What’s spiky, decorative, and green all over? That would be aloe vera, a succulent houseplant that’s just as pretty as it is practical. This easygoing desert native tolerates forgetful waterers and beginner gardeners while offering a hidden bonus within its thick, pointy leaves. The gel inside acts as a traditional sunburn soother, relieving redness when applied topically to mild burns.
Give your new potted friend bright, indirect light and a good watering every two weeks and it will thank you — and maybe even repay you with new plant “babies.” Stock up on the supplies you’ll need, and then get the full rundown on aloe vera plant care below.
What You’ll Need
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How to Grow Aloe Vera Indoors
Aloe has won over many home gardeners for its hardiness and tolerance of infrequent waterering. To keep it happy, plant aloe in a terra cotta pot with well-drained dirt. Your best bet is to mix equal parts sand and potting soil or buy a special succulent mix. The terra cotta also dries faster than other plastic or glazed containers.
Repot your aloe if the weight of the plant causes tipping, but otherwise don’t worry about giving it lots of space. This plant thrives in snug conditions.
Place your aloe in a bright, sunny place. Otherwise it will go dormant and stop growing. Water the plant heavily about once every two weeks, waiting until the soil dries out fully. Since this is a desert species, keeping the dirt moist will cause the roots to rot. Limp or brown leaves also signal you’ve overdone the H20.
If you like, you can move your potted plant outdoors for the summer, but don’t put it in direct sunlight right away. Gradually place it in a brighter spot every few days to prevent overexposure.
How to Grow Aloe Vera Outdoors
If you live in a warm climate year-round (Zone 10 or higher on the USDA Plant Hardiness Map), you can nurture your aloe outside. Freezing temperatures will kill the leaves, but you really have to worry about frozen soil, as that will kill the roots and no new sprouts will grow.
When picking a spot, look for a well-drained bed. You won’t need to water your aloe with the exception of droughts. If it hasn’t rained in months, give it a good soaking and then let the soil dry out again.
How to Care for Aloe Vera
As a bonus, your aloe will produce a tall stalk of small, bell-shaped flowers from time to time. Once the blooms fade, you can snip the stem off at the base.
Even better, aloe plants also produce new, smaller plants perfect for propagation. If you notice one of these “babies,” dump out the dirt and tease apart the roots of the different plants, replanting in separate containers.
If you’re keen to give aloe plants to friends, you can try starting your own plants by cutting off a few leaves. Trim to about 3 inches from the leaf tip; then put the cut ends down in a container of potting mix. While not every one will take, some will sprout tiny new leaves at the base. Wait until this new plant grows a few inches before repotting again.
How to Harvest Aloe Vera
Besides providing pretty decoration, aloe leaves contain a clear gel that’s a popular home remedy. According to the Mayo Clinic, this substance may shorten the healing of first- and second-degree burns and promote wound healing. Applying aloe gel to the skin could also help reduce acne and redness caused by mild to moderate psoriasis. However, the Mayo Clinic does not recommend ingesting aloe as eating too much could cause kidney damage.
With this in mind, you can snip off an aloe leaf (as close to stem as possible) when you need it and rub the juicy end on a sunburn or sore spot.
Some people also like to use aloe vera juice as a hair conditioner, makeup remover, or even brow gel. While there’s no guarantee it’ll work as well some of your favorite products, you can get more of the juice by slitting the spike lengthwise and scooping out the contents with a spoon. As long as your plant stays healthy, it’ll just keeping making more!
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