Aloe Vera Care
Aloe vera is an easy to find plant that has many uses. You may see them at your local grocery store, especially around summer and fall, in cute little planters or tagged as a medicinal plant because many people use Aloe for burns and sunburns. Aloe is a fairly simple plant to care for, as are most succulents, once you get the hang of when to water and how much.
When watering, make sure that you water thoroughly so it drains out of the hole in the bottom of the pot. Do not let the pot sit in standing water, unless you want to cause root rot, which I am sure you do not want. I let the soil in my Aloe's pot completely dry out before I water again. Remember, these are succulents, which means that they are from naturally dry areas. Watering too frequently is the main killer of succulents, so remember, water less than you would for other plants. When the cold months hit, make sure to water even less than you normally would.
If you keep your Aloe indoors all year round make sure that it gets plenty of sunlight, like in a southern facing window. Western facing windows will be fine too, but anything that provides too little light will stunt the growth and cause the leaves to droop. Also, remember that if it gets too much sun it can cause the leaves to turn a reddish-brown or burn, so if you're moving your Aloe outside for the summer, acclimate it to the sunlight slowly. If you don’t have a south facing window, you can always add supplemental lighting.
I always keep my Aloe in somewhat snug pots, never anything that has too much room because too much room equals too much wet soil for those succulent roots to be exposed to. Something to keep in mind, when deciding on a pot, is to remember that the Aloe can be very top heavy with those large gel filled leaves so a pot with a wider base may be a good idea. Also, always make sure that the pot has drainage. If you find a pretty pot you want to use, you can just use that as a cache pot to hide the actual pot that your Aloe is in, but do not use a pot with no drainage to hold the actual plant.
Make sure to pick a cactus and succulent soil mix, or mix your own. I actually usually just mix up a cactus blend with something porous, like some extra sand, just so I know that it is definitely a well draining soil. Remember, constantly wet roots are a surefire way to kill your Aloe.
Since these are succulents, you don't really need to fertilize, but if you are like me you will anyway. I give mine a good quality water-based succulent/cacti fertilizer at half strength. Even then I only give it some in the spring, but definitely do not give it any in the winter.
If your mature Aloe plant produces baby plants (or "pups"), you can separate them from the mother plant with clean scissors or a sharp knife. Make sure to leave yourself about an inch of stem on the pup, let them callous for a couple of days, and then pot them up and place them in a sunny window.
Because I mentioned that many people use Aloe gel to soothe burns and scrapes, I should mention that you definitely want to do a patch test with the Aloe gel to make sure you don't have an allergy to it before deciding to use it. To do this, cut a mature leaf from the plant - as close to the trunk as you can - with a clean, sharp knife, then cut the leaf lengthwise to get the gel.
So there you have it! Get the hang of watering the Aloe plant properly, and you've got a good looking plant that can earn its keep as a homegrown first-aid kit.
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