by Matt Gibson
If you grow aloe vera, you know just how hardy this plant is and how many new tiny plants (called pups) it produces. But you may be wondering just how to go about separating the pups from the plant so they can be transplanted and grow into healthy specimens themselves. Keep reading to learn all about the steps you should take to propagate your aloe vera plant. We also offer up a little bit of background information on the aloe vera plant, touching on its history, its many names, and its medicinal uses
Aloe vera is a vibrant green succulent plant that has thick, fleshy, finger-like leaves with no stems. Aloe plants can grow as high as two or three feet when cared for properly. The baby aloe pups spring up alongside the main plant and, through propagation, can be separated from the mother plant and re-planted. Separating pups from the original plant is the easiest way to propagate aloe vera.
It is possible to propagate aloe with a cutting or a single leaf from an aloe vera plant, but the success rate is very low. More often than not, gardeners who attempt this method just end up with a shriveled leaf laying atop a bed of soil. Between the two methods, division is the best choice for separating the pups and making them independent. You can also grow aloe plants from seeds if you choose, and the germination process is surprisingly easy.
Historical Use of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been cultivated throughout history due to its medicinal benefits aloe vera has been known by many names. Use of the sacred plant dates back to ancient Egyptian healers, who called aloe “The Plant of Immortality.” The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra (famous for her beauty) was even said to apply the gel of aloe vera to her skin to take advantage of the plant’s healing and anti-aging properties.
Native American healers from many tribes used aloe vera to treat a wide array of ailments. Some called aloe vera the “Wand of Heaven.” Aloe has also been referred to as “First Aid Plant,” “Elephant’s Gall,” “Lily of the Desert,” “Jelly Leek,” “Medicine Plant,” “Miracle Plant,” “Plant of Life,” and countless other names, most containing the word “aloe” somewhere in the moniker.
More than 250 different species of aloe vera exist, but only four are commonly cultivated. Common aloe, a strain that is native to North Africa and also the species that is most widely grown today, is officially named Aloe Vera Barbadensis. With so many different species out there, it’s no wonder that so many people from different cultures have used aloe vera throughout history. Ancient Egyptians and Native Americans were not alone in their admiration of the plant and their use of its gel in traditional medicine. Aloe is also widely administered by ayurvedic healers in India, and it was called upon by ancient Chinese folk healers to treat various skin conditions.
How to Propagate Aloe Vera Part 1: Propagation by Division
Let’s be honest. Giving plants away as gifts is a great way to save money on gift giving. Plants are often affordable to purchase, and those that propagate easily through division duplicate naturally. That means aside from a little bit of money for potting soil and a pot, giving plants like aloe vera as gifts is practically free.
As the mother plant grows taller and thicker, she also expands by creating new smaller plants that sprout up around the outside of the mother plant. These smaller plants are the offshoots or pups. The easiest way to propagate aloe vera is by removing the pups, carefully separating the root systems of the new plants from the original, and repotting each pup in a separate container.
Separating Aloe Vera Pups From the Mother Plant
As your aloe plant starts to outgrow its container, you will likely notice that it has created several pups around the outskirts of the original plant. This is your clue that it’s time to put the mother plant into a larger container—and to separate the pups and give them each a pot of their own with plenty of room for the new plants to grow and expand.
Gently remove the contents of the container where your aloe is currently potted by tilting the container to the side and carefully removing the plant, soil, roots, and all. Sometimes the soil and roots seem stuck inside the pot, as the roots often expand to the edges and create a bit of pressure due to lack of space. Use a finger or a thin tool to create a little space in between the soil and the container if you encounter this issue. Carefully remove the contents from the pot, causing as little damage to the root system as possible.
Next, remove each pup from the mother plant, taking care to keep the pup’s new roots from being ripped apart in the process. Most of your pups should have developed root systems that are small but independent from the mother plant. If you successfully keep its roots intact, the pup will have a very high chance of survival. Some of the pups may not have independent root systems yet. If you notice they don’t, you can still remove the pups by wiggling them free at the base of each small plant. Let the pups with no roots dry out and recover from the separation before repotting them.
