How to Care for an Aloe Plant (aka the Easy, Breezy Succulent That Will Elevate Your Space)
Aloes are basically the denim of the plant world. They’re hardy, cool-looking and exceptionally useful to boot (hello, sunburn soother). Extra bonus? They won’t shrivel and die if you forget to water them for a couple of weeks—or an entire month.
These spiky plants are actually desert-dwelling succulents, so it’s no surprise that they need lots of light and just a little bit of water to flourish. And here’s another cool fact: There are more than 500 species of this pretty plant, but aloe vera is the most popular variety.
Just because this flora is exceptionally robust doesn’t mean you don’t need to give it a little TLC to thrive. That’s why we tapped Erin Marino from New York City–based plant delivery service The Sill for expert tips on how to care for aloe plants so that they’ll continue to delight for years to come.
What should I do before I plant my aloe?Good news: You can pot your aloe in pretty much any type of planter and leave it there for years. “They actually prefer tight living quarters—versus swimming in soil—so you can keep your plant in the same pot for many years, as long as you fertilize it or change out the potting mix to provide new nutrients every year or so,” Marino tells us. (More on that below.) Another thing to keep in mind? Aloes are drought-tolerant, so drainage is important. Pick a planter with a drainage hole and saucer, or, if you’re using a pot without a hole, line the bottom with a generous layer of lava rocks. These porous rocks create crevices for excess water to pool away from the aloe’s root system. Earthenware or terra cotta are two great picks.
Once you’ve picked a compact container to pot your aloe in, look for a potting mix geared toward succulents and cacti—these have extra sand or similar substances in them that will help with drainage. But don’t worry if you can’t find any; You can also use regular indoor potting soil if that’s what you have to hand.
How do I plant my aloe?How much potting mix you use will depend on the size of both the planter and the aloe, but you want your plant to feel snug in its new home. Pack in the potting mix so it’s slightly below the lip of the planter, which will help create space for water to pool and soak into the potting mix when you water.
How much light does my aloe need?
Give your aloe lots of bright, direct light, like from a south-facing window. But if all your windows point north, don’t fret—your aloe will tolerate bright, indirect light as well. “Think of the plant’s native environment and how sunny it is—that’s what you want to recreate for your aloe at home,” says Marino.
Can I grow my aloe outside?
Yep, these pretty plants can be grown both indoors and outdoors. (We told you aloes were hardy.) “If you plan to grow your aloe outdoors, just make sure the daytime temperature is above 70°F and the nighttime temps do not dip below 60°F,” advises Marino. Just like your grandma down in Boca, this plant likes it warm and sunny.
How often should I water my aloe?Remember that Boston fern you used to have until you forgot to water it one weekend and it promptly shriveled up and died? Well, that won’t be an issue here. Marino recommends watering your aloe once every two to three weeks in the summer and once every three to four weeks in the winter. Aim to fill the planter with approximately one third to a quarter with water. “You want to saturate the soil, but not soak it to the point that it becomes mud,” says Marino. And don’t pour water on top of your plant—always water directly into the soil.
If your aloe's leaves are curling inward and looking less plump than usual, it probably means the succulent is thirsty. Another sign to look out for? Red coloring. This likely means your aloe is both water-deprived and getting too much direct light. Water it more frequently and move it to another window.
What about fertilizer?
Over-fertilizing (like over-watering) is a surefire way to accidentally kill a houseplant, warns Marino, so don’t go overboard. Instead, dilute a balanced liquid fertilizer (50 percent water should do the trick) and fertilize your aloe during the spring and summer months. Worried you’re going to mess it up? Skip the fertilizer and repot your aloe every one to two years instead. A fresh potting mix is a great way to give your plant new nutrients.
How do I remove offsets?
Just in case you need another reason to love your aloe, did you know that this plant is a self-propagator? If you have a mature aloe at home, you might notice “babies” or “pups” popping up in the surrounding soil. These adorable mini plants can help you start your very own aloe greenery. To expand your aloe family, wait until the pup has a handful of leaves and is a decent size (an inch or more) before removing it from its mother’s planter. “You want the pup to be mature enough to survive on its own root system, or even have enough of its own roots to do so,” says Marino. “Push back the soil surrounding the pup to get a good look at the surrounding area. With a sharp, clean knife or pair of scissors (clean to avoid contamination), gently cut any shared roots so you’re able to pull out the aloe pup. It should have a small yet complete root system attached to it for the best chance of survival. Then plant the pup like you did with the original aloe and water.” Easy peasy.
I’ve seen some pictures of aloe flowers—how can I get my plant to blossom?Plants (including aloes) are most likely to flower when they’re outside in their native environment. They also need to be on the mature side, with aloes typically needing at least four birthdays under their belt before they’re able to bloom.
To encourage your mature aloe to show off its rosettes, move your plant outdoors into full sun. Just make sure that the temperature outside won’t dip below 60°F at night. “When moving a plant outdoors, you’ll also want to make sure it’s in a planter with a drainage hole. This will help protect it from being overwatered if and when it rains,” says Marino. To further coax those pretty blooms, fertilize your aloe (again, making sure to use a balanced fertilizer and dilute it). While these steps won’t guarantee that your aloe will bloom, you just might get lucky (and have some gorgeous new fodder for the ‘Gram).
My aloe has a black base and yellow leaves…what’s happening?
Your aloe has root rot. But that doesn’t mean you need to kick your plant to the curb. Remove your aloe from its planter and prune off any mushy, rotting roots as well as any yellowing leaves. Once you’re left with healthy growth only, repot your aloe with a new potting mix. “This won’t work one hundred percent of the time, but generally aloes are pretty hardy and can bounce back with a little help,” says Marino.
Ouch, I have a sunburn. How can I remove aloe vera gel to ease the pain?
While there’s no clinical evidence that aloe vera can heal a sunburn, its cooling properties can help relieve pain and swelling. Here’s how to reap the rewards of this magical plant. “Pick a mature leaf on your aloe vera, towards the bottom or base of the plant. With sharp scissors or pruners, make a clean cut right where the leaf starts. Aloe leaves don’t grow back, so you don’t want to cut the leaf at a halfway point. Wear gloves in case any of the gel or latex sap leaks out when cutting the leaf off. Now depending on how much time you have before you need the gel, you can extract it from the cut leaf in a few different ways. If you don’t need the gel right away, you can cut the mature leaf into smaller sections and stand them upright in a bowl, so that the gel will drip out over a few days. If you need the gel sooner, you can extract it yourself by cutting the leaf in half lengthwise and scraping out the insides. You might notice a yellowy substance between the gel and the leaf (the same substance that might have oozed out when you first cut the leaf)—try to keep as much of this sap, or aloe latex, out of your extracted gel as possible. It has serious laxative properties and isn’t recommended to ingest without direction from a medical professional.”