The rise in popularity of gardening in the last year or so has been great to see. But not all plants are intended for outside, Aloe Vera being one them.
In the UK grow Aloe Vera as a houseplant, in a sturdy pot with cactus or succulent compost and added perlite for drainage. Position this tender perennial in a sunny spot which will not burn your aloe with direct sunlight. Never let the temperature drop below 10C and keep the roots free from standing water.
I would say that an Aloe Vera is a great beginners house plant, but there are a few ways to if not kill it off completely, then at least turn it brown and make it look very sad. I want to share with you how best to avoid that and how to get the most vibrant and healthy plant possible.
How To Care For Your Aloe Vera
A real beginners house plant this succulent has very little requirements from us once it has been potted up correctly. It is important to note that you more likely than not have to do this once you first buy your Aloe Vera as it will be in a plastic pot that it may have already outgrown.
A little bit of confidence as a beginner gardener and your Aloe Vera will thrive.
Compost Mix For Aloe & Repotting
You will need to pot it on pretty much immediately after buying to put into a more sturdy pot. Terracotta or similar, not plastic as the roots will burst out. The better the drainage the less likely your plant will suffer with root rot.
Use a specific cacti or succulent compost mix, organic for preference and you should be able to purchase that in a local nursery. If not then Westland sell a cacti/succulent potting compost available here. If you do not want to spend the extra then you will need to add grit or Perlite available here. to a peat free compost.
- Choose a sturdy pot with lots of drainage holes. This is the main point and go for the next size up. Your Aloe Vera will likely grow to around 60cm as a houseplant and you will want to upsize your pots to avoid it becoming root bound.
- Choose your cacti or succulent compost or mix 1 part perlite to 2 parts peat-free compost. This will need to be thoroughly mixed and the perlite will break up the soil causing air pockets that will enable the Aloe roots to receive water, but not sit in water.
- Loosen your Aloe Vera and hold on to the main plant with one hand and turn the pot side ways. You can do this outside on a table to avoid the inevitable soil spillage being a mess . Keep the hand with the Aloe in still and slide the pot away from your plant. Allow the roots to slump on to the table, sort of use this as support to put less stress on the root system and base of your Aloe Vera.
- If you have bought your plant from a supermarket or anywhere that is basically not a reputable nursery then there may be unsuitable soil in the pot. I would discard this and brush your roots to remove any further loose soil. Rest the plant on the table as you do this but offer it support to avoid those thick leaves breaking off.
- Use the old pot to measure how much compost you need to add to the bottom of your new container. Then place your Aloe Vera gently inside. The roots are delicate but it is damage to the leaves that is hard to repair. They are pretty inflexible and any snaps or cracks will then produce a heal and you will have to decide if you want to cut it off completely. Back fill the pot being careful to avoid any damage.
- Now you can decide if you want to use some pebbles or coloured glass stones to cover the top of your compost. This helps with water retention, however your Aloe Vera is drought tolerant and will not struggle if you forget to water it for a few weeks.
- Do not be tempted to now soak your aloe to give it a good feed in it’s new pot. Instead use a mister to spray it for a few days and then water.
Positioning Your Aloe
It is nice to think that all of your house plants want a nice sunny windowsill, not so with Aloe Vera!
Choose a position that is sunny but free from direct sunlight that could burn your Aloe Vera leaves. Beware of central heating and a South or West facing windowsill can work well, unless they have a radiator directly underneath. You can bring your Aloe outside in warmer months whilst being mindful of avoiding strong winds.
This will essentially cook your aloe vera. Sadly I have never seen an aloe flowering in the UK unless it has been grown in a hot house or orangery. Even in warmer climates when the Aloe is a house plant it refrains from flowering. When grown outside in USDA zones 8-11 it puts up a stem of vibrant yellow to orange flowers. Perfect for hummingbirds!
Growing Aloe Outside
In the UK it is not always possible to grow Aloe Vera outside. Perhaps in the Southern counties you will find more luck but certainly we would need to overwinter.
You can bring your Aloe Vera plant outside in the Summer months to make it part of a larger succulent display. Be very mindful of positioning and avoid direct sunlight, certainly from midday onwards you would rather dappled shade than burning sun.
As soon as temperatures look like they will dip below 10C bring your plants back inside.
Propagating Aloe From Cuttings
It is not always possible to propagate Aloe Vera from cuttings or clippings. This is due to it’s sap and how hard it is to keep it mold free during rooting.
Aloe Vera produces little baby versions of the mother plant, all around the outside. These babies are readily available to peel off from the main plant and you can pot them on to create new plants, suitable as gifts!
Do this outside on a table and lower yourself so that the table and you are supporting the plants. Snaps and breakages will happen but I will go into how to turn this into a positive in a moment.
