harvest leaves at any time. Just choose a leaf, cut off a portion, and wash it. Then, squeeze out the gel and apply it topically.
The gel is best used immediately. We recommend tossing out any leftovers you might have. You can, however, store full leaves. Wrap the leaves in plastic. Make sure that the exposed cut is fully covered. Then, pop it in the fridge. The leaves should last for up to five days. If you need long-term storage, they will do fine in the freezer for up to eight months.
All that said, aloe vera gel really should be used fresh. There’s no need to cut and harvest your plant until you’re ready to use it. Just let your plant grow until you need the gel. You’ll be happy to have large leaves with a lot of gel!
What are Some of the Pests and Diseases That Affect Aloe Vera?
There are a handful of diseases and pests to be wary of. The issues you might encounter will depend entirely on where your plant is. If it’s outside, you might have to deal with fungal infections like Aloe Rot or Anthracnose Disease. The former results in orange spots on the leaves. Luckily, it’s self-limiting and usually goes away on its own.
Anthracnose Disease is usually a product of warm and wet weather. Aloe vera plants are often affected after heavy rains or splashes. To treat it, you’ll need to use fungicides.
As for pests, the most common bug to affect aloe vera plants is aphids. They can eat away at the leaves and damage the edges. With severe infestations, the plant may experience stunted growth. You can treat aphids with insecticidal soap.
Inside Pests and Diseases
Inside aloe plants have some common problems, too. These include mealybug infestations and scale. Mealybugs are tiny creatures that feed off the plant. The effects on aloe vera are similar to that of aphids outside.
They also cause an issue called slate. Basically, slate is a residue created by the waste of insects like Mealybugs. To treat slate, you’ll need to get rid of the bugs.
Oftentimes, these bugs are attracted to moist soil, so make sure that you’re not overwatering. You can manage existing infestations with gentle insecticides. Slate can be washed off manually with clean water.
Aloe vera is one of the best plants you can have in and around your home. Not only do these plants look great, but they also serve a practical function! Having some plants around can prove to be very useful whenever you encounter a burn or scrape.
Luckily, caring for aloe vera is easy. All you need to get started is some well-draining soil and a pup. Once you have your baby plant established, you can water it every few weeks and watch it flourish.