Aloe vera, commonly grown as a houseplant, is known for its leaves which contain a soothing gel used on sunburns and other skin irritations. With over 300 species (the most common being Aloe barbadensis miller), this tropical succulent features fleshy lance-shape leaves with jagged edges that grow out from a basal rosette. Given the right growing conditions, spiky flowers will appear on the end of 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 flower stalks. Still, this fast-growing succulent will reach its mature size in three to four years and produces pups that can be repotted or given as gifts to other plant lovers. No green thumb is required.
Consuming the leaves is toxic for people. The leaves are also toxic to dogs and cats.
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Aloe
|Common Name||Aloe vera|
|Botanical Name||Aloe barbadensis miller|
|Plant Type||Succulent, herb, perennial|
|Mature Size||12-36 in. tall, 6-12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Flower Color||Yellow, red, orange|
|Hardiness Zones||10-12 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans , toxic to pets|
Aloe Vera Care
Aloe vera needs sandy soil or a cactus potting medium to thrive in containers. When grown outdoors in zones 10 through 12, plant this succulent next to others with similar needs. Blend aloe into a xeriscaped border planting, or make it an entryway focal point by potting it on its own. Potted aloe looks nice on decks and patios where it also comes in handy for use on emergency burns and bites. Outdoors, blooming may occur in late spring or early summer; blooms generally don't appear on potted indoor specimens. Either way, the plant needs to be very mature in order to bloom at all and, even still, may not bloom every year, especially if the leaves are being harvested for use. Aloe requires little watering and virtually no fertilizing, making it an easy-care houseplant for beginner gardeners.
Aloe Vera needs bright, natural light in order to thrive. Outdoors, aim for up to six hours of full sun, with a small shade reprieve in the afternoon. When grown inside, aloe should be placed in a window with bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sun can burn its tender skin, yet lack of light will cause the plant to grow leggy and weaken its leaves, causing them to crease.
In its natural habitat, aloe vera commonly grows in nutrient-poor soil conditions, on sandy slopes with guaranteed drainage. Ensure proper drainage in a pot by using a cactus potting medium or traditional potting soil mixed with perlite and coarse sand. Aloe prefers its soil slightly acidic, hovering around 6.0, but it is highly adaptable and can also grow in neutral or alkaline soils, as well.
Aloe prefers to be watered regularly, as long as the soil dries out completely in between waterings. If the soil remains dry for long periods of time, the leaves will shrivel and pucker slightly. The plant will recover when watered, however, extended periods of stress—either prolonged drought or too much water—will make the leaves turn yellow and die. Do not water outdoor plants during periods of rain.
Aloe vera goes dormant in the winter and won’t require any water at all, provided it received sufficient water during its growing season. If your climate is rainy during the winter, consider planting aloe in gravel or stones. This will allow the water to run off and prevent rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Aloe grows naturally in arid, tropical, and semi-tropical environments, so mimicking these conditions will allow it to thrive. Aim for a temperature between 55 and 85 F (most indoor environments can achieve this) and don't leave your container plant outdoors if nights are forecasted to dip below 40 F. Aloe cannot tolerate frost, but a few alpine varieties can withstand occasional temperatures near freezing.
Aloe can handle dry air just fine and does not require extra humidity. Forty percent relative humidity is perfect.
Aloe vera grows best in poor soil conditions (this plant has adapted to nutritionally poor desert soil) and does not require any fertilization at all. That said, feeding potted aloe once a year each spring may help maintain vibrant growth. A liquid 10-40-10 houseplant fertilizer, diluted to half strength, works best for an annual feeding. Outdoors, aloe usually thrives without any fertilization.
Types of Aloe Vera
Over 500 species of aloe exist, but not all are cultivated for growing in the garden or home. Some have thorny leaves, some trail and climb, and others are round in shape.
Here are a few gardeners' favorites:
- Aloe polyphylla, or "spiral aloe," is a captivating succulent that grows in a spiral and bears orange flowers. This large, egg-shaped plant (20 to 24 inches round) hugs the ground and features gray-green leaves with purple tips.
- The mid-sized Aloe aculeata (3 feet tall and wide when mature) grows thick, broad leaves with teeth, or thorns, on both sides. This variety features yellow or orange flowers and can be found growing naturally in rocky areas and in the grasslands of Africa between 1500 and 5600 feet.
- Aloe ciliaris, also known as "climbing aloe," is a succulent vine with stems that can grow up to 30 feet long. It bears bright orange tubular flowers near the terminal ends of the leaves, and is sometimes planted in drought-stricken landscapes as a fire block.
- Aloe brevifolia, or "short-leaf aloe," is round in shape with thick, triangular leaves that have a bluish hue and orange tips. This variety grows less than a foot tall, but its golden rosettes make it a popular landscape addition.
Aloe vera needs pruning only if the leaves are shriveled and dead. You can also prune those damaged by environmental factors. If the outer leaves of your aloe vera plant go brown at the tips, cut them back, as well. To do so, use clean garden shears and either cut off only the affected tip, or prune the entire leaf altogether at its base. Pruning leaves at the base—either dead or alive—will encourage new growth while also making the plant aesthetically pleasing. Never cut an aloe leaf in its center.
