How to Grow Aloe Vera – A Guide to Propagate
Aloe vera plants, with their long, fleshy leaves, are aesthetically pleasing, be it in your home or garden.
Aside from their appearance, aloe vera plants provide a benefit to health. Once you learn how to grow aloe vera, you’ll be able to slice open one of the leaves off this succulent and find nutrient-rich aloe vera gel.
Used topically, aloe vera gel can soothe sunburn, moisturize skin and nourish hair. Today, it is in a number of products like Public Goods’ castile soap and shampoo bar.
This plant, which Native Americans refer to as the “medicine plant,” can also be added to smoothies or juices to improve a laundry list of health issues from acne to yeast infections thanks to its antifungal and immune-boosting properties.
Though you can certainly buy aloe vera gel or tablets, nothing beats sourcing fresh aloe vera gel directly from your backyard or windowsill.
To reap these benefits, your aloe vera plant requires specific tending to thrive, from the type of pot to the type of soil you place it in. So it is essential to be familiar with proper aloe vera plant care and the steps that make this succulent successful.
Preparing to Plant an Aloe Vera Plant
Before delving into the proper grow methods for your aloe vera plant, here are some fundamental preliminary steps.
Picking a Planter
Terra cotta clay pots make for ideal planters, not only for their natural aesthetic but also for their unique design.
Made from baked clay, these porous pots allow water and air to permeate through the walls to encourage healthy soil and plants. Overwatering can pose a number of threats to your aloe plant, like root rot and disease, so it’s important your aloe vera plant gets placed in a container beneficial to its growth. You’ll also want to make sure your terra cotta clay pot has a drainage hole.
The size of a terra cotta pot also matters. A large-sized aloe vera plant in a shallow pot can tip over. Shallow pots can also discourage root growth. The size of your pot depends on the size of your aloe plant. Be sure to consider how much it will grow in the coming years as that will also play a role in which size you choose.
Potting Mix vs Potting Soil
Aloe plants thrive in dry, well-drained conditions. So it’s equally as vital to choose an appropriate potting mix like cactus potting mix, a medium which mimics the cacti’s natural environment.
First, let’s familiarize you with the difference between potting mix and potting soil. Potting mix is a soilless organic material, designed specifically for growing plants in containers. Its unique combination of organic matter like peat moss and larger-sized particles like perlite is fluffier than potting soil, allowing aeration, drain management, and root growth.
Potting soil, the denser, cheaper medium, easily compacts and gets waterlogged, leading to root rot. This is not what you want to place your aloe vera plant in, or any succulent for that matter.
Cactus potting mix promotes drainage and evaporation to help regulate moisture levels. Miracle-Gro’s Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix boasts a fast-draining formula with nutrient-rich forest products, but its organic counterpart, Nature Care’s Organic & Natural Potting Mix—with alfalfa meal, bone meal, earthworm casting, kelp meal, and water conserve—was the bag a local plant specialist at a large retailer recommended I get.
There is also Espoma Organic Cactus Mix, which contains a unique blend of endo and ecto mycorrhizae, a fungus beneficial to root growth. It also increases water uptake and reduces drought stress and transplant shock.
Still, because of the aloe vera plant’s unique needs, the addition of grit, perlite and sand particles to the potting mix is ideal for growing conditions.
When planting aloe vera outdoors, choose a sandy area that completely dries out after it rains.
Sourcing Aloe Vera Plants
You can purchase aloe vera plants at most plant nurseries or from a variety of online retailers like Mountain Crest Gardens or Etsy.
You can also get a clipping of aloe, called a pup. These aloe pups or plantlets are offspring that grow off the mother plant. Perhaps you have a friend with pups you can propagate. Or, you can purchase them relatively cheaply ($3) off sites like Etsy.
How to Grow Aloe Vera Plants: Indoors and Outdoors
Now, let’s dive into the dirt. Here is your complete guide to growing aloe vera at home.
Preparing the Pot and Plant
First, prepare your terra cotta pot by giving it a good scrubbing, especially if it is one you’ve used before. Let the pot completely dry. Place a drainage screen over the hole at the bottom of the pot; this averts small particles from the potting mix from leaking out. A wad of newspaper can suffice, but note that this option is only a temporary fix.
