Complete Aloe Vera Houseplant Care: Planting to Harvest

Aloe vera plants are a staple for most houseplant collections. They look beautiful and require minimal maintenance. Aloe vera also improves air quality by continuously releases oxygen overnight and offers a plethora of health benefits with its antibacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties. 

It's no surprise that Native Americans refer to aloe vera as the “medicine plant.” Used topically, aloe vera gel can soothe sunburn, moisturize skin and nourish hair. It can also be added to smoothies or juices to improve a laundry list of health issues from acne to yeast infections.

Though you can certainly buy aloe vera gel or tablets, nothing beats sourcing fresh aloe vera gel directly from your own garden.

Complete Aloe Vera Houseplant Care: Planting to Harvest

Preparing Your Indoor Aloe Vera Plant

Before delving into the proper grow methods for your aloe vera plant, here are some fundamental preliminary steps.

Picking a Planter

Terra cotta clay pots make for ideal planters, not only for their natural aesthetic but also for their unique design.

Made from baked clay, these porous pots allow water and air to permeate through the walls to encourage healthy soil and plants. Overwatering can pose a number of threats to your aloe plant, like root rot and disease, so it’s important your aloe vera plant gets placed in a container beneficial to its growth. You’ll also want to make sure your terra cotta clay pot has a drainage hole.

The size of a terra cotta pot also matters. A large-sized aloe vera plant in a shallow pot can tip over. Shallow pots can also discourage root growth. Be sure to consider how much it will grow in the coming years as that will also play a role in which size you choose.

Aloe plants thrive in dry, well-drained conditions. So it’s equally as vital to choose an appropriate potting mix like cactus potting mix, a medium which mimics the cacti’s natural environment.

First, let’s familiarize you with the difference between potting mix and potting soil. Potting mix is a soilless organic material, designed specifically for growing plants in containers. Its unique combination of organic matter like peat moss and larger-sized particles like perlite is fluffier than potting soil, allowing aeration, drain management, and root growth.

Potting soil, the denser, cheaper medium, easily compacts and gets waterlogged, leading to root rot. This is not an ideal home for your aloe vera plant—or any succulent. Alternatively, cactus potting mix promotes drainage and evaporation to help regulate moisture levels. 

Still, because of the aloe vera plant’s unique needs, the addition of grit, perlite and sand particles to the potting mix is ideal for growing conditions.

Planting Your Aloe Vera Houseplant

Now, let’s dive into the dirt. Here is your complete guide to growing aloe vera at home. Follow the steps before to make sure you’re properly transplanting your aloe.

  1. Fill ¾ of your terra cotta pot with potting mix.

  2. With your finger or a spoon, create a small hole in the potting mix with a diameter the width of your aloe’s roots.

  3. Add more potting mix to cover the roots and fill just below the bottom layer of aloe vera leaves so that the plant sits on top. The space between the surface of the potting mix and the terra cotta pot’s rim should be about ¾ of an inch. Otherwise, when you go to water, it will spill over and make a mess.

  4. Gently pack down the potting mix with your fingers to get your aloe vera plant snug and positioned; you don’t want your plant to topple over. Be sure not to pack the potting mix too much as a denser medium impedes the plant’s growth.

  5. Do not water your newly potted aloe. I know you think it’s thirsty, but it needs some time to put down its new roots. New homes take adjusting. Wait for at least one week before watering or fertilizing.

Adding a layer of gravel or large rocks to promote drainage at the bottom of your terra cotta pot is not needed. In fact, it takes up real estate better used for your aloe vera plant’s roots to grow. Just be sure your terra cotta pot has a drainage hole and you’re good to go.

Some green-thumbed enthusiasts will recommend dusting the aloe vera plant’s stem with a rooting hormone powder to encourage the production of new roots after planting. You can find this at most plant nurseries, or you create your own DIY rooting hormone concoction with apple cider vinegar, ground cinnamon or honey.