Propagating Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is best propagated by replanting the offsets (the pups) that develop at the base of the plant. Mature plants will often produce many pups, making it easy for you to relocate them to other pots or parts of the garden, or you can gift them to friends.
Here's how to propagate aloe vera from pups:
- Gather gloves, a trowel, a pot, and a cactus potting medium.
- Put on your gloves and fill the pot with potting mix.
- Locate the pups at the base of the mother plant. Using a trowel, pry up a pup and sever the taproot that connects it to the mother. (Some pups may have more extensive root systems than others. Some may have no roots at all. All will grow fine, either way.)
- Lay the pup flat and dry it in a sunny window for a few days to allow any broken cuts to callus over.
- Plant the pup in the pot, taking care to cover any roots. Backfill the soil just below the main crown (where the leaves fan out).
- Water the plant and place it in a sunny window. It may take three to four months to grow roots. Be patient.
How to Grow Aloe Vera From Seed
Cultivated aloe is rarely grown from seed since it's inexpensive and readily available as plant starts. Also, aloe plants generally don't produce either flowers or viable seeds until they are over four years old. Still, if you'd like to plant aloe by seed, first, collect the seeds from spent flowers. Next, prepare a tray with a mixture of peat and sand. Scatter the seeds, lightly cover them with the medium, and water them until just damp. Keep the medium moist by misting, and move the tray to a place with bright light and consistent temperatures of 75 F (this may require a heat source). Sprouting should occur in two to four weeks. Young plants should be kept under heat until they form four leaves and can be transplanted on their own.
Potting and Repotting Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has a shallow and wide root system that likes to spread out close to the surface. As the plant grows and needs repotting, it's best to move up to a wider pot, rather than a deeper one. Repot your aloe when it becomes root bound or if its pups seem to be overcrowded. First, carefully remove the mother plant and pups from their container, taking care not to damage the leaves. Pull or cut the pups from the mother, allow them to dry, and then replant them on their own. Fill a wider pot with a cactus soil medium. Repot the mother so that all of the roots are covered and the soil line hits just below the main crown. Water all the plants thoroughly and allow the soil to dry completely before any subsequent waterings.
Aloe vera cannot tolerate frost, so if you live in a cold climate, grow this plant in containers and bring it inside for the winter. Outdoor plants within their hardiness zones can be left alone in the ground to remain unwatered throughout their dormant period. If an unexpected frost is predicted, cover your aloe plants with sheets or blankets to keep them warm until the threat of frost has passed.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Aloe vera may fall victim to mealybugs, aloe scale, and aloe mites. Mealybugs congregate at the base of the plant where they secrete a sticky substance that provides an environment for mold to move in. Scale seldom kills the plant, but creates unsightly grey ridges on the leaves. Mites can go unnoticed until cancerous galls form as a result of their feeding.
Wipe mealybugs away with a soft cloth, after spraying the plant with water. Scale can be eradicated by whipping up a solution of 1 tablespoon insecticidal soap, 1 cup isopropyl alcohol, and 1 cup of water. Spray scale-infected leaves with this solution every three days for 14 days. For mites, prune the infected tissue to keep this plant, and any others around it, safe from harm.
Cool temperatures and high humidity can bring on a bout of aloe rust, a fungal disease that presents as yellow spots on the leaves which eventually expand and turn brown. This disease is self-limiting and usually doesn't require treatment. Bacterial soft rot can also move in and is a fatal disease. There is no treatment for this, but prevention starts by not overwatering.
How to Get Aloe Vera to Bloom
Aloe flowers on a stiff stalk up to three feet high. Clusters of tubular yellow or orange blossoms resemble those of red hot poker plants. Aloe vera is a finicky bloomer, though. In fact, indoor potted aloe vera may never bloom, even when it has reached the mature age of four. To try to force a bloom, you need to recreate the plant's natural desert conditions. Exposing your plant to bright sunlight, warm temperatures, and moderate, yet infrequent, waterings will give you the best chance of blooms. Potted plants can be placed outdoors in the summer for a better chance of flowering. Still, even when all the conditions are met, your aloe vera plant may only send up one shoot and flower, and maybe only one time seasonally.
Common Problems With Aloe Vera
Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes gardeners make with their aloe plants. Consistently wet soil contributes to root rot and mushy leaves. Rot at the roots can escalate the proliferation of bacteria or fungus, causing decay throughout the plants interior. In its most severe stages, root rot and decay cannot be treated.
Aloe leaves have also been known to bend and break. This condition provides a signal that your plant is not getting enough light to form stiff, healthy leaves. To remedy this situation, move your plant to a brighter spot, or use a fluorescent light to supplement sunshine.
How long do aloe vera plants live?
Indoor aloe plants can live up to 12 years, if given proper care and in the proper environment. Outdoor plants, surprisingly, can last up to two decades in an environment that mimics the plant's natural habitat.
Is aloe vera a cactus?
Certain varieties of aloe have thorny leaves, making some gardeners believe this plant is a cactus. However, aloe is a succulent that has a genus of its own called Aloe.