Aloe Vera is a great house plant. Not only does it add a bit of life to your house, it also has healing properties in its sap. The gel-like liquid from a broken leaf can be used to soothe minor burns and abrasions. Just clip or break off a leaf, and the sap can be applied directly to skin!
Aloe is a member of the succulent plant group, meaning it has a high water-retention rate. There are some 400 species of Aloe worldwide, and it is believed to have originated in Northern Africa, but lacks a definitive area of origin, given the wide geographic range in which this plant grows and thrives
Aloe Vera has thick serrated leaves that are lance-shaped, starting wider at their base and then tapering to a point. The root systems of Aloe plants tend to grow wide, but not deep into soil. When transplanting your Aloe it is common practice to move them into a wider but not deeper pot as they grow. One important feature of the root system is that it forms arbuscular mycorrhiza, a fungus that penetrates inside the roots to allow better access to mineral nutrients in the soil – cool, huh?
Aloe is fairly easy to grow and long-lived to boot. With minor maintenance you’ll enjoy this plant for years to come! Aloe enjoys bright light, with some direct sun, but watch out because too much sun can actually sunburn your Aloe. Sunburned Aloe will show brown or gray scorch spots on the leaves. If you’re planning on moving your Aloe outdoors for the summer, make the move a gradual one. Plants grown outdoors often bloom in the spring with yellow and red, tubular flowers on tall flower spikes. However, aloe rarely blooms indoors.
When watering Aloe you’ll want to allow the potting medium to almost dry out before watering again. Don’t allow the soil to dry out completely, however, because when aloe becomes too dry the leaves will wrinkle and you may notice brown leaf tips. You will also want to be careful not to allow water to settle in the bases of leaves, because this can cause the plant to rot. If you are overwatering you might begin to see black spots on the leaves; a quick fix is to allow the potting medium to mostly dry out before watering again! During the winter you may have slower growth and should water more sparingly.
The ideal conditions for Aloe are a temperature of 65-75°F/ 18-24°C with average humidity to dry room humidity (around 40% relative humidity is a good aim to shoot for). Cactus potting mix is ideal because it is fast-draining, or add 1 part horticultural sand to 2 parts all-purpose potting mix! You’ll want to fertilize spring through fall, feeding monthly with a cactus/succulent plant fertilizer. Stop feeding in the winter when growth is slow. Check your Aloe Vera plant occasionally for pests, and treat any infestation immediately.
Propagation of these types of succulents is quite simple, as they freely produce offsets – also known as plantlets, pups, or “babies” – that can be removed to produce an entirely new plant ( a clone of the mother plant, technically)! Find where the offsets are attached to the mother plant and separate them using pruning shears, scissors, or a sharp knife. Leave at least an inch of stem on the offset. Allow the offset to sit out of the soil for several days; this lets the offset form a callous over the cut, which helps protect from rot. Keep the offset in a warm location with indirect light during this time. Once the offset has formed callouses, pot them in a standard well-draining succulent potting mix. Put the newly-potted offset in a sunny location. Wait at least a week to water and keep the potting medium on the dry side. You’ll see this newly-potted offset start growing soon!!
Aloe Vera is truly a joy to grow for the beginner or a more experienced grower, plus there’s nothing quite like treating a minor burn or abrasion with one of your own plants!