Aloe Vera plants are not only attractive houseplants but also have a long history of possessing wonderful healing properties. People use Aloe Vera to help soothe minor burns, cuts, scrapes and abrasions. Aloe Vera’s healing sap is added to creams, lotions and first-aid salves. People take aloe orally in the hopes of helping to treat many diseases including diabetes, asthma and arthritis. You don’t need to buy Aloe Vera to enjoy the soothing benefits; you can easily grow your own.
What is an Aloe Vera Plant?
Aloe Vera plants are semi-tropical succulent perennials that are often mistaken for cacti, but are actually members of the lily family. The plant originated in Northern Africa. Today, the Aloe plant can be found growing in the most southern states such as Texas and Arizona. The Aloe plant is also known by the common names of “burn plant” and “Lilly of the desert,” among others.
Aloe plants have the physical characteristics of very thick, tapered, spiny or serrated leaves. It can be found in many sizes, including miniature varieties (one inch!) and larger ones where the individual leaves extend up to 4 feet. When used topically, it is the inside of the aloe leaves, or the sap, that is used in ointment and salves.
Growing Conditions for Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera plants are semi-tropical plants and can only be planted outside in areas of the country where there is no threat of frost, or in USDA zones 10-11. If you live in an area in this zone, place your Aloe Vera plant in full sun or light shade. It will need to be placed in soil that drains well. If you live in a cooler area, you can still place your Aloe Vera plant outside during the warm summer months. It will need full sun and semi-frequent watering. You can let the soil dry out completely between watering.
Buying Aloe from a Garden Center
Because they are so popular, you can find aloe Vera plants at many garden centers, nurseries, big lot centers and even grocery stores. There are some things to keep in mind when choosing a plant from an indoor garden center. Always buy plants that look healthy and avoid the following:
- Do not buy plants that have brown, yellow or spotty leaves.
- Check the bottom of the plant and pot carefully; if roots are growing out of the bottom, it is a sign that the plant has been in the pot too long and is root- bound. It is best to choose another plant.
- Check the plant leaves and soil carefully for pest and insect damage. Do not buy plants that have obvious insect damage.
- Avoid buying plants that are dropping leaves.
Caring for Aloe Plants
Aloe Vera plants are easy to care for: they need lots of sun, warmth and a minimal amount of watering.
- Place your plant in a sunny, consistently warm location away from drafts.
- Do not over-water your plant. Give it a good watering every couple of weeks. Let the soil dry out completely before watering again. Overwatering is probably the number one reason people are not successful growing Aloe Vera plants. Using soil that drains quickly (sandy, gritty soil) will help ensure your plant does not sit in overly moist conditions.
- Look closely at stems and leaves for any signs of insects or disease.
- Finally, look at the pot and soil. If roots are growing through the drainage holes or are seen at the soil surface, the plant has probably outgrown its pot. If you choose this plant, special care will be needed when transplanting into a larger pot.
Other considerations for Aloe Plants
- Aloe Vera plants can be toxic if ingested by small animals. If you have a cat or dog be cautious and aware of plant placement.
- When you bring your plant home from the garden center keep it away from other houseplants for a couple of weeks until you are sure it does not have any diseases or pest infestations.
- Fertilize your plant on a yearly basis, in the spring, with a 10-40-10 fertilizer.
One of the benefits of growing Aloe Vera plants is that you have immediate access to its wonderful soothing benefits. If you receive a mild burn or abrasion simply break off a plump outer leaf from the plant, cut it lengthwise and scoop out the contents inside. You can crush the contents of the leaf and apply this “paste” to your burn or abrasion for relief.
Learn how to make your own aloe vera gel with this useful video.
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of martius.