Aloe vera plants are useful plants that have a topical gel inside their leaves. This gel can be used to treat scrapes and mild burns, and to provide relief for other skin conditions, including psoriasis.
These plants are easy to grow. They can be grown indoors or out, and require little water and care. That makes aloe vera a great plant to add to any home or garden, even if you don’t have a green thumb.
“It’s a very easy-to-care for plant, even for a novice gardener,” says Sandra Vultaggio, a horticulture consultant with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County, New York.
Colette Haskell, a Colorado certified nursery professional at Nick’s Garden Center in Aurora, CO, agrees.
“They thrive on neglect,” she says. “You can forget about them for a few weeks.”
Here are tips on how to grow your own aloe vera plant and help it thrive.
Grow Your Plant Indoors or Outdoors
Aloe vera plants can grow inside or outside during the summer months, or outdoors year-round in warmer locations. Bring the plant inside once temperatures begin to dip below 50 degrees, Vultaggio says.
While aloe can survive outdoors during warmer weather, Haskell warns that there are risks.
“There are insects, disease. They can get sunburned or knocked over by wind,” she says. “So, I don’t personally put them outside.”
If you do decide to take your aloe vera plant outdoors, do so gradually so it can adjust to the temperature and light differences.
Aloe vera plants need a lot of sunlight to grow, but Vultaggio warns of too much direct sunlight.
“It doesn’t like to be in direct, all-day sun,” Vultaggio said. “It can actually get sunburned.”
When growing inside, Haskell recommends putting the plant near “a nice, sunny window.”
You should also rotate the plant, Vultaggio suggests, especially by bright windows so one side of the plant doesn’t get too much light.
Pots, Potting Soil, and Drainage
One of the biggest mistakes Haskell sees people make with aloe vera plants is putting them in a pot that is too large.
If you buy a plant in a plastic container and want to transfer it to a bigger pot, don’t go overboard. The permanent pot should only be 2 inches bigger than the plastic pot , Haskell says.
“If you buy a plant in a 6-inch plastic pot, put it in an 8-inch pot. No bigger,” she says. “And always use a pot that has a drain hole.”
Use a succulent potting mix or a light mix that includes some sand so that it can absorb any extra moisture, Vultaggio says.
Don’t Water Too Much
Aloe vera plants are succulents, which means they hold on to moisture. So they don’t need to be watered often.
“When watering, definitely [lean toward] the side of drier,” Vultaggio says. “Watering once every two weeks would suffice.”
Her advice: Before watering, check the soil with your fingers. If it’s still damp, hold off. You want the soil to become totally dry before watering.
“More often than not, I see people killing their plant with kindness by watering it too much,” Vultaggio says. “The less water, the better.”
What to Watch Out For
If you do overwater your plant, you may see the leaves start to wilt and turn yellow, Vultaggio says.
Not sure if you’re watering enough? If your aloe plant is turning gray and the ends of the leaves start to get dry and crinkly, Vultaggio says that is a sign that your plant could use more water.
If you want your plant to grow bigger or it’s becoming top heavy, Vultaggio recommends replanting it into a larger container so that it doesn’t fall over.
If you notice the leaves start to droop when in a low light setting, it may be a sign that your plant needs more sunlight, Haskell says.
Harvesting and Using Aloe
To get aloe from your plant, use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut a mature leaf off the plant.
Haskell says aloe grows as a rosette, and the older leaves can be found on the bottom. Once you cut off a leaf, she recommends kneading it to loosen up the gel inside.
“Knead [the leaf] in your hand and it will start to break and give way, and you can feel it get mushier inside,” she explains.
Then you can either squeeze the gel out as you would toothpaste or slice the leaf lengthwise and open it to see the thick gel inside.
You can put the gel directly on your skin or squeeze it into a bowl. You can store the gel in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for up to a year.
Speak to your doctor before taking aloe vera gel by mouth. Drinking and eating too much aloe can be dangerous. It can cause kidney damage and be fatal.