Aloe vera has many uses as a decorative and medicinal plant. But how can you get the best out of your succulent? Here is everything you need to know about watering, fertilising and trimming Aloe vera.
Aloe vera is used by many as a medicinal or decorative plant. And no wonder. It doesn’t need much to grow strong and healthy. Here is how best to care for an Aloe vera plant.
Watering the Aloe vera plant
As a succulent, Aloe vera stores water in its leaves and tolerates long dry-spells. This means you won’t need to water it much, and, in fact, the plant is quite sensitive to waterlogging. If water cannot drain away, the soil won’t aerate and this can lead to root rot. Nevertheless, keep the soil permanently moist and do not allow it to dry out completely.
With rosette-forming plants like Aloe vera, it is important that water does not run over the leaves. If this happens, water may build up in the heart of the rosette, which encourages fungal growth and can cause the plant to rot. Low-calcium water, such as rainwater or mineral water, is best for Aloe vera.
How often should you water Aloe vera?
Usually, it is sufficient to water your Aloe once a week. To check whether it is time to water your plant, use the finger test: when the surface of the soil is dry, water again.
Extra care is needed with young plants, because their leaves cannot store as much water as the mature succulents. They will need watering little and more often.
Because of our cooler temperatures, Aloe vera hibernates during winter in the UK. When hibernating, the succulent won’t absorb as much water, so it is important to adjust its watering schedule. Its root ball should not dry out, but be frugal: the risk of root rot from excess moisture is high during winter.
Fertilising Aloe vera
Aloe vera originally comes from desert-like regions in the Arabian Peninsula, and has evolved to survive without much sustenance. For the hobby gardener, this means it won’t need much fertiliser! Nevertheless, fertilising your Aloe vera plant occasionally is a good idea, especially if you are using the succulent for medicinal purposes. Fertiliser helps the plant quickly recover from pruning, and aids the development strong, healthy leaves that are full of gel.
During growing season, fertilise your Aloe roughly every fortnight. If you fertilise and water the plant at the same time, nutrients from the fertiliser will distribute evenly throughout the soil, and support your Aloe’s growth. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food is a great choice. In addition to its balanced mix of nutrients, and a sustainable, low phosphorus content, this fertiliser has microorganisms that improve the plant’s nutrient uptake. On top of that, it is completely animal-free!
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You shouldn’t need to fertilise your Aloe vera immediately after transplanting it, because the new soil will have more than enough nutrients. And it won’t need fertilising during winter dormancy between October and April either.
Trimming Aloe vera
You need not trim an Aloe vera plant. To maintain the plant’s shape, and make sure that it does not grow too large or spread out too much, cut off its old, outer leaves. And be sure to always remove diseased or damaged leaves.
If you want to use Aloe vera for medicinal purposes, harvest the outer leaves regularly and use their gel. Plants older than three years work best for this – their leaves are larger and more robust than those of younger plants. They have more gel, recover better from the harvest and form new leaves quicker.
Aloe vera turns brown: What to do?
Sometimes, the leaves of Aloe vera can turn brown, greyish-purple or pale. This may be for a number of reasons.
If the outer, older leaves turn brown, there is no need to worry. The plant will continue to develop, shedding the older leaves and forming new inner ones for some time. Occasionally, leaves discolour after an Aloe is transplanted. Again, this is not a problem. Give your Aloe vera some time to grow into the new soil and the discolouration should resolve itself.
Aloe leaves may also turn brown if the plant has lacking nutrients. If you have not transplanted your Aloe vera for a while, try repotting it. This is will provide it a fresh supply of nutrients.
Red-brown leaves may also indicate that your plant is suffering from excessive sun exposure and high temperatures. If the leaf tips become dry, move your Aloe vera to a less sunny location. After a short time, the leaves will regain their healthy green colour.
If your Aloe is not suffering from any of these issues, things might be trickier to solve. When an Aloe vera’s inner, younger leaves turn brown or yellow, it may be suffering from waterlogging. Pour away any stagnant water and stop watering completely for one to two weeks, especially if your plant’s leaves are soft when pressed slightly between the fingers. Cut off and dispose of discoloured, soft leaves, as they provide the perfect conditions for fungal growth.
The most common reasons for brown leaves on Aloe vera:
- Growth: As younger leaves grow out, older ones must be removed.
- Transplanting: Sometimes, Aloe vera turns brown immediately after repotting. Have no fear: Aloe vera will form fine roots, before becoming healthy again by itself.
- Old soil: The nutrients in the soil have been used up. Repot your Aloe.
- Too much sunlight: If your Aloe vera stands in direct sunlight for too long, it can develop brown leaves as a form of sun protection. Move the plant to a more shaded location.
- Waterlogging: Watering your Aloe vera plant too often will make the leaves brown and soft. Stop watering completely for 1 to 2 weeks to allow the root ball to dry out. Warning: this can lead to root rot and fungal growth.
Find out more about the best location, planting methods and propagation techniques for Aloe vera.