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Aloe Vera -Grow Aloe Vera as a Desert Plant, Houseplant or Medicinal Plant.

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Aloe Vera Off-Shoots.

Aloe Vera Off-Shoots.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.

Overview:

Aloe vera is a succulent plant. The thick, fleshy leaves can hold onto a great deal of water, allowing it to withstand short periods of drought. Aloe vera is commonly grown as a houseplant and gained favor because the gel from its leaves makes a soothing skin salve, although some people are actually irritated by the gel.

Latin Name:

Aloe barbadensis

Common Name(s):

Aloe Vera

Hardiness Zone:

U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zones: 9 - 11, Often grown as a houseplant and taken outdoors for the summer.

Size:

Approximately 2' x 2'. Can get larger when grown in the ground.

Exposure:

Outdoors: Full Sun / Partial Shade.

Indoors: Bright Light. Too much hot sun can burn the leaves and give the plant a scraggly appearance.

Bloom Period:

Blooming occurs in late spring/early summer. Plants need to be somewhat mature to begin blooming and may not bloom every year, if the leaves are being harvested.

Description:

There are over 300 species of Aloe vera, but the one most commonly grown as a houseplant is Aloe barbadensis. It has thick, succulent leaves that are plumped up with a watery gel. The leaves grow from the base of the plant, in a rosette, and have jagged edges with flexible spines.

The spiky flowers appear on tall stalks, in shades of yellow, orange and red. Young plants don’t generally flower and aloe grown as a houseplant can take years to produce a flower stalk.

Design Tips:

Since aloe vera needs a sandy or gravelly soil, when grown outdoors it is best used with other succulents with similar needs. To blend aloe into a border planting, pot it separately and use as a focal point. Raising the pot to eye level will make it more prominent. Potted aloe grows well on decks and patios and is handy for emergency burns and bites.

Suggested Varieties:

Most of the plants for sale in greenhouses are hybrids. Just look for one that has plump, firm leaves with few brown tips. A small plant growing as a tight rosette will adapt best to being potted indoors. If you find a plant that is splitting with lots of offshoots, replant the offshoots separately.

Growing Tips and Cultural Notes:

  • Growing Aloe Outdoors: Although aloe can handle a brief frost, it can only be successfully grown outdoors in USDA Zones 9 and above. Here the difficulty is controlling water. Aloe can go for months without water, but too much rainfall will rot the roots. Do not give them any supplemental water during rainy season. Most aloes go dormant in the winter and won’t require any water at all, provided they received sufficient water during the growing season. If your climate is rainy during the winter, consider planting your aloe in gravel or stones, that will allow the water to run off.

  • Potted Aloe Vera:

    • Soil - Soil needs to be well-draining. In its natural habitat, Aloe generally grows on slopes so that good drainage is guaranteed. To insure drainage in a pot, you can use a special cactus potting soil or mix in some perlite or coarse sand and make your own.

    • Water: Aloe can handle drought well, but prefers to be watered regularly, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. If the plant is left dry too long, the leaves will shrivel and pucker slightly. They will recover when watered, but prolonged stress, either too much drought or too much water, will cause the leaves to yellow and die.

    • Fertilizer: Aloe vera does not require a high soil fertility. Feeding once a year, in the spring, with a houseplant fertilizer should be sufficient.

    • Propagating Aloe Vera: Aloe vera can be propagated by seed or by removing and potting the offsets that develop at the base of the plant.

    • Repotting Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera has a rather shallow root system that likes to spread out close to the surface. As the plant grows and needs repotting, move up to a wider pot, rather than a deeper one.

    • Using Aloe Medicinally: To use as a skin salve, remove a lower leaf and slice or break it open. Rub the inside gel onto the skin.

      For more information about the medicinal uses and effects of aloe vera gel read:

    • Pests & Diseases: Rotting is the most common problem with aloe vera. Pay attention to the wilting of the leaves and water or withhold water accordingly.

      Ants are attracted to the center of aloe vera plants. They are know to carry their aphid prey in there with them and the excess moisture can lead to rotting.

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