If there is one plant you should grow no matter where you are or how much space you have or don’t have, it’s Aloe Vera.
They say a dog is man’s best friend, I say it’s actually Aloe Vera. With all due respect for dogs (and I have a lot…), this plant requires almost no care, it doesn’t poop or drool, and it’s going to save you on a regular basis.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera is a succulent plant, meaning it stores water in it’s leaves (aloe vera is 94% water). It grows up to about 36 inches tall and spreads outward by offsets or “pups” (picture bellow) to form a wide cluster of chubby leaves.
Aloe vera is native to Northern Africa. The green (or grey-green) leaves are thick and fleshy with tiny white teeth on their margins. The “teeth” can scratch, but are not as bad as thorns.
There are almost 300 identified species of aloe vera. Medical aloe vera can be recognized by the faint white spots on the thick leaves.
In the desert, aloe vera will produce a flower stem in the spring. It grows from the center of the plant and is 2 to 3 feet tall and topped with tubular pink or yellow flowers.
Where Can I Get an Aloe Vera Plant?
I got my aloe vera plant six years ago from my mother in law after she removed some offsets from her mother plant.
If you have a friend or a family member that happen to have it growing somewhere, you can propagate it by removing an offset. I’ll explain how to do this later in this post.
Your local plant nursery should have aloe vera plants. You might even be able to find it in the farmer’s market.
And, of course, like everything else, you can find it on Amazon.
How to Plant Aloe Vera
The only thing aloe vera doesn’t like is freezing temperatures (32F and below), so…
Outdoor – if you garden in zones 9-11 you can plant aloe vera outdoor. If you are planting more than one plant, make sure to space them 3 feet apart since your plants are going to spread outward.
Aloe vera is not picky at all when it comes to soil. As long as you have decent garden soil it will have no problem growing. If your soil is heavy clay, you can mix it up with cactus and succulent soil mix like this one.
Outdoor/Indoor – in gardening zones 1-8 you’ll have to plant your aloe vera in a container that you can move indoor before the first frost.
Again, you can use cactus and succulent potting mix or you can use a regular potting mix or even some soil from your garden.
You don’t need a very deep container since aloe vera is pretty shallow rooted. however, if you want to allow your plant to spread, make sure to choose a wide container. Also, make sure you choose a container that allows for good drainage.
Note – you might think that aloe vera can handle full sun, and it might be if it’s not too hot. But in areas that experience high heat during summer days, it’s better to plant aloe vera or place the pot in a partially shaded outdoor location. Here, in NC (zone 7b) if I leave my aloe vera in full sun in July or August (temperatures are around 100F), it becomes brown and starts to wilt (no matter how much I water it).
Indoor – Aloe vera is a great houseplant. If you can provide it with 6 to 8 hours of bright light a day (not direct sunlight), it will be very happy staying indoors. A sun room is a great location for an aloe vera plant, or maybe a south facing window. If there is no such location in your home, but you would like to keep your aloe vera indoor, you can supplement with grow lights.
Aloe Vera Plant Care
Aloe vera is pest resistant, drought tolerant, and doesn’t require any fertilizing. It’s the easiest plant in the world to care for.
Watering – I water my aloe vera plant twice a year (maybe). Here, in NC we have a lot of rain in the spring and summer, so when it is outdoor I don’t water at all. I bring it inside at the end of October and from that time until the beginning of April I water it twice.
You should water it thoroughly, and then let the soil completely dry before you water again.
Removing offsets – if your pot is becoming too crowded, or if you would like to give an aloe vera plant to a friend (it’s a great gift!), you can remove some of the offsets. It is better to remove the ones from the sides of the container and not mess with the center of the plant.
Wait until the offset is at least two inches tall (five or six inches is even better). Then, to separate an offset, remove the aloe vera plant from the pot. Brush away as much soil as you can and locate the place where the offset is connected to the parent plant. Cut if off right there, it should have a few roots.
Replant the mother plant in its pot, it might be a good time to add new soil and refresh things up a bit. Then, plant the offset in its own pot and you are done. Make sure to place the plants in a well-lit location but away from direct sun.
Protecting from the cold – above you can see a leaf that is becoming brown and starts to wilt. This happened because I left my aloe vera outside when night temperatures dropped to 32F. This will also happen if you leave your aloe vera plant in full sun on very hot days.
So remember to pay attention to the weather forecast, and when it gets too cold, bring your plant indoors and place it close to a sunny window.
Aloe vera is very forgiving, though… Even if your whole plant has wilted it will, most likely bounce right back when conditions are right. It’s very hard to kill this plant.
How to Harvest Aloe Vera
To use your aloe vera, cut one of the leaves…
See this goodness that is coming out of the leave? This is what you want to use.
To better access it, cut the white teeth from one side…
Then the other…
Then peel the front of the leaf off to allow you better access to the gel inside.
See this gel inside of the leaf? This is the part we want to use.
Next, we are going to talk about aloe vera uses, but just so you know, you can wrap the leaf in plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator for next time. When you need it again, unwrap it, peel another piece and use it. Don’t throw it away if you didn’t use all of it the first time.
Aloe Vera Uses
Aloe produces two substances that we can use as medicine. The gel is clear and comes from the inner part of the leaf, and the latex which is yellow and is found right under the skin (you’ll notice it when you cut the leaf). There are two main ways to use aloe vera: externally and internally.
Externally – Both the gel and the latex are used externally to heal skin problems, support healthy mouth and teeth and healthy hair and scalp.
Here is a list of skin problems aloe vera can help heal by applying the gel on the skin:
Itchy skin due to insect bites.
Skin damage due to frostbite.
Prevent and heal acne.
Reverse wrinkles and treat signs of skin aging.
Reduce puffiness under eyes.
Strengthen teeth (use toothpaste with aloe vera in it).
Treat minor vaginal discomfort.
Remove make up.
Fight dandruff by massaging into the scalp.
Internally – aloe vera is used internally mainly by drinking aloe vera juice. To make aloe vera juice from your plant, peel a piece of leaf, so you are left with only the gel (the inner, clear part of the leaf). Add this to a blender with a cup or two of orange juice or mango juice (or whatever else you like), blend well and drink.
Using aloe vera this way can help…
Strengthen the immune system.
Treat indigestion and constipation and support a healthy digestive system (therefor, aloe vera can help with weight loss).
Treat arthritis and relieve joint pain.
Lower blood sugar.
Treat stomach ulcer.
Treat UTI and prostate problems.
Reduces cholesterol and supports a healthy heart.
Helps to reduce and treat inflammation and infection of the eye and year.
Improve the look and health of the skin.
Help keep body balance between acidity and alkalinity (aloe vera is alkaline).
Improves hair growth.
I probably forgot a few things in the list above, but you get the point. Aloe vera is an amazing medical plant that has been used for thousands of years. And fortunately, it’s very easy to grow. I keep my aloe vera in a pot so I can bring it inside to protect it from the cold but also so I can take it with me if we move. I’m not going anywhere without it!
Do you grow aloe vera? What do you use it most for?