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How to Grow and Care for Aloe

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Aloe is a genus with over 500 species of succulent plants in the family Asphodelaceae. They are native to tropical and southern Africa, Madagascar, Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula, and various islands in the Indian Ocean.

Most species are stemless and have a rosette of large, thick, fleshy leaves. Other species may have a branched or unbranched stem from which the fleshy leaves arise. Some Aloes are tall single-stemmed or branched trees. The leaves vary in color from grey to bright green. They are sometimes striped or mottled. Flowers are tubular, yellow, orange, pink or red, and grouped in candle-like or cone-shaped inflorescences, which can be branched or simple.

The genus name comes from the Greek "alsos" referring to the bitter sap of the leaves, and this name probably derives either from the Arabic "alloeh" or the Hebrew "allal," both meaning "bitter."

Aloe plants are one of the longest recorded herbal medicines in human history. They are amongst the most widely used plants for traditional medicinal purposes worldwide. Aloe vera, Aloe arborescens, and Aloe ferox are the best known and most commonly used for their therapeutic properties.

Growing Conditions for Aloe

Aloe species are frequently grown as ornamental plants both in pots and in gardens.

Light

When growing Aloes indoors, place your plants near a southern or southwest-facing window that gets plenty of bright, indirect light. To keep your Aloes looking green, avoid exposing them to direct sun, which can cause leaves to brown. Rotate the pots once or twice a week so that all sides of the plants receive equal lighting. Rotating your Aloe also helps balance out the look of the plant, as leaves tend to grow toward the sunlight.

Outdoors, provide light shade, especially during the hottest parts of the day. An excellent spot for growing Aloe outdoors is on a covered patio or porch.

Soil

Plant Aloes in a well-drained soil specially formulated for cacti and other succulents or make your soil mix. Drainage is essential because too much moisture around roots can cause root rot.

Temperature

When temperatures shift below 50 °F (10 °C), it is time to bring your plants back inside. Maintain a room temperature above 60 °F (15 °C) and do not expose the plants to temperatures below freezing. Some Aloes are cold hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 10a, 30 °F (-1.1 °C). Once the threat of frost has passed, move them back outside in the spring.

Pot Size

Plant your Aloe in a pot that contains at least one drainage hole, and it is 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) larger in diameter than the base of the plant.

General Care for Aloe

Aloes can live long and thrive with very little care. These plants are great for beginners.

Watering

These succulents do need regular watering but are very tolerant of drought conditions for short periods. Water deeply, but only when the soil is dry. Cut back on watering during the winter months. Overwatering is the top reason Aloe plants die. Do not let water stand in the rosettes.

Fertilizing

Aloes generally do not require fertilizer but may benefit from the extra nutrients. Feed with a fertilizer for cacti and other succulents in spring and summer only. Be sure to follow label directions.

Repotting

These plants are not particularly fast-growing and will only rarely need repotting. Repot them in the spring in a container a few inches larger in diameter every few years to keep it from becoming rootbound. You can check to see if your Aloes are outgrowing their pots by carefully picking up the containers and looking at the drainage holes. When roots are growing out of the drainage hole, that is a sign that it is time to repot.

Pruning

By removing damaged and excess parts, you can promote health and growth in your Aloe. To prune it, you must wait until spring arrives. Wear gloves whenever you work with Aloes. Some species produce a sap that can irritate the skin.

How to Propagate Aloe

Propagating Aloe can be done by using the offsets, cuttings, or seeds from a mature plant.

Offsets

The small plants that grow at the base of the plant are known as offsets, offshoots, plantlets, pups, suckers, or babies. You can remove offsets from the mother plant with a sharp knife in late spring or early summer. Plant them in well-drained soil.

Cuttings

Cuttings are a popular way of propagating tree- and shrub-like Aloes. Stem cuttings should be allowed to dry in the shade for a few days or even weeks before placing in potting soil.

Seeds

Propagating Aloe from seed is relatively easy. The germination usually starts within one week of sowing. Transplant the seedlings once three true leaves have formed, generally after about a year.

Pests and Diseases of Aloe

Aloes can be susceptible to mealybugs, scale, and various forms of rot, usually caused by overwatering and inadequate drainage.

Toxicity of Aloe

Not all Aloes have medicinal properties. Some of them contain poisonous leaf sap, like Aloe ballyi, Aloe elata, and Aloe ruspoliana, which are used by people for arrow poison. Humans and animals generally avoid these species.

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