Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera)

Aloe Vera the Medical Plant

Aloe Vera is one of the more commonly known house plants because of the Aloe Vera gel you find inside its leaves. Aloe Vera plant in a bright windowIf you go into any chemist or department store chances are you will find a product for sale which contains Aloe Vera gel. It's sold to treat a lot of different aliments, from burns to helping support the health of the digestive system, and because of the gels popularity it's not surprising that the plant itself is easily recognisable (especially as its photo appears on the packaging).

We don't really recommend only buying an Aloe Vera for its purported medicinal uses, firstly because some of its marketed wonder claims might be ever so slightly, er exaggerated, but secondly because the plant is fantastically easy to care for and looks incredibly striking, why ruin that by chopping bits off?

By all means keep the plant at hand in the event you get a small burn, but please don't go eating chunks of the leaves in the hope it will cure your sore stomach. This is because the plant in its "raw" form is toxic. If you are an Aloe Vera Gel believer (and there are many out there, including one member of the OurHousePlants.com team) it's best if you stick to the official products that have been created specifically for purpose. So please no D.I.Y. experiments unless you know what you are doing!


Plant Care and the Secrets to Success

Light

Sitting it in a South facing window is good because it will get lots of light. Like most succulents it's literally designed for such places, and as a result you will get lots of good quality and even growth. However it will also be quite happy in a north facing aspect, growth will be much slower and you will have to rotate the plant pot every few weeks to ensure an even look. Aloe Vera is an adaptable plant when it comes to light.

Watering

During Spring and Summer water thoroughly every time the soil has dried out. Where you decide to put the plant will dictate how long is needed between watering's, anything from a week up to three would be normal. In Autumn/Fall and Winter, water much less frequently. Some people don't water their Aloe's at all during Winter, and if it's in a very cool spot this is probably a very good idea in order to prevent root / stem rot.

Humidity

Really not important.

Feeding

Too much fertiliser on Aloe Vera's can produce very soft and bendy leaves which is normally undesirable in the rigid structural striking varieties. It's a good idea therefore to feed once in Spring and once again in Summer with either a cactus or an all purpose feed. Only feed established plants.

Temperature

Like it's light requirements, this plant will take very high temperatures in its stride. It will expect a cooler temperature in Winter but not less than 5°C / 41°F.

Repotting

In time, Aloe Vera plants usually produce a lot of offsets or suckers which will gradually fill the pot. Repot when the pot becomes very congested. You can either keep all the plants together in a bigger pot, or separate some of the offsets for propagation.

Propagation

Offsets / suckers from Aloe's are very easy to get going by themselves. When you repot, gently separate them from the parent ensuring each offset has some roots of its own. Use a free draining compost mix and water well, wait a few weeks before you water again and never heavily until the offset has properly established.

Speed of Growth

Moderately fast in good conditions. Very little if conditions are poor and over Winter.

Height / Spread

They normally only reach 45cm / 18in in height. But spread (over many years) can be immense due to the offsets which fan out around the plant.

Flowers

Aloe Variegata plant in flowerYes the Aloe Vera flowers indoors. The plant needs to be established and have reached maturity (4 - 6 years old). Good light conditions are also needed. They can flower at any time of the year and the flowering stem comes shooting out very quickly. When it happens you will think the plant has been storing its energy and has suddenly released it all in one go (which actually is probably what's happened).

Anything else?

These plants get heavy. Really heavy. You will save yourself a lot of trouble if you pick a pot which is wider than it is tall, i.e. a typical cactus style pot. This will drastically help prevent the plant from tipping over when it starts to become unbalanced. Failing that, be sure that the container is heavy otherwise it will tip over at some point.


Help! My Aloe Vera is Dying

Black Spots on my Aloe Vera leaves

Normally caused by over watering.

Mushy leaves / Plant death

Normally caused by over watering, or exposure to sub zero temperatures

Wrinkly / droopy leaves

In most cases this is the plant begging for water. It normally only gets like this when all its internal water supplies (inside the leaves) are depleted. However if you are sure you are watering the plant often, it is quite possible you have overdone it. Take the Aloe out of its pot and check the roots, if they are dead or mushy then you have Root Rot and this is the cause of your wrinkly / droopy leaves.

Root Rot

- If most of the roots are healthy cut off the dead and mushy ones and then repot with fresh gritty compost. Go easy on the watering going forward.

- If most of the roots are dead, you are likely going to lose the plant. Either try the first point, and hope for the best, or cut off the biggest leaves reducing the plant size by about half. While unlikely, it's possible with less leaves for what little roots are left to Damaged Aloe Vera Leavessupport them, the plant will pull through.

Broken / snapped off leaves

This has been caused by naughty people, probably curious about the Aloe vera gel inside the leaves. If you know who it was and you have a offset to share, give them a plant of their own!



(Gallery) Credit for the photo of the massive Aloe blooming in her front room to Miss Gelly


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