Planting Aloe Vera Pups
Each pup that you separated from the mother plant needs a new home. Plant each pup that has established roots in a new pot with the crown just below the top of the container, filling the soil up underneath and around the roots. The soil should come up near the top of the container, with less than half an inch or less at the top. Water deeply to help the roots establish themselves in their new home. Once the pups with no independent root systems have healed at the spot where they were broken away from the mother plant, they are ready to grow their own root systems. Plant the pups just below the surface of the soil in a potting mix made for cacti and succulents, then water deeply to help the roots get started in the right direction.
Early Care Instructions for Aloe Vera Pups
Water deeply after planting your pups to help encourage new root growth. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. After the first few days, manual watering should cease. Future watering will only be necessary in cases of extreme heat or drought.
How to Propagate Aloe Vera Part 2: Propagation from Seed
Though propagation via division is definitely the easiest and smartest way to go about adding more aloe vera plants to your garden arsenal, growing aloe from seed is another cheap, easy, and rewarding method.
Harvesting (or Buying) Aloe Vera Seeds
Aloe seeds can be purchased from nurseries and reputable online vendors, or if you have mature aloe vera plants, you can harvest their seeds for free. Once aloe plants are at least four years old and flowering, they are capable of producing seeds. You can spot aloe vera seeds inside spent aloe flowers that have begun to turn brown and lose their petals.
The seeds are nestled in pods, and they can be accessed and harvested once the pods dry and turn brownish green. When the pods are ready, split them open carefully, then extract the seeds. Aloe vera seeds are small and flat, ranging in color from a light grayish brown to black. White or light gray seeds are immature and not ready to harvest. Dark-colored seeds are ready to plant right after harvesting, or they can be stored for up to a year in an envelope kept in a cool, dark location.
Germination of Aloe Vera Seeds
Aloe seeds sprout up without a ton of effort on the gardener’s part. Use flats to plant your seeds and raise them to seedlings, then rehome the seedlings into larger pots once they have established roots. Use a mix of equal parts peat and horticultural sand as a base for your aloe seeds. (Alternatively, you can use equal parts sand, compost and perlite.)
Lightly dampen the soil and spread seeds about an inch apart. Cover them with a light dusting of sand, just enough to barely obscure the seeds from view. Keep soil slightly moist, and place the flat trays in a location where they will get full sunlight exposure.
If you live in an especially warm climate, you can start seeds outdoors. Otherwise, start them indoors, using a heat source of some kind to keep the soil warm from the base of the container. Mist the surface of the soil regularly until you see sprouts. It should take two to four weeks before seedlings start to shoot up.
Care for Aloe Vera Seedlings
New seedlings should remain on a heat source as they start to grow and develop their root systems for the first two weeks. Carefully water underneath seedlings that are housed in an open flat to avoid damping off, providing just enough moisture to keep them from drying out. Make sure not to to overwater and drown the seedlings in the process.
Once four or more leaves are visible, re-pot seedlings in two-inch containers using a sterilized mix of three parts pumice, three parts organic material, and one and one half parts coarse sand. Once seedlings outgrow their two-inch pots, transplant them, then continue caring for them as you would adult aloe vera plants.
How To Propagate Aloe Vera Part 3: Propagation from Cuttings
While propagating aloe vera from cuttings isn’t as reliably effective as the other methods, it’s not entirely impossible to achieve success with it. Though starting your aloe from cuttings is not recommended as the most optimal strategy, here is how to do it.
Use a sharp, clean knife to cut off an aloe leaf at least eight inches in length. Place the leaf cutting in a warm place until a film forms over the cut site. Fill a container that has ample drainage holes with a cactus and succulent potting mix. Dampen the medium, then place the cutting into the soil with the cut side down. Water gently, allowing the soil to dry completely before watering again.
Want to Learn More About Aloe Vera?
Need a visual guide to propagation of aloe vera? This 15-minute video sums it up nicely:
Want to Learn More About Aloe Vera?
The following link will take you to Gardening Channel’s very own in-depth growing guide for aloe vera.
Want to learn more about the many health benefits and uses of aloe vera? We’ve got you covered with even more content from the Gardening Channel vaults. Just follow the links: Benefits of Aloe Vera, Uses of Aloe Vera.