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You've probably used the aloe plant (Aloe barbadensis miller) for its skin-healing properties or as a cooling refresher after a sunburn in the summer. But in addition to the benefits of its sap, aloe belongs to a genus of spiny, rosette-shaped plants that make for attractive, easy-care houseplants.
Aloe is a great addition to your home for low-maintenance greenery and a Southwestern-inspired look in your space. This tropical plant doesn't have to live in its native habitat to thrive: With a little care and even the slightest green thumb, aloe can grow to its best right inside your house.
Read on for tips on how to grow aloe and propagate it to create new plants.
- Botanical Name: Aloe barbadensis miller
- Common Name: Aloe Vera
- Plant Type: Succulent, evergreen perennial
- Mature Size: Two to three feet tall
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light, or some daily direct sun
- Soil Type: Well-draining succulent or cacti soil
- Soil pH: 7.0 to 8.5
- Toxicity: Toxic when ingested, safe for topical use
For a natural, at-home sunburn remedy, cut a piece from the leaves of your aloe plant. Split the trimming in half vertically to rub fresh sap directly on affected areas for a healing, refreshing feeling.
How to Care for Aloe Plants
Since they’re well-suited to arid conditions, aloe plants can live long and thrive with very little care. Water deeply, but only when the soil has completely dried out—about every two to three weeks—and cut back on watering during the winter months.
Since too much water can cause root rot, it's important not to let your aloe plant sit in standing water. A pot made from terra cotta or another porous material will aid in drainage to keep your plant healthy.
Aloe doesn't need to be repotted often; in fact, it can thrive in a slightly overcrowded container. But when it's time to replant your aloe, you'll want to use a container one size larger every few years to keep it from becoming rootbound. You can check to see if your aloe plant is outgrowing its pot by carefully picking up the container and looking at the drainage holes. When roots are growing out of the drainage hole, it’s time to repot.
Most varieties of mature, healthy aloe plants will send up a tall spike each winter with a series of colorful (tube-shaped or trumpet-shaped) orange, red, or yellow flowers. Once the flowers fade, cut back the spike at its base with clean, sharp gardening shears.
Best Growing Conditions for Aloe Plants
Like other succulents, aloes prefer conditions that emulate the hot, dry, sunny desert. Plant yours in a container that’s a few inches larger than the base of your aloe, and make sure it has good drainage—at least one large hole in the bottom of the pot is necessary to prevent standing water that can damage its roots.
Plant your aloe in soil specifically formulated for cacti or succulents. Find cactus soil at most nurseries or local hardware stores, or make your own with a mix of perlite, rocks (like lava rock), and chunks of tree bark. Layer rocks at the bottom of the pot to collect excess water and keep roots above in the healthy soil mix.
Choose a location for your aloe near a southern or southwest-facing window that gets plenty of bright, indirect light. The temperature in the space shouldn’t drop below 60 degrees. If you choose to move your plant outside in the summer (when nighttime temperatures are above 70 degrees), start with a week in partial shade before moving it to direct sun to let the aloe adjust gradually.
To keep your aloe looking green and well-proportioned, avoid exposing it to too much bright direct light, which can cause leaves to brown. Rotate your plant periodically, and move it to a shadier location if you notice signs of burning on the leaves.
If your plant is happy in its conditions, it will regularly produce small plants that will grow out from the roots of the larger plant. These babies, or "aloe pups,” can be left to grow alongside the mother plant—just watch for signs that the pot is getting too crowded, like a tired-looking mother plant surrounded by several pups.
Aloe Plant Varieties
Similar to aloe vera, there are many varieties of this perennial succulent in the Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) family. Suited for both indoor and outdoor planting, you'll find species like aloe Crosby's Prolific (a cross between Aloe perfoliata and Aloe humilis). In indirect light, this variant boasts the classic bright green color of aloe vera with white spots. If it's grown outdoors, the leaves will turn red in direct sun.
Arabian aloe (Aloe Rubroviolacea) is a great choice for garden growers who want their aloe plant to grow lush and large. With pale green leaves and a reddish shade on its outer spikes, you'll find red flowers on this plant during the winter. Red Hot Poker aloe (Aloe Aculeata), on the other hand, blooms with yellow flowers in the fall and has red tips on its green spines.
If you're drawn to the red versions of this plant, the classic red aloe (Aloe Cameronii) may suit your style. While you might find some bright green notes clustered at the center of its central rosette, this plant traditionally is coated in a dark, rich red color that—while native to Zimbabwe and Malawi—complements American Southwestern décor.
How to Propagate Your Aloe Plant
The easiest way to propagate aloe requires just three steps. Pups can be removed and potted as new plants, while the mother can be repotted with fresh soil in a container one size larger.
If you want a fuller-looking container, you can simply leave the pups attached to the mother plant. You can also remove and propagate new plants to decorate your home or give as gifts. Using a clean, sharp tool will help the pup grow and prevent transmission of plant diseases from previous propagations.
Step 1: Choose the right time to remove the aloe pup. It’s exciting to see a new green shoot coming up from the soil in your plant's pot—but don’t be too hasty to remove it. Wait until pups have several leaves, or until they’re about 20 percent of the size of the parent plant, before removing them.
Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, cut the pup away from the mother plant. Remove soil around the plant's base to see where the roots meet. Separate the plants by cutting roots apart in a place that leaves a complete root system attached to the pup.
Step 3: Plant the pup in fresh succulent soil. Wait one week before watering, then care for your plant as usual. Choose a place with moderate to bright light, low humidity, and cool temperatures. Repeat watering when the soil feels completely dry. Soon enough, your new aloe plant will grow to mature size and produce pups of its own.