Where to keep indoor aloe vera plant

The Old Farmer’s Almanac indicates that aloe thrives best in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making your apartment or home a perfect place to house the plant.

Aloe should be placed in a warm area that receives sunny but indirect light, such as west-facing windows. These windows receive indirect sunlight from morning until noon and receive direct sunlight from noon until sundown.

South-facing windows only receive indirect sunlight in the early morning and direct sunlight all day which could cause sun damage to your aloe vera plant.

If you do not plan to position your aloe vera plant on a windowsill but rather in the corner of a room, place it a few feet away from a west- or south-facing window to ensure it gets enough vitamin D.

Remember, aloe is a succulent, so providing it with sufficient sun that allows for the dry conditions it favors will help it thrive.

The other option, especially if you live in a basement apartment, would be to purchase LED grow lights. But if you’re trying not to increase your electricity bill, opt for what’s free: the sun.

Caring for Your New Aloe Vera Plant 

Caring for your aloe after the potting process is important. Fortunately, taking care of your aloe vera plant is pretty easy. Use these tips to create an optimal environment for your plant.

1. Lighting for Aloe Vera

Be sure to place your aloe in an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight.

Full sun can dry out the plant, causing the leaves to turn yellow. If your aloe plant does not receive enough sunlight, it can grow “leggy” extensions, a manifestation of the plant stretching itself towards any accessible source of light.

This not only distorts the plant but also spawns weak vegetation or growth. A deficiency of light can also cause root rot, a disease that plagues plant roots that have been subject to persistent wet soil. The sun’s warm rays help manage the soil’s moisture level.

2. Don't Overwater Aloe Vera

Another challenge arises in how often you water your aloe. Overwatering is the most common issue. These succulents store water in their fleshy leaves and do not require much watering. 

Ideally, you should water your aloe vera plant once every three weeks in the spring, summer and fall months. Oversaturated soil encourages root rot and can cause the leaves to wilt and turn brown. To avert this, be sure to allow the soil to dry 1-2 inches below the surface in between waterings, or water about every two to three weeks, depending on how much sunlight your plant is exposed to.

To measure your plant’s water level, stick your index finger into the soil until it is level with your second knuckle.

Come winter, you should water even more infrequently. This is because the plant does not receive as much sun and warmth as needed to properly dry the potting mix. Be sure to avoid standing water at all costs.

Another tool you can try is a spray bottle or mister. Fill it with water and mist the aloe vera plant’s leaves once a week. This mist mimics the light rainfalls synonymous with succulents’ natural environments, helping it to adapt in your home. It also provides the leaves with the water beneficial to photosynthesis while simultaneously keeping the roots nice and dry.


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3. Troubleshooting Your Plant

Other warning signs to look out for include the shape of the leaf and brown tips.

Shriveled or cupped leaves could be the result of a water deficiency of overwatering. When an aloe plant does not get enough water, it uses up its own mass to sustain itself, causing the leaves to flatten or curl inwards. Cup-shaped leaves can also be brought on by too much direct sunlight. In an attempt to protect itself from sunburn, the leaves curl.

 

4. Trimming Your Aloe Vera Stem

Let’s say your aloe plant is thriving, three years have gone by, and at the plant’s stem, which used to be at the surface of the potting soil, is completely erect by several inches. On the sides of this spindly stem, you see dried, calloused remnants where you had harvested the aloe leaves for your health and beauty regimen or your fruit smoothies.

If the stem no longer fits in the pot and you cannot repot your aloe vera into a larger pot, you may have to trim the stem.

This could potentially kill your aloe vera plant, so proceed with caution.

When you repot your aloe, you will need about three inches of good stem, bare of leaves. Be precise with measurements.

