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How to Care for Aloe Vera

6 min read

How to Care for Aloe Vera

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Popular as an ingredient in medicine, cosmetics, and food, Aloe Vera is one of the few houseplants you may benefit from eating! Not only are Aloes beautiful desert succulents, but they also pose many health benefits and resourceful uses. To learn more about the benefits of this beautiful plant and how you can take care of your own, read on:

Aloe Vera Benefits

Aloe Vera has several medical uses, although it’s most well-known as a burn treatment. As major component in skin care, Aloe Vera flesh contains lots of antioxidants and natural moisturizing agents. These antioxidants can reduce swelling and redness in the skin, and the hydrating gel Aloe plants produce an excellent burn cream. If eaten, Aloe Vera can also reduce nausea and heartburn, lower blood sugar levels, and, in small amounts, act as a natural laxative (unless you have IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, or hemorrhoids). 

Aloe Vera, how to care for Aloe Vera, health benefits and uses of Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera flesh contains lots of antioxidants and natural moisturizing agents
Photo by Van L

 

General Care

In terms of care needs, Aloe Vera functions just like any other desert succulent:

1. Light

For light, you’ll want to stick with bright, indirect sunlight. Although this succulent can tolerate full sun, it still has delicate leaves– if you’re looking to use your Aloe as more than just a lovely decoration, you’ll want to prioritize leaf health above all else. Indoors, keep your Aloe Vera near an east or south-facing window to receive bright, indirect sunlight for at least six hours each day, with brighter light in the mornings. When growing outdoors, ensure your Aloe has a shaded reprieve during the afternoons, when sunlight is harshest.

2. Soil

As a desert plant, it’s safe to use a cactus mix for your Aloe Vera, but you can also modify a traditional potting mix using coarse sand, perlite, and peat to increase drainage and add a sandy texture. Regardless of how you prepare your soil, make sure that it is well draining and, if possible, slightly acidic. Adding compost to a soil mixture can increase its acidity.

3. Water

Aloe plants are drought-tolerant and don’t need water as often as other houseplants. Always wait until the soil is completely dry before you water this succulent. However, you should water them thoroughly to ensure proper growth. Water your Aloe Vera once every few weeks with a single-hole watering can or watering bottle, or use the bottom-watering method to let your succulent soak in as much water as it needs. Avoid getting any water on the leaves, as excess can lead to mold growth if left unattended. After watering, always make sure your soil drains completely before putting the succulent away. 

4. Temperature and Humidity

Since these plants come from the desert, Aloe Vera thrives in USDA agricultural zones 10-12. It requires warm temperatures and is not frost-hardy, making it ideal as an indoor plant in cooler areas. In addition, your Aloe needs dry air. A low 40% humidity in temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for this plant.

5. Fertilizer

Aloe plants live naturally in nutrient-poor soil and won’t need fertilizer to help them grow. If you want to fertilize your Aloe plant, use a few drops of water-soluble cactus fertilizer once a month during the growing season. 

Aloe Vera soil requirement, fertilizer for Aloe Vera, Aloe general care
Aloe plants live naturally in nutrient-poor soil and won’t need fertilizer to help them grow
Photo by bt3gl

 

Potting and Repotting

The best way to go about repotting your Aloe Vera is to do so at the beginning of the growing season, in the spring and summer. Repotting during the growing season is one of the best ways to avoid transplant shock caused by damage to the roots or leaves while repotting a succulent. By repotting in the spring, your Aloe will have plenty of time and energy to recover from any potential damage and adjust to its new home.

When you repot, always choose a pot at least 10% larger than its previous pot. Make sure the pot itself is clean, has a drainage hole, and is made from a porous material like concrete, terracotta, or ceramic to ensure proper drainage.

Aloe Vera general care, how to repot Aloe Vera
The best way to go about repotting your Aloe Vera is to do so at the beginning of the growing season
Photo by John Ivan Cocjin

 

Blooming

After four years of maturing, Aloe Vera plants produce beautiful spiky red, pink, or orange blossoms on very tall stems during their growing season. To encourage blooming, simply increase the amount of light your Aloe receives and add a little fertilizer into your watering routine. It’s also best to keep the succulent warm around this time as well, as warm temperatures can further encourage blooming. If your Aloe doesn’t bloom, that’s alright! It might not be mature enough yet.

Harvesting Aloe Vera

Harvesting Aloe Vera is similar to taking a cutting of the plant for propagation, but there are a few extra steps after making your cutting to harvest the gel. You can begin harvesting this plant once it’s fully mature and capable of blooming. If you’d like to harvest your Aloe for its medical benefits, you’ll need to be 100% positive that your plant is an Aloe Vera. Otherwise, the harvested gel may not do as it’s intended!

To make a cutting, use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or a knife to slice off a healthy leaf as close to the stem as possible. When you take a cutting, only trim a few leaves at a time. The cuttings won’t need extra time to callous over, but your Aloe plant will– give it a day or so to heal before you do anything else with your Aloe. It's important to note that harvested Aloe leaves do not grow back, the plant will seal the cut portion. However, your Aloe plant will slowly grow new leaves from the center and from the sides.

Aloe Vera health benefit, how to harvest Aloe Vera
You can begin harvesting this plant once it’s fully mature and capable of blooming
Photo by Diego da Silva

 

To harvest from a cutting, wash the leaves in water and slice off the sides of the leaves. Then, using a knife and your fingers, separate the top layer of leaf from the gel-like insides. Once the top of a leaf is off, drain any excess liquid from the leaf itself before scooping out the gel with a spoon or cutting it out with a knife. 

If you’re looking for a smoother, pulp-free gel, use a blender to puree your Aloe chunks and put them in the refrigerator to help them reconstitute.

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate Aloe plants is through offshoots during the growing season. Since Aloe reproduces through tinier versions of itself known as pups, you can wait until these pups just begin to take root and cut them off from the mother plant. Then, plant the offshoot in its own tiny pot to raise it. It’s best to avoid propagating this plant through leaf cuttings because the Aloe’s high moisture content is more likely to cause rot than take root. However, the steps to caring for an offshoot are the same: mist your soil every so often to keep it moist, and within a couple of weeks, you should see further root development.

 

Dormancy

Aloe Vera is one of the many succulents that experience dormancy during the winter when temperatures are cold and needs to conserve energy. During this time, your Aloe Vera will stop growing and may look wilted or even dead. However, your plant isn’t dying, just resting for the spring. During the dormant period, make sure your Aloe stays nice and toasty (around 70-80 degrees), and cut your watering routine in half to avoid overwatering. 

Aloe Vera plant, how to care for Aloe Vera during winter dormancy
Aloe Vera is one of the many succulents that experience dormancy during the winter
Photo by Lidia Bekenova

 

Common Pests and Complications

An Aloe’s biggest enemy is overwatering. With poor drainage, an Aloe plant may succumb to root rot, mold growth, fungal infections, or fungal gnats. To treat an overwatered succulent, repot it with fresh, well-draining soil in a clean, dry pot. If your Aloe is struggling with root rot, trim the blackened parts of your roots using clean, sharp scissors. When you trim, cut slightly above the rot to ensure it doesn’t spread. 

Toxicity

Aloe Vera is one of the many Aloe plants that are entirely safe for animals and humans. However, three members of the Aloe genus are toxic– the Aloe ballyi, Aloe elata, and Aloe ruspoliana. Unlike an Aloe Vera plant, these varieties of Aloe smell musty or ratty. On the other hand, Aloe Vera should smell relatively refreshing, especially when cut. Before shopping for your Aloe, always ensure you’re certain of its exact species before putting it on your skin!

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