Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis)
Most tropical plants, if they were humans, would be stunningly attractive people. Aloe Vera, on the other hand, would be a stunningly attractive person who was also a Cordon Bleu chef, cosmetician, and brain surgeon.
Simply put, this is a plant with purpose. It’s an ingredient in foods including health drinks, milk, yogurt, ice cream, and confections. It’s been utilized as a skin moisturizer since the days of Cleopatra and Nefertiti. And it’s been used to treat a positively vast range of medical maladies since before the New Testament was written.
With all of that going on, it can be easy to forget that Aloe Vera is also a fantastic houseplant—and an absolute model of understated, under-rated beauty.
In most cases, an Aloe Vera’s leaves are the first thing you notice—fleshy green blades several inches long but barely an inch wide and up to half an inch thick. They’re typically edged with small serrations and freckled with tiny, greenish-white ovals as well, and form a rosette around a tiny, mostly invisible central stem.
It’s not a flashy look compared to some other plants. But it is clean, healthy, and surprisingly dressy considering the harsh conditions Aloe is accustomed to—it’s like a plumber who shows up holding a plunger but wearing a suit and tie.
That’s not to say Aloe Vera can’t surprise you. Put the plant outside during the warmer months, and it may treat you to a bloom cycle—a spectacular spike up to 3 feet tall and covered in tubular lemon-yellow flowers. Try to take your eyes off it. We can’t.
Aloe Vera is remarkably easy to care for in the home. It prefers bright light, often even full sun (though the leaves can scald, so watch it carefully), and can also make do with part shade / medium light. It likes its soil to dry out almost completely between waterings. It needs very little fertilizer, has no humidity concerns, and rarely has pest or disease problems.
Aloe Vera may be one of the best-known tropical plants on the planet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also one of the best. Add one to your plant collection today. We guarantee it’s the prettiest grow-your-own first-aid kit you’ll ever own.
Characteristics and traits of an Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis)
- Scientific Name: Aloe Vera (formerly Aloe Barbadensis, Aloe Indica, Aloe Perfoliata var Vera, Aloe Vulgaris)
- Genus: Aloe
- Family: Asphodelaceae
- Common Name: Aloe, Aloe Vera, Medicine Plant, Burn Aloe, True Aloe, Indian Aloe, Chinese Aloe, Barbados Aloe
- Indoor: Year ‘round in temperatures above 65°F
- Outdoor Zones: 9-12 (8 in certain situations) Not frost tolerant.
- Type: Perennial succulent, propagated via offsets, division, seed, or leaf cuttings.
- Mature Height: 1’-2’ (3’ counting flower spike)
- Mature Width: 1’-3’
- Plant Height when Shipped: 10" - 12"
- Growth Rate: Slow for a plant in general, fast for a succulent
- Flower: Uncommon - center stalk up to 36” tall, laden with tube-shaped lemon-yellow flowers roughly 1” long.
- Foliage: Long, fleshy green to gray-green leaves with small white-gray spots and small spines on the edges.
Plant Care and Advice for Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis)
- Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 9-12
- Light Requirements: Bright indirect is best. Likes full sun, but leaves can scorch if left in full sun for too long each day.
- Water Requirements: Allow soil to dry almost completely between waterings. Reduce water significantly in winter.
- Drought Tolerance: Great
- Temperature: Likes indoor room temp. 65°F-90°F. Can take more heat outdoors. Move indoors when temp falls below 60°F.
- Air Purification: Excellent - removes airborne pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde
- Toxicity: Toxic to pets and people. Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hepatitis, and red urine. But edible if properly prepared.
- Fertilizer: Succulent fertilizer (2-7-7, for example) once in spring and once in summer, none fall-winter.
- Container Friendly: Yes - But ensure adequate drainage
- Planting: The key to repotting Aloe Vera is to give it well-drained, sandy potting soil. Cacti or succulent mix is ideal, or you could create your own mix by blending two parts regular potting soil with one part sand or perlite. Also, use a heavy, terra cotta pot—the weight will keep the plant from tipping over and the material will improve soil “breathability” and drainage. Repot as normal, but carefully, being mindful of the plant’s serrated leaf edges. This is also a great time to gently separate out any offshoots, or “pups”, and give them their own containers.