  1. To trim your stem, remove the aloe vera plant from the pot. If your aloe vera plant is in a larger pot with other succulents and plants, you will prune the stem where it meets the surface of the potting mix.
  2. Remove any dead leaves from the stem’s shaft. If any of the bottom leaves look limp or withered, remove them and harvest the gel. Sometimes your plant can grow finicky leaves that bend at awkward angles, probably a result of a lack of sunlight. You can harvest these too if you prefer to have a specific shape to your plant.
  3. Place the plant in a bowl and let sit in an area that receives indirect sunlight, like a living room coffee table or kitchen counter. Let the stem calcify for about a week. You will notice a callous develop over the wound.
  4. Once the callous has developed, repot your aloe vera plant with the same instructions above.

There is something primal and indispensable about harvesting aloe vera juice directly from a plant you worked so hard to nurture and raise. To maintain and use the fruits of your labor, follow the next steps with care.

To harvest your plant, simply cut the large, mature leaves at the base of the plant. Remove the yellow sap that drips from the incision site as it is potentially toxic.

To store your leaves, place them in an air-tight container and store them in the refrigerator until you need them.

Because aloe vera leaves are serrated like a knife, cutting or harvesting your aloe takes prudence. 

Harvesting Your Aloe Vera Plant

 

Mature aloe vera plants typically take three years to grow. At this point their full-grown leaves are about the length of a ruler and weigh about two pounds. These succulents thrive in the sun, like their cacti kin, and can suffice on little rainfall. The plump leaves store the plant’s water supply, enabling them to survive arid and dry climates where vegetation and rainfall are sparse.

Though many recommend planting your aloe vera plant outdoors, you can very well keep it indoors. The reason is perhaps that indoor plants take longer to mature. Because immature aloe vera lacks the proper chemical potency, harvesting and consuming too soon could lead to digestive problems.

When you notice the bottom leaves taking on a rosy, mauve hue, it is time to harvest. But remember: Aloe vera plants take a significant amount of time to grow, so if you want your plant to last, you should refrain from frequent harvesting.

1. Remove aloin from the leaves

Once you cut off the leaf from the plant, you’ll notice a yellowish sap called aloin start to ooze. Aloin, both pungent and bitter, is potentially toxic with side effects that include diarrhea and complications in pregnancies. However, some believe this natural laxative to remedy constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

The majority of experts recommend completely removing aloin from the leaves. After cutting, place the harvested aloe leaf on a bowl or raised surface and let the aloin drip out onto a plate underneath. After an hour of letting the aloin drip out, wash the leaf under cool, running water.

2. Cut open the leaves

Lay the leaf flat on a cutting board in the same position it was on the plant. The top side of the leaf is flatter than the rounded bottom and easier to cut. Cut off the sharp, serrated edges on either side. Toss in the trash or add to your compost.

Next, gently remove the leaf’s skin with a sharp knife, similarly to how you’d remove the skin from a filet of fish. Or imagine eating a stuffed artichoke: through clenched teeth, you strip the edible meat of the plant.

Beginning with the end closest to you, place the knife at a slight angle directly under the leaf’s top skin, as close to the skin as possible.

3. Extract the aloe vera gel

Gently slide the knife between the skin and the gel in a slow motion, away from you. Once the top of the leaf has been removed, place it aside.

If any gel remains on the leaf, use a spoon to scoop it out and place in a bowl. With a spoon, scoop out the gel from the bottom side of the leaf.

Trim away any yellowish, aloin layers until a clear, translucent pulp is completely revealed. Give it a quick rinse and you are ready to use your fresh aloe vera gel.

4. Store aloe vera gel

Whether using fresh aloe vera in a skin treatment or fruit smoothie, chances are you won’t be using the entire leaf that you pruned from the plant. To store the remaining leaf, make sure it stays as fresh and moist as possible — or it will shrivel and rot. The cool temperatures of the refrigerator are ideal and slow down the enzymatic breakdown of the aloe, providing you with a longer window to reap its benefits.

