Aloe vera is commonly grown as a houseplant and gained favor because the gel from its leaves makes a soothing skin salve, although some people are actually irritated by the gel.
There are over 300 species of Aloe vera, but the one most commonly grown as a houseplant is Aloe barbadensis. It has thick, succulent leaves that are plumped up with a watery gel. The leaves grow from the base of the plant, in a rosette, and have jagged edges with flexible spines.
The spiky flowers appear on tall stalks, in shades of yellow, orange and red. Young plants don’t generally flower and aloe grown as a houseplant can take years to produce a flower stalk.
Aloe is only hardy in U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zones: 9 - 11, but it is often grown as a houseplant. In colder zones, you can grow potted aloe vera outdoors for the summer and bring it indoors for the winter.
Mature Plant Size
Plants grow to approximately 2 ft. x 2 ft. Potted plants don't get as large as plants grown in the ground.
Blooming occurs in late spring/early summer. Plants need to be quite mature to begin blooming and may not bloom every year if the leaves are being harvested.
Design Tips for Aloe Vera Plants
Since aloe vera needs a sandy or gravelly soil, when grown outdoors it is best used with other succulents with similar needs. To blend aloe into a border planting, pot it separately and use as a focal point. Raising the pot to eye level will make it more prominent. Potted aloe grows well on decks and patios where it is handy for emergency burns and bites.
Suggested Aloe Vera Varieties
Most of the plants for sale in greenhouses are hybrids. Just look for one that has plump, firm leaves with few brown tips. A small plant growing as a tight rosette will adapt best to being potted indoors. If you find a plant that is splitting with lots of offshoots, replant the offshoots as suggested below in Propagating Aloe Vera.
Aloe Vera Growing Tips
Growing Aloe Outdoors: Although aloe can handle a brief frost, it can only be successfully grown outdoors in USDA Zones 9 and above. Here the difficulty is controlling water. Aloe can go for months without water, but too much rainfall will rot the roots. Do not give the plants any supplemental water during the rainy season. Most aloes go dormant in the winter and won’t require any water at all, provided they received sufficient water during the growing season. If your climate is rainy during the winter, consider planting your aloe in gravel or stones. They will allow the water to run off.
Growing Potted Aloe Vera, Indoors or Out:
- Soil - Soil needs to be well-draining. In its natural habitat, Aloe generally grows on slopes so that good drainage is guaranteed. To ensure drainage in a pot, you can use a special cactus potting soil or mix in some perlite or coarse sand and make your own mix.
- Water: Aloe can handle drought well, but prefers to be watered regularly, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. If the plant is left dry too long, the leaves will shrivel and pucker slightly. They will recover when watered, but prolonged stress, either too much drought or too much water, will cause the leaves to yellow and die.
Caring for Your Aloe Vera Plant
- Fertilizer: Aloe vera does not require a high soil fertility. Feeding once a year, in the spring, with a houseplant fertilizer should be sufficient.
- Propagating Aloe Vera: Aloe vera can be propagated by seed or by removing and potting the offsets that develop at the base of the plant. Break off each offshoot, making sure there are some roots attached to each piece, and replant the offshoots separately.
- Repotting Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera has a rather shallow root system that likes to spread out close to the surface. As the plant grows and needs repotting, move up to a wider pot, rather than a deeper one.
Pests & Diseases
There are not many pests or problems that affect aloe era. Rotting is the most common problem with aloe vera. Pay attention to the wilting of the leaves and water or withhold water accordingly.
Ants are attracted to the center of aloe vera plants. They are known to carry their aphid prey in there with them and the excess moisture can lead to rotting.
Using Aloe Medicinally
To use as a skin salve, remove a lower leaf and slice or break it open. Rub the inside gel onto the skin. For more information about the medicinal uses and effects of aloe vera gel read Health Benefits of Aloe Vera.