Next, carefully remove your new aloe vera plant from its plastic nursery pot. Gently dust off excess dirt from the roots. Be careful when handling the roots.
Planting Aloe Vera Indoors
Follow the steps before to make sure you’re properly transplanting your aloe.
- Fill ¾ of your terra cotta pot with potting mix.
- With your finger or a spoon, create a small hole in the potting mix with a diameter the width of your aloe’s roots.
- Add more potting mix to cover the roots and fill just below the bottom layer of aloe vera leaves so that the plant sits on top. The space between the surface of the potting mix and the terra cotta pot’s rim should be about ¾ of an inch. Otherwise, when you go to water, it will spill over and make a mess.
- Gently pack down the potting mix with your fingers to get your aloe vera plant snug and positioned; you don’t want your plant to topple over. Be sure not to pack the potting mix too much as a denser medium impedes the plant’s growth.
- Do not water your newly potted aloe. I know you think it’s thirsty, but it needs some time to put down its new roots. New homes take adjusting. Wait for at least one week before watering or fertilizing.
Adding a layer of gravel or large rocks to promote drainage at the bottom of your terra cotta pot is not needed. In fact, it takes up real estate better used for your aloe vera plant’s roots to grow. Just be sure your terra cotta pot has a drainage hole and you’re good to go.
Some green-thumbed enthusiasts will recommend dusting the aloe vera plant’s stem with a rooting hormone powder to encourage the production of new roots after planting. You can find this at most plant nurseries, or you create your own DIY rooting hormone concoction with apple cider vinegar, ground cinnamon, or honey.
Setting Your Aloe Vera Plant Up for Success
The Old Farmer’s Almanac indicates that aloe thrives best in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making your apartment or home a perfect place to house the plant.
Aloe should be placed in a warm area that receives sunny but indirect light, such as west-facing windows. These windows receive indirect sunlight from morning until noon and receive direct sunlight from noon until sundown.
South-facing windows only receive indirect sunlight in the early morning and direct sunlight all day which could cause sun damage to your aloe vera plant.
If you do not plan to position your aloe vera plant on a windowsill but rather in the corner of a room, place it a few feet away from a west- or south-facing window to ensure it gets enough vitamin D.
Remember, aloe is a succulent, so providing it with sufficient sun that allows for the dry conditions it favors will help it thrive.
The other option, especially if you live in a basement apartment, would be to purchase LED grow lights. But if you’re trying not to increase your electricity bill, opt for what’s free: the sun.
How to Grow Aloe Vera Outdoors
Where you live will play a pivotal role in how you grow your aloe.
Because these plants are drought-tolerant, meaning they do well in dry, arid, well-draining areas, they do best in areas categorized with a plant hardiness level over 9. A plant’s hardiness is characterized by its ability to thrive and withstand frigid winter temperatures along with other adverse climatic changes.
On its website, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a zone map with color-coded geographical regions based on the average annual low temperatures in the winter months. You can type your zip code into the map to see whether or not an aloe vera plant would fare well outdoors for your particular region.
Those who live in the southwest could certainly plant outdoor aloe vera plants, while in Long Island, New York would only be able to keep the plants outdoors in the balmy spring and warm summer months.
Just be sure to choose a sandy space that completely evaporates rain and bring the plant inside in the colder months.
Aloe Vera Plant Care 101: How to Make Your Aloe Plant Thrive
Caring for your aloe after the potting process is important. Fortunately, taking care of your aloe vera plant is pretty easy. Use these tips to create an optimal environment for your plant.
Be sure to place your aloe in an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight.
Full sun can dry out the plant, causing the leaves to turn yellow. If your aloe plant does not receive enough sunlight, it can grow “leggy” extensions, a manifestation of the plant stretching itself towards any accessible source of light.
This not only distorts the plant but also spawns weak vegetation or growth. A deficiency of light can also cause root rot, a disease that plagues plant roots that have been subject to persistent wet soil. The sun’s warm rays help manage the soil’s moisture level.
Be Careful Watering Aloe Vera
Another challenge arises in how often you water your aloe. Overwatering is the most common issue.
