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My Basics for Aloe Care

Aloe ferox

Each Aloe species is different and may require more specific care, and things like your growing environment also should be considered. In general, my top three pieces of advice are –

1. Use a fast draining soil mix. Bagged potting soil is too organic and does not drain well enough. Even most of the ones marked for cacti and succulents! Using a poor draining soil mix (or a pot with no drain holes) is the quickest way to have unhealthy roots and an unhealthy plant (especially paired with the “don’t ever water it” and “they hate sun” advice people throw around.) Add something gritty to your bagged soil. How much depends on where you live/where the Aloe is kept. I use heavy amounts of turface and expanded shale. Sometimes I’ll use chicken grit or pumice, or whatever other grit I can find for a decent price.

I personally don’t like perlite or sand, (and vermiculite does not work for drainage.) My mix is probably 80% grit and 20% potting soil, depending on the plant, BUT…that is because it is very humid here and most of my plants are out in the yard (in pots) unprotected from the rain. If you live in a dry region or the plant is indoors, that’s gonna change your soil requirements.

A view of the mix in my 10 gallon Aloe vera pot
Full view of that 10 gallon pot.

2. Lots of sun! Aloes love sun, and they need at least a few hours of direct sun a day for strong growth. Full sun (6-8 hours of direct sun) is fine in most places for most varieties. Mine get at least that much here in Texas. No burning unless I move something too quickly into more sun than it’s used to. Indirect light is not enough. Seriously, I can’t be in houseplant groups because of the amount of people I see saying that Aloes hate sun lol! People have become so familiar with the droopy, tangled mess of plants that Aloe vera (and the more common, Aloe vera var. chinensis) turns into when grown indoors in inadequate light that that has become what is thought of as normal growth.

Well, it’s not. They are supposed to have mostly upright leaves and a stem that is strong enough to hold itself upright. Top heavy, droopy leaved, light green plants are not getting enough sun, and they are not thriving. I have grown mine in all day full sun before on a concrete driveway (with no shade or filtered light at all), and yeah they were a little stressed sometimes, but they handled it well. How much direct sun depends on where you live, where it’s kept, and what variety it is…as well as your personal preferences. You don’t have to grow them as rough as I do, but finding a good spot where they get adequate light is important.

Where people go wrong with the whole sun issue is acclimation. You can’t take any plant from indoors and stick it into full sun and expect it to be ok, Aloes are no different. And then there’s the stress colors…even when acclimating properly, a plant will tend to change colors in response to the change and people will panic when their Aloe vera turns brown. Understandable! But your plant is fine. Let it acclimate, and it will turn green again, along with growing stronger with the increase in sunlight. Sunburn causes bleached spots that cause permanent damage, stress colors are a reaction to change in the environment, and are mostly not a big deal. All the colorful Echeverias and things that everyone loves are colorful because of stress. They will need more water with the increase in sun (and heat), if the leaves start thinning and curling in at the edges that’s a sign of thirst. Aloe vera is NOT a winter grower, water that plant when it’s hot and it’s getting a lot of sun! Some Aloes are winter growers, some aren’t. It depends on which species it is and where that species is from. A lot of the species that are winter growers are likely from places with mild winters, so that doesn’t mean they grow in cold weather, and some may go dormant in the extreme heat of summer in some places even if they aren’t necessarily summer dormant. My veras grow well from spring to fall here, but with the wet, humid summers I have trouble with the “winter growing” species (distans, brevifolia, etc.) If you are growing indoors don’t worry much about dormancy.

Droopy chinensis, not getting enough light, growing in a poor draining soil mix. Photo from November 2018.
The same plant from the previous photo, after repotting in a fast draining soil mix and introducing it to more sun. Photo taken August 2020.
Stress color from being moved into more sun.
The same plant 5 days later after adjusting to the increase in light.

3. Water deeply, but infrequently…how much depends on your environment, age of the plant, if it’s well rooted, the soil mix, if you mind stress colors/a rougher grown look, etc. Do not mist or water sparingly! Don’t let water sit in the crown of the plant (kinda related, make sure all of the leaves are ABOVE the soil. The center growing point should not be covered in soil.) They do not hate water, they just don’t want to sit in a soil mix that holds water for very long. My older plants out in the yard get water when it rains, or if it’s been a while and they look thirsty I’ll water them with the hose…that very rarely happens though, except for the plants that like more water or the smaller ones I hand water more regularly. I also don’t mind stress colors and a rough grown/habitat look (broken or dry leaf tips don’t bother me..it’s just an Aloe thing, in my book.) A well draining soil mix paired with watering well and letting the plant dry out between waterings will help with stronger root growth.

Root issues from poor drainage can cause a plant to look thirsty, because it doesn’t have the roots to take up any water it’s given. A terra cotta pot will probably help too, though none of mine seem picky about pot material (due to the heat, I imagine)…I do stay away from black pots as much as I can, but that’s about it. In some places terra cotta may dry out TOO well. Don’t worry too much about pot size. As long as your soil drains well and you aren’t putting a plant with a tiny root system in a huge pot, it’s not worth stressing over. Use whatever reasonably sized pot you have available. They don’t need to be pot bound like a lot of people say, my theory on that bit of advice is that it helps people not to overwater. It also helps control the size of the plant. If you want to control the size of the plant, keep it underpotted. If you want a large plant, repot as it grows into larger and larger pots. My biggest vera is currently in a 10 gallon pot.

Aloe vera on the left, Aloe vera var. chinensis on the right.

Happy growing! Feel free to reach out to me here, or on FB or IG if you have any questions, or just would like to look through my posts on either if those sites. Lots of good info in both of those places, if I do say so myself!

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Published by AloeHoarder

I live in Houston, Texas and have been interested in and collecting Aloe plants since 2008, my first Aloe was the “chinensis” variety that I got from my mom in 2006. I am autistic and an English major. Aloes are my “special interest”.

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