- Once the Aloe Vera babies or pups have started to grow around the main plant and are of a substantial size (roughly 4 inches and above) then you can lift the main plant from the pot. Do this with one hand on the main plant and keep that still to offer support to the leaves. With the other hand twist and pull back the pot. Go slow and gentle with this as you want the leaves to survive. It’s almost as if you are supporting the head of a baby and you do not want to put pressure on the base of the Aloe plant.
- Some of the pups will naturally fall away and can be put to one side. Some will be bigger and more securely attached to the main Aloe plant. Use a brush to clear soil from the roots. Then you can start to see if your pups all have roots. Some will not, so leave them attached as they will be very unlikely to take root after being lifted off.
- Take a clean sharp knife and gently cut the pups who are clinging on so that they will break free from the mother plant. Aloe will heal over quickly.
- Place the pups and the parent plant out of direct sunlight. A potting bench is ideal if it is kept cool. The wounds will need to heal before being put back into soil. If you don’t wait a day for this callous to form then you are leaving your plants open to infections and disease.
- When you return you will see the callous quite clearly and there is no sap leaking or showing as fresh on the outside. Now you are free to repot them. Use cacti compost or peat free compost mixed with perlite to a ratio of 2:1.
- Use 4inch diameter pots for the pups and do not rush to water either them or the parent plant. Do not bury them in soil but plant to the same depth they would have been when attached to the parent plant. Wait around 3-4 days and then water. Remember they are dessert plants and have just had a shock so watering them will add insult to injury!
- Only water when the soil is completely dried out. This is the best conditions for a succulent and they absorb the water and store it readily. The roots will suffer if you over water. Cut back the watering intervals still further in the winter months to encourage a dormant period.
Possible Problems & Solutions For Your Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera will live to around 12 years as a house plant and so sometimes a problem can actually just be a question of patience on our part. So don’t think that your newly bought plant should be producing little aloe vera pups within the first few months.
- Droopy leaves or bent leaves which are lighter in colour. It can be tempting to think limp leaves means not enough water, however it is more likely o be hours of sunlight that are causing this. Remember it needs a few hours of light a day, but not direct sunlight. So in the UK this means we can get away with a West facing window in Summer but in Winter we could probably move to a South facing window as we aren’t very likely to have an awful lot of light. It can even be as simple as moving it 90 degrees regularly in a sunbeam in your home office! Turning your houseplants can make a big difference as otherwise only one side is receiving sunlight.
- Not very much growth. If you have bought your Aloe Vera as a younger plant it may take a bit of time to get used to it’s new home and even new pot. Make sure to have your potting mix correct and just have a little patience. Aloe Vera take around 4 years to grow to the same size as a parent plant and then perhaps another year or so to grow any pups of it’s own. A slow and enjoyable process, but one which can leave the new plant owner worried.
- Leaves turning brown and limp or soft. This is over watering. The main issue with houseplants and especially Aloe Vera is wet roots but if they are allowed to absorb too much water they will literally plump up and explode inside. Aloe is great as it shows us very quickly what is going on. So cut back your watering immediately. Aim for once every two to four weeks in Summer and even less frequently in the Winter and Autumn months. Aloe Vera loves a dormant period and then a Spring reawakening.
- After cutting back watering leaves still limp or brown. If it is with a plant you have bought but not potted on yourself then the compost mix is likely to be wrong. This means that your Aloe Vera is sitting in it’s own water and the roots are swelling and rotting. Change the soil as we discuss in our above guide and make sure after watering that you empty any drainage trays so that the pot itself is not sitting in water as well.
- If your Aloe Vera leaves are developing brown or black spots and are orange along the edges. Then this means you are literally cooking your aloe. It could be either the direct sunlight or your central heating. So move away from the heat source and rethink your plants position.
One final word of warning involves where you buy your plants from. Plenty of reputable nurseries employ the same level of care and support to their houseplants as their outdoor plants. But sometimes houseplants like Aloe Vera can be bought in stores where they are crammed in with other plants and just massed watered every day with no daylight. We all feel sympathy for those plants but test the leaves to see if they are springy. As soon as you feel that or see a yellowish hue to the leaves, then walk away.
What To Do With Broken Aloe Vera Leaves
When you repot or move an aloe the leaves can become damaged and either snap off completely or crack. They will then heal up with a dried line. To make it less unsightly, take a sharp clean knife and cut the leaf to the base. This just lessens the blow. You do want to avoid taking from younger plants as they really only can take a harvest in the third year onwards.
You can use the sap from the leaf to treat topical injuries or skin irritations. I use for burns and eczema. Save the rest of the leaf by popping it into an airtight container and leaving in your fridge.
Where To Buy Aloe Vera In The UK
There has been a real surge in popularity of house plants due to us all now having home offices. So it can be hard to track down plants but we have a great online nursery who sell via Amazon here, it is sometimes the case that smaller more specialist nurseries do sell on this larger platform.
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Let us know how you get on as we love to hear your stories too. Also it really helps other readers who come here to learn from you and others in our community.
Many thanks and good luck!