How to Grow and Care for Aloe Vera Plants

Learn how to help this popular—and useful—succulent variety thrive both in your garden and in your home.

There are many reasons why aloe vera has been popular for centuries. Belonging to the succulent family, it originated in arid and tropical climates, which is why it can withstand extreme temperatures and thrive without much water. Its thick, green stalks, which contain layers of vitamins and water, grow just as well outside with cactuses and other succulents as it does living in a pot in a well-lit room in your home.

The aloe vera plant is also known for its medicinal properties, including soothing sunburned skin, moisturizing dry hair, and helping to relieve an upset stomach. Best of all, this variety is versatile and low maintenance—a winning combination. Ultimately, keeping your aloe vera plant happy may not be difficult, but there are still a few tricks to keep in mind; practicing them will help your succulent flourish. Ahead, learn how to grow, care for, water, feed, propagate, and use this powerhouse plant.

woman caring for aloe vera plant
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How to Grow and Care for Aloe Vera Outdoors

The key to growing healthy aloe vera in your garden is making sure it is in the right environment. Stephania Gonzales of Plant Provisions in Los Angeles suggests using "cactus mix and adding perlite and orchard bark," which will create a well-draining soil. Overwatering your aloe vera is a death sentence, which is why Gonzales suggests changing up your watering schedule depending on the season. In the summer, water about once a month or every three weeks; in the winter, add water only once every two months. Before you give your aloe vera a drink, however, check the soil, says Chris Satch, a plant doctor at Horti. "Water aloe vera when the soil is bone dry," Satch says, noting that this tip holds true whether you are growing this variety outdoors or inside.

The placement of your aloe vera plant is also key. Making sure that your plant gets plenty of vitamin D—without being scorched by the sun—is preferable (Satch notes that a direct sun position in your garden is best). Gonzales believes there are two things that aloe vera needs the most: "Plenty of bright light and very little water."

How to Grow and Care for Aloe Vera Indoors

When you bring aloe vera indoors, homing it in the proper vessel and placing it in an ideal spot are so important. Marina Olshansky, the owner of Vesca Botanicals, a potted plant delivery service, says, "I suggest potting in terra-cotta and not glazed pots because they are better at drawing moisture out—and the biggest mistake people make with aloe is overwatering." In that vein, make sure the pot you choose has a drainage hole, since aloe vera does not like sitting in water. Once your plant is secure in its new pot, make sure to place it in a space with indirect bright light to avoid singeing its talon-like limbs. It's also important to choose a spot beyond your pets' reach; even though the plant is medicinal for humans, it can be harmful to animals.

How to Fertilize Aloe Vera

Whether you're growing your aloe vera indoors or out, the spring and summer months are when your plant really thrives—so be sure to give it some extra encouragement at this time. "I like to fertilize lightly every other month, but only in spring and summer," says Olshansky. A New York Botanical Garden guide recommends applying a balanced organic houseplant food at half strength on this cadence; avoid fertilizer with a high nitrogen content (too much is deleterious to this species).

How to Propagate and Re-Pot Aloe Vera

Expanding your aloe vera collection is easy if you already have a mother plant. Once your succulent produces tiny offshoots (these are called pups), you can divide them and replant them elsewhere. "Propagate aloe vera pups that grow by the base of the plant by severing their runner (or umbilical cord) and replanting them once they have 5 to 6 leaves," Satch shares. "You can re-pot the propagations in potting or succulent mix."

How to Use Aloe Vera

There are plenty of medicinal uses for this prickly succulent. "One popular way to use aloe vera is by squeezing the juice onto your skin to treat ailments and sunburn," explains Satch. You can do this by gently peeling back a layer of the leaf and exposing the thick liquid within the leaves; apply it directly to sore skin. The same soothing substance that reduces inflammation and stimulates the production of collagen can also work on other parts of your body that need a little extra care, like your hair.

You can also use that same liquid to quell an upset stomach—although, you might want to purchase aloe vera juice directly from the store, instead of going the DIY route. People who juice their own aloe at home run the risk of including too much of the outer leaf, which could have the opposite effect on your stomach.

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