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You've probably used the aloe vera plant (Aloe barbadensis Miller) on minor scrapes and sunburns for its skin-healing properties. But, in addition to the benefits of its sap, this spiny, rosette-shaped species, part of the Aloe genus, makes for an attractive houseplant.
Aloe vera is a great addition to your home for low-maintenance greenery and a chic desert aesthetic. Originally from the Arabian Peninsula, this succulent doesn't need to live in its native habitat to thrive: With a little care and even the slightest green thumb, you can grow a healthy aloe vera plant right inside your home.
- Botanical Name: Aloe barbadensis Miller
- Common Name: Aloe vera
- Plant Type: Succulent, evergreen perennial
- Mature Size: 2–3 feet high
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light or some daily direct sun
- Soil Type: Well-draining succulent or cactus soil
- Soil pH: 7.0–8.5
- Toxicity: Mildly toxic to humans if ingested; may cause minor contact dermatitis in individuals with sensitivities. Toxic to dogs and cats.
For a natural, at-home sunburn remedy, cut a piece from the leaves of your aloe plant. Split the trimming in half vertically, scrape out the fresh sap, and rub it directly on affected areas.
Since they're well-suited to arid conditions, aloe vera 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 repot, you'll want to use a container one size larger every few years to keep it from becoming rootbound. Check to see if your aloe plant is outgrowing its pot by carefully picking up the container and looking at the drainage hole. If roots are growing out, it's time to repot.
Most varieties of mature, healthy aloe vera plants will send up a tall spike each winter with a series of tube- or trumpet-shaped flowers in hues of orange, red, or yellow. Once the flowers fade, cut back the spike at its base with clean, sharp gardening shears.
Best Growing Conditions for Aloe Vera
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 or window that gets plenty of bright, indirect light. The temperature in the space shouldn't drop below 50 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, it'll regularly produce small plants that grow out from the roots of the larger plant. These babies, or "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.
There are many varieties similar to aloe vera in the Aloe genus. 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 cultivar boasts the classic bright-green color of aloe vera with white spots. If grown outdoors, the leaves will turn red in direct sun.
Arabian aloe (Aloe rubroviolacea) is a great choice for those who want their aloe plant to grow lush and large. With pale green leaves and a reddish shade on its outer spikes, this plant produces red flowers 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 spikes.
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 complements desert-inspired décor.
How to Propagate Aloe Vera
The easiest way to propagate aloe vera 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. Using a clean, sharp tool will help the pup grow and prevent transmission of plant diseases from previous propagations. If you want a fuller-looking container, however, you can simply leave the pups attached to the mother plant.
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 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 a pot full of fresh succulent soil. Wait one week before watering, and 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.