How to care for your Aloe Vera plant

Bringing home my aloe vera plant was like welcoming a new pet into the household. Now we have a relationship of mutual care. I give her what she needs and she bestows on me a harvest of her beauty and medicine. I hope to share what I have learnt over the years so that you could be as happy as we are.

Buying a plant
Due to the aloe vera plant’s rising popularity, you can now find it easily at most garden shops or nurseries. Since there are various types of aloe plants, be sure to specify that you need ‘aloe vera’ (the popular name) or ‘aloe barbadensis’ (the more scientific name).

Indoors or Outdoors?
The outdoors is your option only if your environment experiences tropical or semitropical weather year round and is arid and has moderately fertile, fast-draining soil.
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However, you may grow the aloe plant successfully indoors. For instance, people in temperate countries care for this plant by placing her outdoors only during sufficiently warm summers but indoors in colder periods, especially when there is frost and snow. Some plants are grown entirely indoors. However, avoid frost at all cost since this plant consists of nearly 100% of water and is therefore highly frost tender. The key is to give your aloe plant what she needs, especially regarding water and sunlight. There are many great books on growing succulents in conservatories and indoors

The aloe vera plant is a succulent. This means that she stores a lot of water within her leaves and roots. Consequently, you do not need to water her frequently.

Ordinarily, water once every fortnight. Depending on your plant’s health, you need not worry about her dying if you traveled or forgot to water her for even 3 weeks. After all, mature aloe vera plants survive droughts very well. During winter, water her even more infrequently.

Over watering is possibly your aloe’s biggest threat, especially if indoors. So water your aloe only when her soil is completely dry. You will know that you have watered excessively if your aloe vera plant’s leaves soften and have a yellowish color.

Indoor planters may avoid this problem by carrying their aloe plant pot to a designated watering area where the soil can be allowed to drain for some minutes in terracotta pot cradle before returning the pot to its saucer.

Your aloe plant needs bright light. Trial and error may guide the extent to which the light must be bright. However, experience shows that indirect bright sunlight is usually best. Having a sunlight meter
can be a great help.

For instance, outdoor aloe plants often thrive underneath other taller plants that diffuse bright sunlight. Regarding indoor aloe plants, try placing your indoor aloe plant close to a window that faces East or West.

In either case, sufficient light will result in leaves that are succulent, thick and green. Conversely, if the light is too harsh, you will see orange and brown spots on the leaves or the entire leaves may turn brown.

Unless your circumstances allow you to leave your plant permanently in a single spot within an indoor or outdoor garden, you will need to pot your aloe vera plant.

Always buy plant pots that have drainage holes for excess water. Terracotta planters are ideal because they allow for additional drainage through their porous material.

Since the aloe plant’s root system grows shallowly, ie spreading out rather than deeply, you can accommodate this growth pattern by selecting a planter that is wider than it is deep. In fact, terracotta bonsai pots can work as well.

Repotting & New offsets
Healthy aloe plants grow and sprout new shoots quickly. You will know that it is time to repot when the new shoots are nearing 3 inches in height. Avoid going beyond this point since new offsets sap energy from their mother. If the mother’s leaves grow horizontally, she is clearly distressed and needs your urgent response.

To separate offsets from their mother, light garden shears can easily cut the connecting root system. Be sure to cut at a point that is not too close to either plant’s base.

Water aloe plants immediately after repotting them. The subsequent watering should occur within the timeframe discussed previously.

Soil & Fertilizers
If potting, consider soil mixes with pumice, sand and perlite. In fact, the most ideal are those that have been specially developed for succulent plants in the cacti family. You can usually find them at plant nurseries, garden stores or even at some grocery shops.

I have fed an outdoor aloe plant with light organic kitchen matter (like carrot skins and the remaining pith from my juicer). The plant responded very well to this approach. However, for indoor plants, pure black worm castings or kelp fertilizers are good options.

If the plant shows any of the distress signs described previously, review each of the points as you would a checklist. For instance, your aloe plant may need more bright light. Failing that, you may need to change the soil and or discontinue the use of fertilizers.

Gardening gear
In as much as I love and want to get close to mother earth, I respect certain boundaries and suggest that you do the same. For instance, wearing (thorn-resistant) gloves and shoes when making contact with soil is beneficial to your health.

Pick aloe leaves that are closest to the ground. Make sure that you cut as close to the base of the leaf as possible with a very sharp knife. Avoid cutting the rest of the plant.

The uses and benefits of the aloe vera harvest are varied because you can use the gel both internally and externally. The preparation of the gel can be done simply and cost effectively at home. We will be discussing this at great length and have already posted information regarding various uses of the aloe vera gel. Our other posts include: aloe gel to make a shampoo that stops excessive hair loss and promotes hair growth and aloe vera homemade conditioning shampoo. See below in the 'Further Reading' section.

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Other uses for aloe vera gel:

Miss C
Naturopathic Control

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