How to Grow Aloe Vera

closeup of an aloe vera houseplant

The Spruce / Michael Marquand

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 miller. 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. It's a fast-growing succulent, taking three to four years to reach a mature size.

The spiky flowers appear on tall stalks, in shades of yellow, red, or orange. Young plants don’t generally flower, and aloe grown as a houseplant can take years to produce a flower stalk.

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Botanical Name Aloe barbadensis miller
Common Name Aloe vera
Plant Type Succulent
Mature Size 1-2 feet tall
Sun Exposure Indirect sunlight
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH 7.0-8.5 
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Yellow, red, or orange
Hardiness Zones 10-12 (USDA)
Native Area Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar
Toxicity Mildly toxic to humans; toxic to pets and livestock
closeup of an aloe vera plant
The Spruce / Michael Marquand
closeup of aloe vera showing texture
The Spruce / Michael Marquand

Aloe Vera Care

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.

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.

Light

Aloe Vera needs to be in a place that's bright with indirect sunlight: Direct sun can burn its tender skin.

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.

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.

Temperature and Humidity

Aloe Vera does best between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but will tolerate 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It cannot tolerate frost.

Fertilizer

Aloe vera does not require a high soil fertility. Feeding once a year, in the spring, with a houseplant fertilizer should be sufficient.

Is Aloe Vera Toxic?

Aloe vera is safe to be used topically on human skin, though some people are irritated by it. Its leaves should not be ingested by people, pets, or livestock.

Symptoms of Poisoning

According to the Mayo Clinic, humans may experience stomach distress or, even worse, kidney failure when ingesting aloe vera. In pets or livestock, stomach upset, lethargy and diarrhea can occur. Call your doctor or veterinarian immediately to decide what course of action to take.

Aloe Vera Varieties

  • 'Aloe polyphylla: This large and egg-shaped plant (20 to 24 inches!) has green leaves that are graced with purple tips
  • 'Aloe aculeata': This thorny, prickly variety has pert leaves, and a lemony hue.
  • 'Aloe ciliaris': Also known as common climbing aloe, it has bright orange tubular flowers.
  • 'Aloe brevifolia': Known as short leaf aloe, it's round in shape and its leaves are a bluish hue that turns rosy or golden in the sunlight.

Pruning

If the outer leaves of your aloe vera plant get brown tips, it's time for some pruning. Using clean garden shears, you can decide to simply cut off the affected area of the leaf, or prune the entire leaf altogether, close to the base of the plant. This will encourage new growth. Never prune leaves in the center.

Propagating Aloe Vera

Aloe vera can be propagated by seed but it's easier to remove and pot 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.

Potting and 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.

Overwintering

Aloe vera cannot tolerate frost and if you live in a colder climate, it should be kept in containers and brought inside for the winter. If you're experiencing an unexpected frost, cover aloe plants with sheets or blankets to keep them warm.

Common Pests/Diseases

Aloe vera attracts mealybugs, scales, and mites. Wipe mealybugs away with a soft cloth, after spraying the plant with water. For scales, whip up a mixture of 1 tablespoon insecticidal soap and 1 cup isopropyl alcohol mixed with 1 cup of water; spray scales with this solution every three days for 14 days. For mites, prune out infected tissue to keep this plant, and your other aloes, safe from harm.

aloe vera being cut open for medicinal use
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