|Official Plant Name||Aloe|
|Plant Type||Succulent / Houseplant|
|Native Area||Africa, Madagascar, Jordan, Arabian Peninsula and Indian Ocean Islands|
|Flowers||Small tubular yellow flowers on racemes|
|When To Sow||Year-Round (Indoors)|
|Flowering Months||July, August|
0.5 – 1M
0.5 – 1M
July – August
You’ve probably heard of aloe vera.
Head to Boots and you’ll see it as an ingredient in plenty of creams and lotions.
Bottles of aloe vera drink are increasingly common on food shop shelves.
And there was even that annoying advert in the 2000s where a bunch of naked cherubs picked freshly laundered clothes off of trees, before a parrot squawked “aloe vera” in that distinctive tone that’s still almost guaranteed to pop into your head whenever you hear the words, if you ever saw the advert.
Whatever your introduction to the plant, aloe vera is a timeless classic. It’s visually distinctive and easy to grow – what more reason do you need to bring one into your home?
In this guide we’ll introduce aloe vera and all you need to know to get this humble plant thriving.
In scientific terms, aloe vera is a succulent belonging to the genus Aloe. In plant classification, genus is one step above species. Aloe vera is considered the ‘true’ aloe, the plant most indicative of the genus, because it remains the most visually iconic, and is the source from which the vast majority of commercially used aloe is obtained.
Originally hailing from the Arabian Peninsula (the large peninsula off the east coast of Africa, home to most of the Middle East), aloe vera now grows enthusiastically all over the world. Despite UK conditions being quite different from those the aloe is accustomed to, the plant has become commonplace here for myriad reasons, as highlighted earlier.
Why grow aloe vera?
Firstly, it’s an attractive and striking plant. The ridged green stalks jut proudly outward from the soil, held rigid by the gel deposits inside. White blemishes on each stalk break up the dominant bright green colouration, adding visual interest and texture. In full sunlight, the plant has an inarguable vivacity.
Secondly, aloe vera is fairly easy to grow and look after. This may not be a priority for all gardeners, especially those more versed in the art who may deliberately seek out plants that provide a bit of a challenge; but for amateur gardeners and casual interior designers who just want to incorporate a little bit of green, aloe vera represents the perfect opportunity.
Aloe vera care
As succulents, aloe vera prefers a soil mix designed to encourage good drainage. Avoid regular gardening soil and look for something with ingredients like sand, grit, lava rock, or similar.
While some guides recommend adding a layer of gravel or similar to the bottom of pots to further encourage drainage, this isn’t required for aloe vera, especially if you’re using the right soil. Avoiding this layer gives the roots more space to take hold, and should lead to a healthier plant.
Aloe vera is most frequently grown from cuttings of a mature plant. To grow, fill a container just over half way with soil, then place the cutting in the soil and add more, making sure the cutting is firmly held in place.
Where to grow your plant
Choosing the right pot is just as important as the right soil, when it comes to keeping your aloe healthy. A container conducive to moisture, made of terracotta or similar, is recommended. It’s vital that the container has a drainage hole in the bottom, too, to prevent water pooling there (top tip: place some porous mesh between the hole and the soil to allow water out while preventing soil escaping and making a mess).
Choose a pot that’s wider than it is deep in order to give your aloe space to grow.
Also bear in mind that this is a plant built to thrive in hot, dry places. While they’ve spread around the world, the natural conditions favoured by this plant involve a lot of heat and sunlight, and the more faithfully you can recreate this in your home, the better your aloe vera will grow.
Choose a spot with a lot of sunlight but where the plant isn’t in full sun all day. The corner of a room or a window sill that doesn’t get full exposure are two good examples. A room temperature of between 15-25 degrees Celsius (ish) is ideal for your aloe vera plant.
You don’t need to fertilise aloe vera much, or even at all. If you decide to do so, use a houseplant formula weakened to about half strength by mixing with regular soil. Add a small amount around the base of your plant every few weeks, during spring and summer. Fertilise a maximum of one time per month.
While most plants like a bit of water immediately after planting, avoid doing this with your aloe vera. Once you’ve potted it out, just ensure it’s in the right position then ignore it for a while to give it a chance to get established.
After that, you should be looking to water your aloe vera once every two to three weeks. A watering can with a spout that lets you water directly at the base of the plant is recommended.
If you pop your aloe container in a bowl, any water that drains from the bottom will collect, and soak slowly back into the soil. This is a good way of ensuring the plant has enough water: Simply leave to soak for 10-15 minutes each time you water, then throw away any water that hasn’t been absorbed.
With aloe vera, vibrant green and a noticeable firmness when pushed indicate a healthy plant, full of gel. If your aloe begins to droop, feels mushy to the touch, or develops crackly, dry, brown sections, this is an indication that you may not be watering enough.
Aloe vera plants don’t need much pruning, as a rule.
The main reason for cutting your aloe is to clean up unhealthy sections, or to get at the gel inside. If you’re wondering how to cut an aloe vera plant without killing it, simply trim the section off with sharp scissors or trimmers.
When trimming dried brown sections from the end of a stalk, just cut the affected section. To get the gel inside, it’s best to select a thick and mature stalk, then cut at the base. Cutting at an angle facilitates better draining and healthier regrowing for the plant.
After you’ve cut off the stalk, wash any dirt from the base, then stand upright in a glass to allow the resins to drain out. These aren’t good for human use and can be discarded. Once these have drained, peel the stalk with a vegetable peeler and put in a blender until it reaches a milky consistency. The gel is good for a week in the fridge.
How to propagate aloe vera
Aloe vera is propagated through offsets – young plants attached to the mother. When you find an offset, separate it from the mother by teasing apart the roots gently, possibly with the help of scissors or a knife. Leave 2-3cm of stem on each offset.
The bottom of the stalk is prone to rot or become infected if replanted straight away, so leave it out to dry for a few days. You should notice a rough callous forming at the site of the cut.
Then, simply follow the steps from the sections above!
Troubleshooting common problems
Aloe vera is fairly sturdy, and isn’t prone to many problems. Here we outline a couple of issues you may encounter, and what to do to resolve them.
The biggest risk with aloe vera is rot, whether at root or leaf level. The primary cause of such rot is overwatering: A plant that cannot drain properly will sit in moisture, and this creates an environment that facilitates the growth of fungus that leads to rotting.
To avoid rot, water infrequently and only when required. Ensure your plant is in well-draining soil, with a hole at the bottom of each container, and in plenty of sunlight.
Watering the roots directly, rather than pouring water onto the whole plant, will ensure that leaves and stalks stay as dry as possible, further mitigating the risk.
Any plant in a container will eventually become root-bound. This occurs when the root system becomes so dense that the plant can no longer get enough nutrition from the soil.
Brown, wilting sections are indicative of root rot. If you suspect this problem, you’ll need to repot your aloe vera into a bigger pot. Gently tease it out of the current pot, taking care not to disrupt or damage the roots, then follow the steps from the ‘how to plant your aloe vera’ section above, taking care to choose a bigger container!
If, like us, you still read those two words in a parrot accent, then join the club.
Thankfully, the plant itself offers rewards beyond the catchy advertisement it featured in many years ago.
It’s attractive, easy to grow and very low maintenance.
Hopefully, after reading our guide, you’re enthused and prepared to get an aloe vera plant established and thriving in your home.