It's Incredibly Easy To Grow Healing Aloe Vera At Home—Here's How

This spiky green plant is a snap to grow indoors, and has countless healing properties and uses around the house.

April 14, 2017
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Aloe vera may be the most commonly used herbal remedy in the U.S., and it's simple to grow it for yourself instead of running out to buy it to treat a sunburn, soothe your skin, or even mix into a detox drink.

Aloe vera juice is jack of all trades: it's good for burns and many skin conditions; it works as hair conditioner, styling gel, or for a doing your own non-toxic blow-out; and many people swear by it as liquid tonic when your diet needs a refresh. In fact, our test kitchen just whipped up some pretty amazing recipes.

As for the origins of this versatile plant, aloe vera probably originated in Africa, but it is so useful (the earliest written record of its use dates from more than two centuries B.C.) and adaptable that it can now be found growing wild in just about every tropical region around the world.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

If you don’t live in the tropics, an aloe vera plant is easy to grow indoors as a house plant, so you can always have it on hand. It's common and easy to find at your local garden store, and they tend to make babies, so if you know anyone with a plant they can probably give you a start or two. Here's our guide to growing aloe vera at home.

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Growing aloe vera indoors

Aloe vera is an incredibly tolerant houseplant. It will put up with low light (though it prefers strong sunlight) and thrives on infrequent watering (overwatering is far more likely to kill it). And if a plant gets too dry, too cold, or gets too little light, it may look a bit reddish and the leaves may get somewhat flattened, but it will usually hang in there, waiting for better times. Here are some tips for giving your plant the best care possible to keep it green, plump, and growing rapidly:

Soil: Aloe vera needs well-drained, sandy potting soil. Mix half sand and half potting soil or buy an organic cacti and succulent mix

Containers: Unglazed clay (terra cotta) pots are ideal, as they allow the soil to dry faster than plastic or glazed pots do. Be sure other types of container have multiple drainage holes in their bottom. Select a container that is just large enough for the roots (and to support the weight of the leaves without tipping over).

Light: Bright, sunny conditions are ideal, though aloe vera will put up with just a little sunlight (in very low light conditions, plants may go dormant and will stop growing until light levels increase). 

Water: Aloe vera is a dryland plant. Water heavily, then allow the potting mix to dry completely before watering again. This means only watering about every two weeks or even less frequently, especially in the winter or in low light locations when the plant is nearly dormant. Don’t water a little every day or so, or try to keep the soil moist, because you will rot out its roots. Limp or brown leaves are often a symptom of overwaterering.

You can move potted aloe veras outdoors during the summer. To prevent overexposure to the sun, put them in a shady location (even under a chair or table will work) at first and move them a little every few days until they are in full sun all day long. 

Related: 8 Houseplants That Can Survive Your Neglect

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Growing aloe vera outdoors

Aloe vera can be grown outdoors year-round in warm climates. Most sources say it is hardy in Zones 10 or greater, though some sources say it is hardy in Zone 9, and a few even say it is hardy in protected sites in Zone 8. Find your zone here if you're not sure.

Freezing temperatures will burn or kill the leaves, but the roots may survive as long as the soil does not freeze, and new sprouts will appear. If the temperature threatens to drop to 40°F or lower, you may be well advised to cover your plant with a blanket. Aloe vera will thrive in pretty much any soil as long as it is well drained. Aloe vera rarely needs to be watered, unless there is no rain for months; if you do water, give it a good soaking and then let the soil dry out; don’t water it a little every day or so, as the roots will rot and the plant will die. 

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Maintaining your aloe vera plant

Flowering: Once in a while an aloe vera will send up a tall stalk of small, bell-shaped flowers. When the flowers have faded, snip the flower stalk off near the base.

Repotting: Aloe vera prefers snug, rather than roomy, conditions, so don’t rush to repot; but if the weight of the plant keeps tipping the pot over, it’s time to move up to a slightly larger pot. Aloe vera can get leggy as older leaves at the bottom are either used or dry up, and it can develop a bare stem. If this bothers you, dump the rootball out and shake the potting mix off. If the bottom roots are dry and brown, snip them off, leaving the plump, light-colored ones. Then repot the plant, in the same, or a deeper container if necessary, so the bare stem is covered by potting mix (it will eventually sprout roots). 

Propagation: Small plants often develop next to the main plant, especially if the roots have filled the current pot. Dump the rootball out on a counter and carefully tease the roots of the different plants apart. Repot each in its own pot. You can also try starting more plants by sticking a few leaf tips (about 3" long, use the rest of the leaf for harvesting gel), cut end down, into a container of potting mix. Some people find letting the cut leaves sit on the counter for a week to allow the cut end to dry out improves the chances of plants developing, as does dipping the dried cut end in honey before planting. After a few weeks, some of the leaves will be dried up or rotting (pull them out and discard) and—if you're lucky—some will still be firm, perhaps even with tiny new leaves peeking out around the base. Keep an eye on them: once the new plants are a couple of inches tall, tease the roots apart, and plant them in small, individual pots.

Related: How To Grow Succulents

aloe on hand
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Harvesting and use

The easiest way to use aloe vera is to just snap or cut off a leaf when you need it and rub the juicy end on your burn or sore spot. To harvest larger amounts of juice, cut a leaf or leaves off as close to the stem of the plant as possible, slit each leaf lengthwise with a sharp knife, and then use a spoon to scrape the gel-like juice out of each half. Use it fresh, store it in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it in ice cube trays for longer storage.

Straight aloe vera juice is a good rinse-out hair conditioner, while a mixture of half aloe vera juice and half water (plus a drop or two of essential oil if you like) is a great leave-in hair conditioner, which is especially good for controlling frizzy hair. See more easy, homemade shampoos here, and check out these 5 ways to use aloe vera for your skin and gums.

Aloe vera and pets: As good as aloe vera is for many things, don’t let your pets chew on and eat the whole leaves, as doing so may irritate their mouths and cause vomiting. Small amounts of aloe vera juice are unlikely to cause these symptoms.