Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
No kitchen is complete without an aloe vera plant on a sunny windowsill. Burn yourself while cooking? Break off a leaf and squeeze the juice on your burn. Hands dry from washing dishes? Break off another leaf and smooth the juice on your hands as a moisturizer. Breaking off a leaf or part of a leaf will not hurt the plant. Aloe vera juice also works well on sunburns. Aloe vera is reputed to have anti-microbial properties so the juice is often used in place of commercial anti-biotic creams on scrapes and shallow cuts. Sadly, there is no medical proof to support any of these claims.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera ( latin name Aloe vera) is a succulent that originated in the Mediterranean and dry areas of Africa. It is a tropical plant hardy in zones 9 through 11. The plants grow from rosettes. The leaves are fleshy so that they can store water to keep the plant alive during dry conditions. Aloe vera can grow to three feet tall. Some plants have white spotted leaves. The edges of the leaves are serrated. The serrations look like little teeth.
Aloe vera will bloom. The flowers grow on a stalk. Each stalk has numerous pendulous flowers on it. A plant has to be 3 to 4 years old before it will bloom. Bloom time is during the summer.
How to Grow Aloe Vera Outdoors
Aloe vera is drought tolerant and often used in xeriscapes. Outdoors, they need full sun but will tolerate a little shade. Sandy, well-drained soil is a must. Water is the biggest problem. Too much water and the roots will rot. If your area is warm enough to grow aloe vera outdoors, but is too wet, consider growing your plant in a pot rather than in the ground. The pot should rest on gravel which will allow water to run off. If you receive multiple days of rain, simply move the pot indoors or onto a covered porch where it will be out of the rain. During the winter, the plants are dormant and don't require any watering at all.
How to Grow Aloe Vera Indoors
Those of us in colder regions grow aloe vera as a houseplant, only putting it outdoors during the warm summer months. Confined to a pot indoors it will only grow to 1 to 2 feet in height.
Use a pot that is wider than it is deep. Aloe vera has shallow roots. Clay pots are best because they are porous and will allow water to evaporate faster. The weight of the clay pots will also help prevent the plants from tipping over. Aloe vera can be top heavy and prone to falling over. You can use plastic pots, but be aware that the soil will remain wet longer than in a clay pot.
Well-drained soil is critical. The roots will rot in wet soil. Use a potting soil that is formulated for cactus for best results. If you don't have potting soil for cacti, you can use regular potting soil that has had coarse sand or perlite added to it to enhance drainage.
Place your plant in a sunny window, water throroughly and then wait until the soil is dry before watering again. A good rule of thumb is to allow the top 1 to 2 inches of soil to dry out before watering again.
Because it originated from dry conditions, aloe vera does not require a lot of fertilizer. A single feeding in the spring using houseplant fertilizer is sufficient.
You can bring your aloe vera plant outdoors during the summer being careful to not place it in direct sunlight which can burn it. Wait until after your last frost to move it outdoors. Bring your plant indoors in the fall before your first frost. Aloe vera do best in a temperature range of 55⁰F to 80⁰F.
Aloe vera will bloom in a pot. If yours is not blooming, it may not be getting enough light indoors. Move it to your sunniest window or provide some supplemental artifical light. If you are able, try moving it outdoors during the summer where it will get more light.
Another reason it isn't blooming may be because it is not old enough. Aloe vera has to be at least 3 to 4 years old before it will bloom.
How to Grow Aloe Vera From Divisions
Most gardeners propagate their aloe vera by division. The plants will develop offsets or pups which can be carefully removed from the main plant and planted in their own pots.
Gently lift the main plant from the pot or from the soil outdoors. Using a sharp knife, cut the smaller plants that are growing around the main plant, severing the connection between the two plants. Make sure that each offset has its own root system separate from the main plant.
Plant the offset in its own shallow pot filled with cactus soil mix and water thoroughly. Repot the main plant or replant it outdoors.
The offsets are young plants so they will need 3 to 4 years to mature before they will bloom.
Share the offsets with your friends! I often give them as housewarming gifts..
How to Grow Aloe Vera From Cuttings
You can grow aloe vera from cuttings. Simply cut off a piece of the top of a leaf at least 3 inches long. Put the cutting aside for a few days to allow a callous to form where you cut it. The callous is important because it will block disease from getting into the cutting when it is placed in soil. A callous is just what the dried end of the cutting is called.
After the callous has formed, dip the calloused end into rooting hormone and insert it, callous side down, in a pot filled with potting soil formulated for cactus. You can bury up to half of the cutting in the soil. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Roots should form within a few weeks.
Easy to grow and propagate, and useful for first aid, no home should be without at least one aloe vera plant.
© 2013 Caren White
Caren White (author) on April 17, 2020:
You may be overwatering it.
Tracie on April 17, 2020:
My aloe plants bottom leaves are drooping, what’s the cause of that? Thank you
Caren White (author) on December 31, 2013:
Thank you, Eddy! I hope the new year is a great one for you too.
Eiddwen from Wales on December 31, 2013:
A great hub and thanks for sharing.
Here's wishing you a great year ahead.
Caren White (author) on December 29, 2013:
Thanks for reading, Jackie! Just remember that Aloe vera is a desert plant like cactus and water accordingly. Good luck.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 28, 2013:
I over water so I will remember your tips. Especially that they don't like wet feet. lol Great way to remember. ^
Caren White (author) on December 28, 2013:
Thanks for reading! It's such an easy, useful plant.
FlourishAnyway from USA on December 28, 2013:
I also use aloe vera for a facial moisturizer at night. It is very tolerant to growing mistakes thankfully, as I have quite a brown thumb. I always forget to water, but it doesn't care as a cactus member.