- Plant Care: It is said that the ancient Egyptians called Aloe Vera the “plant of immortality”—not because it granted them extended life, but because the plant could actually live and even bloom without soil. While we can’t say that’s the best way to care for your Aloe Vera, the fact is this is one easy-to-care-for plant.
- Lighting is perhaps the trickiest part. Aloe Vera loves light and wants as much as it can handle, but how much that is can be tough to determine. Many plant parents recommend full sun for Aloe Vera—and that’s often a viable option. Especially if you acclimate the plant gently to the full sun site, ideally by moving it back and forth from its current location to the sunnier spot for a week or so, letting it get a little more sun each day, before leaving it there permanently. But Aloe Vera’s leaves can scald if they get too much full sun (ironic, considering it’s an ingredient in so many sunburn gels), so watch the plant for a while. If brown or gray scorch marks appear, it needs less sun. If full sun isn’t an option for you, Aloe Vera can also handle medium light / partial shade just fine, though it will likely grow more slowly.
- Watering Aloe Vera is an exercise in waiting. In the spring and summer months, give the plant a deep drink, allow the soil to drain, and then wait until it's almost completely dry before watering again. Once the plant goes dormant for fall and winter, cut back water drastically, if not entirely. Most Aloe can go a year or more without water, and the last thing you want is for the dormant plant to be sitting in cold, wet soil. If the leaves begin to wrinkle, give it a drink. Otherwise, feel free to wait.
- Aloe Vera has no need for humidity-raising measures like misting or pebble trays. Also, as you might expect from a plant that can live without soil, its fertilizer needs are quite low. If you like, feed it with a mild succulent fertilizer (2-7-7, for example) once in spring and again in summer, but don’t fertilize at all in fall or winter.
- Expert Advice: Drooping leaves on Aloe Vera can indicate a need for more light. If the leaves are not just droopy, but also wrinkly and slightly see-through or have brown tips, the plant needs more water—however, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see this unless you haven’t watered the plant for an actual year or so.
- A similar symptom with an opposite cause can arise when the plant is waterlogged. The leaves will shrivel and wilt. This is especially likely in winter, when water stays in the soil longer. Mushy or soft leaves are likely the result of root rot, but could also signal cold damage or too much fertilizer.
- Black spots on the leaves are another sign of probably overwatering. Also, when watering, try not to let water collect in the rosettes of leaves—it can lead to stem/leaf rot.
- Aloe Vera rarely attracts pests, but can conceivably contract spider mites, mealy bugs, scale insects, or aphids. All are treatable via the usual methods of neem oil, insecticidal soap, or even (in light infestations) dabbing rubbing alcohol directly onto the pests. Similarly, Aloe Vera has few disease problems, but can contract scale, leaf spot, aloe rust, or sooty mold. Prevention through proper drainage is the best protection against these diseases, though fungicides can also help.
- Aloe Vera is most easily propagated by separating the offsets, or “pups” that form around the base of the plant. When repotting, gently disentangle the pups’ roots from those of the parent and plant the pups in their own containers. If you had to cut the pups off from the parent, let them sit for a day first so the wounds harden off before getting placed in dirt. Don’t fertilize the pups until they are clearly established.
- If you don’t want to wait for pups to form, leaf cuttings are a slightly more challenging option. Start by cutting off a leaf. Let the leaf sit for 3-7 days so the wound can seal off. If it rots, throw it away because it’s not going to survive. But if the wound seals and the leaf stays green, it’s good to continue. Either set the cutting on top of slightly moist potting soil or insert it just a bit into the soil. Keep the soil moist but not soggy (misting helps) and wait. If the cutting browns and withers, it did not take. If it succeeds in growing roots, you should start to see new growth within several weeks.