These succulents are very low maintenance and do not require much watering. This is because they can store water in their fleshy leaves for weeks.
Ideally, you should water your aloe vera plant once every three weeks in the spring, summer and fall months.
It is a challenge to not overwater your aloe vera plant, especially when you’re watering the other plants that decorate your home each week. Oversaturated soil encourages root rot and can cause the leaves to wilt and turn brown. To avert this, be sure to allow the soil to dry 1-2 inches below the surface in between waterings, or water about every two to three weeks, depending on how much sunlight your plant is exposed to.
To measure your plant’s water level, stick your index finger into the soil until it is level with your second knuckle.
Come winter, you should water even more infrequently. This is because the plant does not receive as much sun and warmth as needed to properly dry the potting mix. Be sure to avoid standing water at all costs.
Another tool you can try is a spray bottle. Fill it with water and mist the aloe vera plant’s leaves once a week. This mist mimics the light rainfalls synonymous with succulents’ natural environments, helping it to adapt in your home. It also provides the leaves with the water beneficial to photosynthesis while simultaneously keeping the roots nice and dry.
Troubleshooting Your Plant
Other warning signs to look out for include the shape of the leaf and brown tips.
Shriveled or cupped leaves could be the result of a water deficiency or it could indicate your plant is overwatered. When an aloe plant does not get enough water, it uses up its own mass to sustain itself, causing the leaves to flatten or curl inwards. Cup-shaped leaves can also be brought on by too much direct sunlight. In an attempt to protect itself from sunburn, the leaves curl.
Let’s say your aloe plant is thriving, three years have gone by, and at the plant’s stem, which used to be at the surface of the potting soil, is completely erect by several inches. On the sides of this spindly stem, you see dried, calloused remnants where you had harvested the aloe leaves for your health and beauty regimen or your fruit smoothies.
If the stem no longer fits in the pot and you cannot repot your aloe vera into a larger pot, you may have to trim the stem.
This could potentially kill your aloe vera plant, so proceed with caution.
Repotting Aloe Vera
If your plant has become rootbound, it is time to repot to a larger planter. Rootbound is a term that describes when a plant’s roots have taken up the entire pot it was planted in. At this point, the roots become so overgrown and convoluted like an intricate cave system that when you pull the plant out of the pot, its mass is molded to the shape of that very pot.
This is not a healthy living environment for your aloe vera plant because the roots have seized the potting mix. Without potting mix, your aloe plant is being deprived of nutrients, oxygen, water and drainage.
One solution to this problem is to simply repot your aloe vera plant in a larger pot. If that is not an option, you can prune the roots, but this can only be done on smaller-sized plants and can be quite tricky.
Trimming Your Aloe Vera Stem
When you repot your aloe, you will need about three inches of good stem, bare of leaves. Be precise with measurements.
- To trim your stem, remove the aloe vera plant from the pot. If your aloe vera plant is in a larger pot with other succulents and plants, you will prune the stem where it meets the surface of the potting mix.
- Remove any dead leaves from the stem’s shaft. If any of the bottom leaves look limp or withered, remove them and harvest the gel. Sometimes your plant can grow finicky leaves that bend at awkward angles, probably a result of a lack of sunlight. You can harvest these too if you prefer to have a specific shape to your plant.
- Place the plant in a bowl and let sit in an area that receives indirect sunlight, like a living room coffee table or kitchen counter. Let the stem calcify for about a week. You will notice a callous develop over the wound.
- Once the callous has developed, repot your aloe vera plant with the same instructions above.
Harvest and Store Your Aloe Vera
There is something primal and indispensable about harvesting aloe vera juice directly from a plant you worked so hard to nurture and raise. To maintain and use the fruits of your labor, follow the next steps with care.
To harvest your plant, simply cut the large, mature leaves at the base of the plant. Remove the yellow sap that drips from the incision site as it is potentially toxic.
To store your leaves, place them in an air-tight container and store them in the refrigerator until you need them.
Because aloe vera leaves are serrated like a knife, cutting or harvesting your aloe takes prudence. You can check out
Public Goods’ “How to Cut and Harvest an Aloe Vera Plant” for a step-by-step guide on harvesting as well as how to store it.
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