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Expert Advice: the Dos and Don'ts of Aloe Vera Plant Care

By Staff Writer
Share to PinterestExpert Advice: the Dos and Don'ts of Aloe Vera Plant Care

Lamenting your lack of green fingers? Why not try keeping an aloe vera alive? These plants pretty much thrive on neglect, so they're great for beginner plant moms and dads. But over and above their low-maintenance status and tolerance for desert-like conditions, aloe veras are first aid superheroes. If you've patch-tested this plant's gel without any problems, it can relieve minor burns and scrapes, and ingesting aloe vera juice can help with inflammation.

Fun fact—aloes are mentioned in the Bible, and humans have been using them for millennia. Go on, get yourself one of these prickly drought-tolerant beauties.


Bringing your aloe vera home

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Success begins with selecting a good plant from a reputable garden nursery. Healthy aloe vera plants have firm, fleshy leaves that proudly stretch toward the sun. The leaves are green and can have a blue or grey tinge. Avoid aloe veras with thin, brown, or withered leaves or black spots that could indicate a fungal disease.

Try and look at the roots, which should be white, not earth-colored or mushy.


Planting your aloe vera

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Succulents are extra susceptible to root rot, so choose a planter with drainage holes. A terracotta pot is ideal for optimal air circulation, but aloe veras aren't super fussy, so you don't have to be too particular with pot material—plastics or ceramics will work just fine. You can start small with a 5-inch pot and move up in 2-inch intervals as the plant grows.

Aloes don't mind crowded conditions. The plant's roots should take up two-thirds of your pot, and you can fill the rest of the space with sandy, rocky soil with a neutral pH. Traditional potting soil is a no-no unless you add perlite or pumice for aeration—a cacti mix is best.


A healthy start: sunlight requirements for aloe vera

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Finding the right spot with the right amount of sunlight is vital if you want your whimsical aloe vera plant to flourish. Aloe loves indirect sunshine, so a bright south- or west-facing window ledge is the ideal location. However, too much direct sunlight may turn the leaves an orangish yellow color, so you might need to adjust the placement.

Aloe vera will also grow in the shade, but it won’t thrive. Your plant will be happiest if you can find somewhere that gets even a little bit of sun. One good way to identify "indirect" versus "direct" light is to look at the shadow your plant casts. If the shadow is distinct but has blurry (rather than sharp, clear) borders, your plant is probably in indirect light!


A healthy start: watering

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Aloe vera is very low-maintenance when it comes to watering. Your plant will need hydration, but only infrequently. Generally, this means once a week during summer and about twice a month during the winter.

You don’t want your aloe to sit in water as this can lead to its roots rotting. Follow the common rule of an inch or two of dry soil at the surface before you water again. When in doubt, leave it a couple more days—aloe is a hardy plant that can survive over two months without water.


A healthy start: special nutrients

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In general, succulents don’t really need fertilizer. But, if you want to help your aloe vera along, fertilize once a month during its growing season with a balanced houseplant formula mixed at half strength. Only use fertilizer between April and September, as these are the months when it will grow vigorously.

In winter, aloe goes to sleep and will not actively grow. If you keep fertilizing at this point, the plant will become over-fertilized and could die.


A healthy start: special nutrients

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Aloes are not heavy feeders, so go easy on the fertilizer. Still, they benefit from some monthly TLC, especially in the springtime. Avoid granular fertilizers. Accessible options include a liquid 10-40-10 houseplant fertilizer or succulent fertilizer. Water the aloe vera plant the day before feeding it to prevent tip burn.

In addition to watering with regular H20, you can occasionally add dissolved Epsom salts for nutrients. Check online resources for the best ratios for your plant's size.


Healthy growth: pruning your aloe vera

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Once in a while, you'll need to remove old or damaged leaves from your aloe. You may also want to trim the plant to maintain a particular size or shape. Gently move aside other leaves and use a sterilized knife (place in a diluted bleach solution and let dry) or scissors to remove the discolored leaves at the stem.

Outer leaves are the most mature and contain the most gel. You can also prune the roots when repotting.


Healthy growth: repotting your aloe vera

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Aloes are slow growers, but you'll need to repot your plant every three years or so. You'll know your plant requires repotting when the roots grow out of the pot. Putting off repotting can lead to droopy leaves and stunted growth.

Set about repotting in spring. Obtain a pot that is no more than 2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot, and delicately tap the aloe out of its old home. Place it in its new abode, and fill the pot with potting soil. A nice drink at the sink will help the plant settle.


Can I propagate my aloe vera?

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A mature aloe vera plant will often produce offshoots, or "pups". By removing and replanting these babies, you can create whole new plants. Find where the pups are attached to the mother plant and snip them off, leaving at least an inch of stem.

Leave these green babies out of the soil for several days to allow the cut to form a callous over the cut end. You’re then ready to plant your new little aloe vera plants.


Common diseases

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Other than root rot, aloe rust is one of the most common diseases associated with aloe veras. This fungal issue occurs due to conditions that are too cold and wet. It causes leaf drop, yellow spots on leaves which change color and harden, and masses on the undersides of leaves.

A fatal bacterial disease called bacterial soft rot can result from overwatering too.


Common pests

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Just as you are a fan of aloe vera, so are the usual houseplant pests, such as scale and mealybugs. Scale can be easily removed with your fingernail or a blunt knife. Flat, brown mealybugs like to suck the gel from aloe, but you can wipe them off using a cotton swab and alcohol.

If you want to prevent these from attacking your aloe vera in the first place, try a non-toxic, natural pesticide.


Displaying your aloe vera

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Create a chic trio. Place three aloe veras in identical neutral-colored pots with beautiful pebbles on top. Or, include aloe vera as part of an assortment of various potted succulents. We love the aloe's green color and spiky structure and the visual interest it adds to a room by drawing the eye upwards.


Similar plants

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Looking for alternatives to aloe vera to add to your collection? Agaves are like aloe doppelgangers and also have medicinal properties. Haworthias also look distinctly related to aloes and are healing. Ariocarpus is another interesting succulent to consider. Also known as "living rocks", these plants grow at a snail's pace and don't need much upkeep.


Cautions and additional information

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Aloe vera gel is generally safe to use orally and topically, but it should not be applied to deep wounds. If you are allergic to onions, tulips, and other plants in the lily family, consuming aloe vera or smearing it on the skin may cause cramping or a rash. Be sure to wash the aloe skin thoroughly before eating to remove latex.

In addition, aloe vera is mildly toxic for cats and dogs and can cause GI distress to pets.


Varieties of aloe vera

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The Aloe genus comprises more than 500 species. Species differ in shape, leaf color, teeth, height, and flowering style, for example. Generally, you get stemless aloes, tree aloes, and shrub aloes, and all of them can serve as houseplants if the environment is appropriate.

Aloe aristata, or the lace aloe, is spherical with white teeth. It's gorgeous but poisonous. Aloe polyphylla, the spiral aloe, is yet another toxic stunner. You may also have heard of Aloe ferox or bitter aloe. From South Africa, this yellowy plant has health perks too.



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