To preserve the plant this way, cover the cut end in tin foil and tightly wrap a rubberband around it. Next, place it in an air-tight bag to ensure no oxygen enters. Exposure to oxygen creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

Store aloe leaves in the fridge for up to two weeks. You could also freeze aloe for a longer shelf life, although some say that frozen aloe can become watery.

For best results, use extracted aloe vera gel immediately. If you have leftover gel, however, you can store it in an airtight container for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Blending a natural preservative like lemon juice, high in Vitamin C, with extracted aloe vera gel can extend the shelf life past 10 days.

Using Fresh Aloe Vera Gel

With various applications, be it topical or digestive, incorporating fresh aloe vera gel into your beauty regimen and diet is a healthy alternative. Loaded in vitamins and essential amino acids, aloe vera, the “plant of immortality,” is one you’ll want in your home or garden.

Aloe Vera Face Mask Recipe

Like aloe vera, raw, unpasteurized honey has long been lauded for its benefits to health and beauty. Honey, a humectant, retains and preserves moisture, and soothes and softens skin, ultimately improving the appearance of wrinkles. Try this natural DIY face mask using raw honey and fresh aloe vera gel for a refreshing, inexpensive skin treatment.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon of raw honey. Be sure to use raw honey to ensure no artificial chemicals were added.
  • 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel extracted from a section of a freshly cut leaf (about 2 inches)
  • Bowl
  • Spoon or mask applicator
  • Small blender or food processor

Directions

1. Add aloe vera gel to a small food processor and pulse until the aloe is no longer a solid clump. 
2. Place aloe into a bowl, add the honey and mix with a spoon until both are evenly dispersed.
3. To avoid sticky hair, place hair in a bun or tie back in a ponytail.
4. Using a spoon, apply a thin layer to your face and let sit for 15 minutes. 
5. Remove with warm water and enjoy your nourished skin.

Aloe Vera Hair Gel Recipe

Packed with vitamins A, C, E, and B12, and copper and zinc, aloe vera makes for an ideal, natural hair product that promotes hair growth. Works best for oily, brittle and curly hair. 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel extracted from 1 freshly cut leaf
  • teaspoon of coconut oil
  • rosemary essential oil
  • blender or food processor
  • cheesecloth (optional)
  • spray bottle (optional)

Directions

1. Extract the gel from a freshly cut aloe leaf from a mature plant into a bowl.
2. Add in a teaspoon of coconut oil, 2-3 drops of your favorite essential oil (rosemary works great for hair growth) and place in a blender or food processor. Blend until the pulp is pulverized into a liquid. At this point some prefer to use a cheesecloth to squeeze the liquid from the pulp that clumped up because the appearance of clumps in your hair is not a good look.
3. Next, apply directly to your hair for a natural, lightweight way to keep frizz and flyaways at bay.

You may come across DIY recipes that have you pouring the blended pulp in a spray bottle, but note that the sticky pulp will clog the spray nozzle.

This recipe can also be used as a hair mask. Repeat the steps, whip in egg whites and apply directly to your scalp for an hour. Rinse with shampoo after.

Fruit Smoothie with Aloe Vera Gel

Even after the aloin drips out of the aloe leaves, the plant still has a bitter taste. Adding sweet fruits from your extracted aloe vera to a smoothie masks the bitterness and allows you to get all the benefits of the plant. 

Suggested Ingredients (Feel Free to Play!) 

  • 1 banana
  • ½ cup pineapple
  • 1 orange
  • 1 cup coconut water or coconut milk
    *for a creamier smoothie, choose coconut milk
  • 3-4 ice cubes
  • ¼ cup of fresh aloe vera gel extracted from a mature plant
  • blender

*Frozen fruit works well too, just skip the ice cubes

Directions

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high until the ingredients are evenly dispersed. If the consistency is too thick, add more coconut water or coconut milk.
2. Pour into your favorite glass and garnish with a wedge of pineapple and orange on the rim of the glass and enjoy!

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