How to Care for an Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe Vera is a succulent, meaning that it stores water in the fleshy part of the plant's leaves and can go long periods between watering. Aloe Vera is fairly pest resistant too, as the spines and tough skin are bothersome and unappetizing to animals.
Although you can grow Aloe Vera from seed or from a cutting, most people find better success from purchasing a smaller plant and tending to it, or by growing from an “offset”.
How to Transplant
Because succulents are comfortable in aired conditions, they tend to grow best in clay pots with drainage holes. The clay pot allows water to evaporate well, and adjusts well to changes in temperature.
- Select a pot that is half as wide as the plant is tall. (For example, if your Aloe Vera plant is about 18 inches tall, choose a pot with a 9-inch diameter.)
- Scrub the pot with hot, soapy water to provide an environment free of germs. Experts even suggest sanitizing newly purchased pots.
- Place a potshard over the drainage hole.
- Fill the pot with succulent-specific potting soil, or mix your own with equal parts builders sand and traditional potting soil. If you created your own soil, UC Davis division of Agriculture suggests pasteurizing the soil by heating it to 250 degrees F in your oven for at least 30 minutes. Ideally, the soil pH should be between 6 to 8.
- Set the plant aside in a sunny location for a week before watering. If the plant is very young, you may moisten the soil, but do not over water it. Remember, Aloe Vera retails water in its
- Water sparingly, as Aloe Vera stores water in the leaves. Healthy succulent leaves look full and plump. If your plant looks withered or puckered, add additional water, but remove excess standing water.
- Fertilize Aloe Vera three times in the summer months with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing in the winter.
- Repot only if you notice the roots making their way out of the pot.
How to Plant an Offshoot
Offshoots or “pups” are an extension of the large Aloe Vera plant. These mini plants allow you to grow your garden at little to no expense and make great gifts for friends. Successfully harvesting an offset is fairly simple.
- Look for an offset several inches tall with at least four leaves. Ideally, the offset is about one-fifth the size of the mother plant.
- Remove the entire plant from the pot, this makes it easier see where the plant and the pup join together. The pup should have its own roots, but it may be attached to the mother plant. Brush soil away from the plant, if needed, to see the roots better.
- Separate the pup from the mother plant. Sometimes pups separate easily, if not, you may need to use a sterilized knife to cut the pup away. If you had to cut the pup’s roots, set it aside and allow the wound to dry out for a few days.
- Replace the mother plant back in its pot, or place into a larger pot if the plant has overgrown its last location. Follow the directions above for how to care for a plant that has been transplanted.
General Care Tips
Aloe Vera often goes dormant in the winter, so you definitely need as much water.
Observe the leaves, as they are an indicator of your plant’s overall health. Aloe Vera leaves should look plump and rigid. If the leaves start to curl or look limp, introduce more water.
Allow plants to get at least 8-10 hours of light per day. Indoor plants should be placed near a south or southwest-facing window. Move plants away from the window at night during the winter months.
Keep the soil dry between waterings to help eliminate rot and pests. Wipe off mealy bugs or scale with a cotton ball dipped in alcohol.
Harvesting Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe Vera is commonly used to soothe and heal wounds such as burns. When you grow Aloe Vera in the home, fresh Aloe is always available. Harvesting the gel from the plant is fairly simple, as long as your plant is mature and healthy. Take care of the spines on the plant, as they can cut or scratch you.
- Sterilize a knife to limit infection and damage to the plant.
- Select a piece from the center of the plant, and cut the leaf as close to the base of the plant as possible.
- Rinse the knife and outer portion of Aloe leaf “skin” under running water.
- Place the concave side of the Aloe Vera leaf on the cutting board, and slice around the perimeter to remove the serrated edges.
- Place the knife just under the surface of the top layer of skin, and peel the skin back. It’s easier to start from the smaller end of the leaf. Flip the leaf over on the cutting board, and repeat.
- Scrape the gel with a clean spoon into a sealable storage container, and store it in the refrigerator.
- Stir the gel with a fork, or use a blender, to combine solid and liquid portions of the gel.
- Apply gel topically to relieve burns or as a moisturizer.
Optionally, consider adding some liquid vitamin E to help preserve the gel for a longer shelf life. Add 400 IU of liquid vitamin E, or prick a vitamin E caplet with the tine of a fork. Adding vitamin E will increase the shelf life from 3 three weeks to 8 months.
Apply gel topically to relieve burns or as a moisturizer. Do not ingest Aloe treated with vitamin E or essential oil.