Having an aloe vera plant around (and using it, should the need arise), can make even the most modern and high-tech of us feel like herbalist apothecaries. Snipping off a piece of an aloe vera's leaf and applying the clear, cool gel on burns, cuts, rashes, and sunburns offers instant relief and can speed the healing process. Here's how to care for an aloe vera of your own.
About This Plant
There are hundreds of varieties of aloe plants, which are indigenous to Africa and a few neighboring areas. Aloes come in many varieties that range in size from a few inches to tree heights of 30 to 40 feet, in the case of the kokerboom (or quiver tree). They also come in many colors and shapes, including orange-hued, purple-tinged, and with various spine configurations. Some aloes also flower. Though many might think of the aloe plant as a cactus, it is actually a succulent. We'll consider the aloe barbadensis, commonly known as aloe vera, here.
Where to Plant
Unless the climate where you live is extremely mild (never gets below 50ºF/10ºC), it is best to keep your aloe vera indoors. They are hardy in zones 9 to 11, but are most commonly enjoyed as house plants. Because they are composed of so much water, aloe veras are extremely susceptible to frost. Think of the indigenous climate of your plant and you'll know its ideal conditions. In the case of aloe veras, they love to be in the sun (though they will tolerate some hours of shade) and do well in dry climates.
How to Plant
Aloe vera plants are readily available anywhere you can buy plants. Soil should be well-drained (a cactus mix works well) and the pot should have enough room for the plant, specifically its root ball, to grow. When re-potting, choose a container that's wider than the previous, not deeper, and with extra room equivalent to 3 to 5 times the size of the current root ball. If you are able to plant outdoors, this should be done in spring.
How to Care For
Aloe veras are tolerant of dry conditions, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't water them! In the summer months, soak them thoroughly (make sure soil has good drainage), but allow them to dry very well between waterings (dry to a depth of 1 to 2 inches). Fertilization is best achieved with worm casings and compost teas, according to Love To Know: Home & Garden. During winter months, when the plant is dormant, water less frequently, if at all.
How to Propagate
Mature aloe vera plants propagate through offshoots, or "pups," which can be removed and replanted. Cut the offshoots with a knife once the leaves unfurl and let the cut dry over (usually a couple days) before planting it. Check out How To Grow Stuff for detailed instructions.