By Sarah Wilson
Easy to grow and easy to keep, get the hang of how to grow aloe vera and you'll find it's the perfect plant to green up your home. Group it together with other succulents and let it take centre stage as an attractive statement plant. It partners particularly well with decorative cacti and succulents such as agave, echeveria and senecio.
Aloe vera are having a moment right now driven by social media – just look at all those interiors shots on Instagram with these beauties showing up. They love a terrarium and have a natural affinity with a steamy bathroom (perfect for shelfie snaps), plus help to keep the air in your home clean too. Position one of these best indoor plants in your bedroom as a night-time oxygenator to help improve the quality of air you breathe while asleep.
They are good looking plants too. The shapely form has thick blue-green leaves that grow up in spikes from a rosette at the base of the plant. These develop serrated edges as they mature. Although it's most common to learn how to grow aloe vera as a houseplant, you can also grow them outdoors in warmer climates (or just during the warmer months of summer) to max up that Mediterranean feel in your garden.
How to grow aloe vera: quick tips
Learning how to grow aloe vera is a cinch. Whether you're looking to add it to your indoor garden ideas or want to grow it outdoors, it's a tough little plant that is pretty self-sufficient, so you can't get more low-maintenance than this.
Aloe vera stores moisture and nutrients in its leaves in order to get through dry periods, and you can pretty much leave it to get on with it.
There’s no need to feed aloe vera regularly either. Once a year, at the beginning of the growing season in spring, treat it to a feed with a general houseplant fertilizer and that should cover all its needs.
During summer, water aloe vera every fortnight, and position it in a light and sunny spot. Then sit back to watch it thrive. Generally it takes three to four years to reach maturity.
It's also super-easy to propagate aloe vera and you'll soon have so many new members in your aloe family you'll be giving away multiple plantings to friends and neighbors.
How to grow aloe vera indoors
- Aloe vera plants do best in dry conditions. Plant them in a cactus potting mix or a regular potting soil with added perlite or grit for a free draining environment. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage holes too.
- Aloe vera plants cannot tolerate standing in water so be careful when it comes to watering plants. Keep an eye on how much you water them each time and drain away any excess that pools in the base of the pot.
- They also need proper light. If you're growing them as part of your indoor plant ideas, they generally do best in south- or west-facing windows.
- These plants do get heavy though so choose a bowl-shaped container which is wider than it is tall. This will prevent the plant from tipping over if it starts to become unbalanced.
Do aloe vera plants need direct sunlight?
Your aloe vera plant will love being placed in a spot that offers bright, indirect sunlight. However, it won't appreciate sustained direct sunlight, as this tends to dry out the plant too much and turn its leaves yellow.
If you're growing it indoors as a houseplant, keep your aloe vera in a pot near a window but avoid having the sun’s rays hit it directly.
If you're growing it outdoors during the summer months, this plant isn't a good choice for your shade garden ideas as it needs to be in a place that’s bright with indirect sunlight too.
How to grow aloe vera outdoors
Despite its exotic appearance, aloe vera grows well outdoors too so take your collection outside in summer and style up your plants in a bright spot.
- If you want success with how to grow aloe vera outdoors, it will very much depend on where you live. Aloe vera should grow well outdoors in USDA zones 8 to 11. In other zones (including the UK), you can grow it outside in the summer in a container, but you should move it indoors for the cold season to protect it from cold overnight temperatures and frosts.
- When considering how to grow aloe vera outdoors, you can try grouping it with other cacti and succulents with similar needs to create stunning Mediterranean garden ideas. You may even be rewarded with spikes of bright flowers on slender spires if you're lucky. There's advice on how to grow succulents in our guide.
- If you want to mix in an aloe vera plant in your garden borders, the easiest way is to plant it up in a container to position it as a focal point. Potted aloe vera is also a good choice for adding interest to your decking ideas and patio ideas. Just remember that it needs to be in a place that’s bright with indirect sunlight.
- Aloe vera needs a sandy or gravelly soil that’s free draining. To make sure you have the right drainage in a pot, use a special cactus potting soil or add some perlite or coarse sand to your regular compost to make it more gritty.
How much do you need to water aloe vera?
A key thing to remember for how to grow aloe vera is that these plants can handle drought relatively well thanks to being a succulent. Where possible though, they do prefer to be watered regularly, allowing the soil to dry out completely in between. Aim to water your aloe vera plants once a fortnight, less in winter.
If you forget and leave it dried out for too long, the leaves will shrivel and pucker. Sometimes leaves become transparent because they're so dehydrated. They will recover if watered, but won't thrive with repeated treatment like this of either too much or too little water. This will eventually cause the leaves to yellow and die.
If you're sure you're watering the plant often, you may be overdoing it instead. Take the aloe vera out of its pot and check the roots. If they're dead or mushy this could be the cause of the puckered leaves, and it's best to concede defeat with this particular one.
Remember to factor in that where you decide to put the plant as this will also dictate how long it takes for the soil to dry out and how long you need to wait in between watering it.
Going on vacation and worried about keeping your plants well watered and in good health? Our guide to watering plants while away on vacation has lots of useful tips for keeping them alive in your absence.
Do aloe vera need special treatment in winter?
Aloe vera rest in winter and become dormant, so should have little water and no food. This is particularly important if it's in a cool spot to prevent rotting. The plant develops when the days start getting longer again, at which point you should begin to water it again and give it a feed.
If you're considering how to grow aloe vera outdoors, you need to take action when the temperature drops as they can't tolerate frost. If you live in a colder climate, your plants should be grown in pots as part of your container gardening ideas and brought inside for the winter. If you experience an unexpected sudden frost, cover your plants with horticultural fleece to keep them warm. There's more tips on how to protect plants from frost in our guide.
