Aloe Vera Plant Care
Aloe Vera Overview
The aloe vera plant is a perennial with thick, light green succulent leaves. The plant is believed to have originated near the Mediterranean sea and northern Africa, but exact origin is debatable. Aloe is easy to grow and care for which makes for a great houseplant. Although, aloe vera can be grown outside in regions 8 through 10 which do not experience snow or heavy frost. Preparing the soil for planting is essential before aloes can be planted outside. Caring for aloe vera is similar to the care needed to grow cacti - bright sunlight and infrequent watering. The aloe plant can grow quickly given ideal conditions, while being relatively carefree about soil type.
Aloe vera also has medicinal uses. The leaves contain a sap that can be used as a topical remedy for sunburns, skin irritation, abrasions, and scrapes.
Soil for Aloe Vera
Aloe vera requires soil that drains well. Cacti and succulent soil mixes can be purchased at garden centers, but simply mixing sand, perlite, and potting soil will suffice. Equal parts of all three can be used to grow aloe vera plants in. Garden center soil mixes are preferred due to sterility. Using dirt from a garden or yard should undergo soil sterilization before using. Sterile soil merely provides a clean environment for new transplants that experience transplant shock and weakened resistances.
Aloe can grow in pretty rough conditions, so do not worry about poor nutrient content at first. It only needs a small amount of fertilizer once or twice a year.
The soil should not be rich with organic matter because organic matter retains far too much water that can lead to root rot. Root rot will harm and even kill aloe vera plants if left unchecked. Facilitate drainage of waterlogged soil immediately by mixing perlite or sand into the soil.
Aloes can grow well being root-bound within a container but only to a certain extent. Repotting needs to occur once the roots begin to grow through the drainage holes in the container. Very root-bound aloes become top-heavy and have the possibility of tipping over the pot. Aloes also grow offshoots from the mother plant that can cause crowding. Simply move the plant into a larger container and separately repot offshoots if desired.
Poor Care Symptoms
- Leaves lying flat instead of upward = Insufficient lighting
- Leaves are thin and curled = Insufficient water
- Leaves are brown and/or black = Lighting is too intense
- Mold on soil surface = Overwatering & poor air circulation
- Brown/black leaf spotting = Overwatering (Root rot)
- Mushy roots with foul smell = Overwatering (Root rot)
Watering Aloe Vera
Aloe vera plants only require infrequent watering. This is due to the semi-tropical nature of the plant and its succulent leaves. Watering too frequently will promote root rot, which will injure and kill the aloe if left unchecked.
Type of Water
Watering with tap water may harm aloes depending on what chemicals and minerals are contained in the water. Water with filtered water to be on the safe side. Well water is a possibility, but even well water may contain concentrated minerals that are harmful to aloes. If the aloes appear unhealthy after changing incorrect soil types and lighting requirements, then a change in water is worth a shot. A small dose of fertilizer may be needed as well, which is covered later on in this article.
Judge Watering by Weight
The key to watering aloe vera plants is to allow the soil to completely dry out between waterings. The succulent leaves contain moisture reserves, so dry soil will not stress the plant. Sticking a finger into the soil to feel for moisture isn't the best method to see if container grown aloe needs water. Judging by the weight of the container is much more accurate. Lift the container when completely dry to get a feel for the "dry" weight of the plant, soil, and container. Lift the container again after a thorough watering and get a feel for the "wet" weight. It may take a few waterings before figuring out the dry versus wet weight. This method can be done with just about every succulent plant that prefers dry, well-drained soil.
Water is required even less when winter arrives. Plant growth is slowed down during the offseason, which limits the need for water and nutrients.
Plant Indicators of Needing Water
The leaves of the aloe plant are also indicators for when to water. The leaves will wrinkle, curl, and possibly discolor. These signs mean the plant is under stress and a thorough watering is needed.
Remember to always water thoroughly. Water dripping out of the bottom of a container is not the best indicator of thorough watering. Most of the time water is simply running down a gap between the soil and the inside of the container. Drench the soil then test the weight of the container to determine how well the aloe has been watered.
Light Requirements for Aloe Vera
Aloes grow best in full-sun within a warm environment. A windowsill that receives sunlight during the majority of the day is an ideal location for growing aloe vera indoors. The area of a sunny windowsill needs to remain warm year long. Placing the plant too close to windows during cold winters will damage and kill the leaves. Aloes are comprised mostly of water which causes them to be very frost intolerant.
Be careful about placing aloes into intense sunlight. Intense sunlight can actually cause sunburns on aloe which appears as darkened, discolored spots on the leaves. Sunburn also causes the leaves to dry and curl.
Fertilizing Aloe Vera
Aloes should only be fertilized once or twice a year. The best time to fertilize is during spring with a half strength dose of 10-40-10 NPK (N - nitrogen, P - phosphorus, K- potassium) fertilizer. Using only half the amount listed on the fertilizer package reduces the chance of burning and killing the plant via over-fertilizing. Aloes and succulents have a unique ability to salvage nutrients from poor soil, hence the reason fertilizing should only be done once annually.
Water soluble fertilizer and fertilizer granules can be used with aloes. Remember to only use half of the package's listed amount. Cacti fertilizer will work for succulents such as aloes. Cacti fertilizer generally contains less nutrients than the typical houseplant and garden fertilizer to prevent fertilizer burns from occurring.