How to grow and care for aloe vera plants

All you need to know to grow an aloe vera and keep it thriving.

potted aloe vera plant

Classy and beautiful, aloe vera is the next trend in houseplants. © belchonock | 123rf

This indoor succulent plant can be found in almost anyone’s home – be it your auntie, grandmother, mom or even your trendy, plant-crazy millennial friend. Ever since #succulents have begun trending on social media, the once common aloe vera (a species of the Aloe genus) finally get their chance in the limelight.

In fact, it has been lauded for being more than just an Instagrammable succulent plant. This potted plant, also known as aloe barbadensis, has been used as a form of alternative medicine for thousands of years in many cultures around the world.

Some of the health benefits of aloe vera include:

  • Wound healing – usually used for minor burns, nicks and cuts
  • Improve blood sugar levels – a common use for type 2 diabetes patients
  • Filters the air, improving air quality by removing VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Relieves itching or swelling – applied topically for mosquito or bug bites
  • Soothes sunburn or inflammation and can aid dry skin conditions
  • Aids digestion, constipation and gas – by drinking aloe vera juice daily
  • Boosts appetite and flushes out toxins – enjoy it as a jelly in your favourite boba tea drink. Yum!

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Before you get to reap the benefits above, you need to ensure your aloe plant is in tip-top condition and foster its growth. We have also included some troubleshooting tips as succulents are notoriously known for being fussy.

How to grow and propagate aloe vera? 

aloe vera gel

Pure aloe vera jelly, fresh from the leaves. © Suttiwat Phokaiyajima | 123rf

There are two ways you can propagate an aloe vera plant.

1. Move it to a new pot

The first method is to move the offshoots at the base of a mature mother plant into a new pot. All you need to do is carefully remove offshoots growing at the side of the mother plant with some roots attached into a new pot!

2. Leaf cutting

The second method is leaf cutting. Cut off a leaf at least 8cm long and leave it out for a few days to callous over (it will prevent rotting). Once the callous has set, plant the leaf upright one-third deep into a pot of succulent potting mix. Keep the soil consistently moist for the next two weeks to promote root growth, then continue caring for it as you would a regular aloe vera plant.

What kind of potting mix should I use? 

watering aloe vera

Water only when the top two inches of soil feels dry. © Pachan Saelim | 123rf

Like most succulents, aloe vera plants enjoy a well-draining potting mix. You can easily get a good mix in most nurseries that sell succulents or cactus plants. A good mix should contain perlite, lava rock and coarse sand which can effectively drain excess water quickly – but do make sure your pot has a drainage hole at the bottom. Proper drainage is important, an aloe vera plant should not be left sitting in water as it can rot, wilt and eventually die.

How often should aloe vera be watered? 

This plant behaves similarly to a cactus. If you’re keeping it outdoors under the hot Malaysian sun, once a week of deep watering should do the trick. However, if you prefer your aloe vera indoors, watering it once every 10 – 14 days works better.

You can gauge the timing by dipping your finger into soil – if the top two inches are dry, then it is time to water. If the soil feels moist, hold off for a few more days. Remember that underwatering a little is better than overwatering or you will risk root rot (see below for troubleshooting tips).

What kind of light do aloe vera needs?

Keep your aloe vera plant in a place with bright, indirect light. Place it at a shaded area on your porch/garden if kept outdoors, or on a bright windowsill or next to a glass sliding door if kept indoors. Lack of light will cause your plant to grow very leggy, so be sure to always keep it in a bright area but away from direct light.

Read more: 15 indoor plants you can’t kill (so easily)

How fast does aloe vera grow? 

As with most succulent and cactus species, it is a slow-growing plant. But it is considered one of the faster-growing succulents with the right treatment. Malaysia’s weather is perfect for these desert-dwelling plants, so you don’t have to worry about temperature.

In perfect conditions, a new leaf grows every one to two weeks, but a baby plant takes an average of four years to fully mature (with 20 – 25cm long leaves). Do fertilise it once a month to keep it growing well.

How to harvest aloe vera?

Once your aloe vera has matured, it is time to harvest and reap the benefits of your tender loving care! Choose a nice, large leaf at least 15cm long. Using a sharp and clean knife, cut at the base of the leaf, as close to the main stalk as possible.

A yellow sap called aloin (prepared by extraction from aloe latex) will start to ooze out – it is bitter and can cause negative reactions in some people so be sure not to touch it. You can place it upright in a glass to allow all the aloin to drip out for about 15 minutes.

Wash the leaf and with a knife, cut off the serrated edges of the leaf. Then remove the skin of the aloe carefully, much like filleting a fish. Repeat until all the skin is removed and only the aloe gel is left, then rinse it once more.

Now, you can cut it up into cubes to use as jelly or blend it with some ice and honey to make an aloe vera juice. Make sure the leaf extract is decolourised before consume to minimise risk. 

Read more: 11 cheap and fail-proof edible plants you can grow on your balcony

How to treat wilting aloe vera plants?

aloe vera plants

Keep your plant from dying by checking its roots for issues. © sonjachnyj | 123rf

Why is my aloe vera turning yellow/brown and mushy?

This is a surefire sign that you have either overwatered your plant, or the soil is too wet (causing its roots to rot). The leaves store water and do not like sitting in wet soil for a long period of time.

Solution: Stop watering your plant! Only water it when it is ¾ dry, test the dampness by sticking your finger into the soil. You may need to remove the mushy leaves to prevent the plant from further rotting.

If the situation persists, try digging the plant out and checking the roots – mushy, black roots which have rotted should be removed and the aloe vera replanted in fresh soil. Ensure your soil is well-draining to prevent future issues.

Why is my aloe vera turning brown/red?

Your plant may be receiving way too much sunlight or some direct sun. Ironically, while aloe vera gel is used to soothe sunburns, the aloe vera itself is susceptible to getting sunburnt!

Solution: Move the plant to a shaded spot with bright, indirect light. Direct sun rays should not touch the plant. Check the soil to see if it’s getting too dry and water if needed.

Read more: Avoid these 7 mistakes & your indoor plants won’t die again

How will I know if my aloe vera plant is dying?

If your aloe vera plant has been neglected for a long period of time, the leaves will begin to change colour and start drooping. If you’re lucky, you can catch the problem before all the leaves turn brown. The plant can still be saved if you have a few green parts left. If not, you are better off starting out with a new plant.

Solution: How do you revive a dying plant? First, determine if your plant’s soil is wet/dry. A dry plant can easily be revived with deep watering and by removing all the dead leaves. A wet plant may be suffering from root rot.

Ensure its survival by removing it from the pot and removing the rotted parts – do change the soil as well. Also, a skinny and sparse plant could mean that there isn’t enough light, so move it to a brighter spot. These are not low-light plants and will suffer without sufficient light.

I hope that this guide can help you keep your aloe vera plants alive and thriving! Always remember the top three criteria for a happy healthy aloe vera – moist soil, well-draining potting mix and bright, indirect light!

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