Will my aloe vera have flowers?
Some plants have flowers and some don't. To flower, the plant needs to be established and have reached maturity, which takes around four to five years. Good light conditions are also needed. They can flower at any time of the year and the flowering stem comes shooting out like an arching spire so quickly you might not notice it until it's already pretty long.
What to look out for when buying aloe vera
For best results with how to grow aloe vera, apply the same principles as whenever you're buying any plant. Look carefully at the plant to check it's happy and healthy. If possible, ease the plant out of the pot to check the root system is viable. Sometimes you will see small rosettes on the plant too which means it's a good one to choose, and it will look more visually appealing too.
How to keep aloe vera plants healthy
Aloe vera is a plant that isn’t susceptible to diseases. However, it can sometimes be troubled by mealybugs in between the leaf rosettes. Wipe them away with a soft cloth, after spraying the plant with water. If this doesn’t work (it can be difficult to tackle), it’s best to get rid of the plant and start again.
If you overwater your aloe vera, the leaf rosettes can start to rot. It’s better for the soil to be a little too dry than much too wet. Water your plants fortnightly and let them dry out in between.
If the plant spends too long in a spot with insufficient light it will start to lose its lustre and look faded. Always choose a light sunny spot for your aloe vera plants.
If the outer leaves get brown tips, snip off the entire leaf, close to the base of the plant. This will encourage new growth. Never prune leaves in the centre.
Aloe vera has a shallow root system that likes to spread out close to the surface. As the plant grows and needs repotting, move up to a wider pot, rather than a deeper one so it has the room to thrive.
Can you grow aloe vera from a cutting?
Learning how to grow aloe vera from cuttings is a good way to get extra plants for free. In a short space of time, aloe vera plants usually produce a lot of suckers that will gradually fill the pot. If it becomes very congested you will need to think about how to repot a plant. You can either keep all the plants together in a bigger pot, or separate some of the suckers for propagation or to give away as gifts.
When it comes to propagating aloe vera it's good news all the way. It's easy to get the baby plants established, as they do it mostly by themselves with little assistance from you. Follow these tips for how to take cuttings from plants.
- Remove and pot the aloe vera babies that develop at the base of the plant.
- Gently separate the suckers from the parent, making sure that each one has at least a few roots of its own, then replant them separately in pots of soil.
- When you repot them, use a free draining compost mix and water well.
- Wait a few weeks before watering again sparingly until the new plants are properly established.
What are the health benefits of aloe vera?
The sap from aloe vera leaves is brilliant for treating sunburn, eczema and insect bites as it is packed with skin-healing properties. Use the freshly squeezed sap straight from the plant for best results. The thicker the leaf, the more gel you will find inside.
If you want to treat a small area of sunburn, say, break off a small leaf or part of a leaf and gently rub the split end on the wound.
If you need to deal with a bigger area of sunburn, break off a larger leaf and let the sap drip into a bowl before applying it.
If you have any sap left over either drink it or add to a smoothie as it's also beneficial for gut health.
For more ways to grow your own crops with health benefits, check out our guide on how to grow your own herbal tea.
Where to buy aloe vera plants
Whether you're learning how to grow aloe vera or you're buying plants from the garden center, here's our round-up of some of the best varieties to choose from.
You can buy aloe vera plants from a wide range of suppliers. Use our quicklinks below to head straight to leading suppliers where you can take your pick of the best that's on offer.
Where to buy aloe vera plants in the UK
- Shop aloe vera plants at Amazon
- Shop aloe vera plants at Crocus
- Shop aloe vera plants at Dobies
- Shop aloe vera plants at Patch Plants
- Shop aloe vera plants at Thompson & Morgan
- Shop aloe vera plants at Waitrose Garden
Where to buy aloe vera plants in the US
4 different aloe varieties to choose from
There are over 400 different types of aloe plant. Once you get the hang of how to grow aloe vera you might like to try one of these varieties.
1. Aloe arborescens
The name means 'tree-like' and this variety is also known as the candelabra aloe on account of its elegant branching stems. Aloe arborescens is a larger type of plant and can grow up to 3 metres tall in the right conditions. The flowers are vibrant red-orange colour and look a little like those of red hot pokers.
2. Aloe humilis
This small succulent forms dense clusters of short stemmed rosettes of blue-green leaves edged with irregular bumps and spines that look like little white teeth. The name means ‘staying close to the ground’. It has red-orange flowers that appear on tall spikes in late winter and spring.
3. Aloe polyphylla
Exotic-looking aloe polyphylla has a spiral of leaves arranged in geometric swirls with rosettes that can eventually grow to over 50cm across. It can withstand temperatures below freezing making it a perfect outdoor all-year-round UK succulent. They are a thirsty and hungry plant that benefits from extra feeding and watering during the growing season.
4. Aloe aristata
A stylish succulent that forms a dense rosette of fleshy green leaves, each with a finely serrated edge and a smattering of paler markings. In autumn tubular, orange-red flowers appear on long stems. Although hardier than many aloes, it’s best grown as a houseplant or under cover outside, perhaps as part of your greenhouse ideas.
Sarah Wilson has been a lifestyle journalist for many years, writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, as well as Country Homes & Interiors and Modern Gardens magazines.
Her own (small urban) garden is a work in progress - so many ideas, not enough space to cram them in. Hero plants include her ever growing collection of ornamental grasses, black bamboo and ferns, and the perennials like salvias and penstemons that come back reliably year after year. All very restrained though when in fact she'd love to pack her garden with gaudy dahlias and giant cannas, so these are top of her wish list for what to grow next.
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