Aloe is a popular house plant grown both indoors and outdoors. These perennial plants when taken care can live for many years, often rewarding you with offsets (baby plants) for the care you are providing. Aloe vera thrives well in warm weather. But with proper care, you can grow your aloe in winter months as well. In this article I am going to give you all the tips needed to grow and care for aloe in cold winters.
Aloe in the wild
Aloe vera is a plant with succulent leaves from the genus ‘Aloe’. Also known as ‘lily of the desert’ as it grows well in dry conditions and requires less water. It loves sunlight. Hence it is abundantly found in tropical region due to favorable weather conditions. Aloe is easy to grow and doesn’t need any special care. Generally these plants cannot tolerate freeze (but some varieties can). As a result growing them in ground during winter or colder weather is not possible. But relax yourself, we are going to discuss on how to grow aloe in winter too. The aloe variety discussed here is Aloe vera however most of the aloe varieties will need the same care to be taken in consideration.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant without stems but have fleshy leaves that emerge from the base of the plant. The leaf edges have saw tooth like formation which is a key characteristic feature of aloe plant. The leaves are thick and fleshy because of the pulp/gel in it. They are wider at the base and taper towards the end. The gel will be concentrated at the base and reduces moving towards the tip.
If the plant is stressed by the weather you will know by visibly inspecting the leaves. One thing to notice while introducing the plants to outdoors in summer is the leaves of this plant turns to reddish orange when it is stressed or sunburned.
Do Aloe plants flower? Yes they do flower in the summer. Even though the plants thrive well under harsh conditions, it needs favorable temperature to produce flowers. In other words, it is really hard to make aloe plants bloom indoors. The flowers are produced in infloresence and are generally taller than the plant. The flowers are tubular with a mix of bright yellow, orange and red.
At maturity, aloe plants produce many baby plants called pups or offsets at the base during summer.In winter the plants go to dormancy, so there is little to no growth. Once the babies reach 4 or 5 inches, they can be removed gently and grown into new plants. Aloe vera reproduces very quickly. Another uncommon method of propagation is through pollination of flowers to produce seeds, which then can be developed into new plants. They cannot be propagated through leaf cuttings unlike other succulents.
The root system of Aloe vera has predominantly horizontal growth rather than vertical growth. It needs a wider pot than a deeper pot. It can be grown both on pot and soil. I have a plant that I planted three years ago in a 10” pot. The plant is still doing good, no root bound problem unlike tomatoes. Some varieties especially with stem tend to grow strong deeper roots, in that case a pot with equal width and depth is needed.
Regular potting soil or the potting mix for cacti and succulents are preferred for Aloes. Make sure there is proper drainage in the pot for the excess water to drain. If using regular potting mix, then add some sand to the potting mix to improve drainage. Every year when the organic matter decays, the potting soil goes down a little. As a result, every spring I add fresh compost enough to fill the pot.
Aloe vera needs bright sunlight to thrive well. So if grown indoors, prefer a window which gets maximum sunlight during winter. If there is one mistake you can do to harm your plants is through over watering. These plants are not able to standing water or wet or soggy soil. Choose a container with good drainage holes for drainage of excess water. The potting soil should be dried completely before next watering cycle. Occasional watering is sufficient during winter as the plants go dormant.
Sunlight and water are the two important factors for a successful aloe plant. The plants need bright sunlight and watering when they are completely dry. If you are not careful in watering, adding more water to the plants than required will most likely kill the plant. The plants can tolerate drought to certain extent but never soggy soil.
The aloe leaf is used in a variety of ways from cooling down your body to playing with the gel. I like to use the leaves on sun burnt skin as a cooling agent, cut the leaf to desired length, then cut off the serrated edges then discard it. Cut them lengthwise into two pieces, then apply gently. On hot summer days I rub this gel/pulp on my scalp as well. It will be cooling and soothing. The leftover leaf can be wrapped in paper and stored in refrigerator for future use.
Types of Aloe
As with any plant aloe also comes in different varieties in various forms and color. A few varieties are only for ornamental uses they stand stunning in rock garden or borders even in container. Some of them are compact enough to use as decorative indoor plants and some of them grows tall like a small tree. Some are more adopted to colder climate than others, you can find them in the below description.
Aloe barbadensis miller (Aloe vera)
This is the most common variety of aloe grown for its medicinal properties. This variety has serrated edges along the sides(which is pretty sharp) and small white patches on the baby leaves, which will fade out when the leaves mature.
Aloe Cameronii (Red Aloe)
They look similar to the common aloe except for its red leaves, also go by the name Red aloe. The color of the leaves depends on various factors like sun and water. They are perfect for rock garden if you are in warmer climate. This plant is deer resistant.
Aloe aristata (Lace aloe)
These plants looks like Haworthia. They are more compact and perfect for container. They have dark green leaves with white teeth along the edges of the leaf. This aloe is frost hardy, can survive upto 20F(-6C) outdoors.
Aloe plicatilis (Fan aloe)
This aloe consists of slender, long leaves that form a fan like structure. The leaves are bluish green. In late winter or early spring these plants sent reddish orange flower spikes. These plants are not the regular indoor plants, they grow over 6 feet like a small tree, but looks beautiful.
Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)
Another great compact plants which is perfect for container or ground cover. The leaves are bluish green which turns to red when exposed to full sun. The humming birds and bees love this plant for its nectar. This plant is salt tolerant, a great variety to grow along coast lines.
If your winters are mild with no freeze you can grow these plants outdoors throughout the year. But people living in freeze zones has to overwinter these plants by bringing them indoors before the frost. Freeze will kill these plants, therefore I will bring my aloe plants indoors when the temperature is around 40F(5C). On the other hand not all aloe varieties can tolerate this temperature drop, in case of confusion bring them in around 50F(10C) The plants will go to dormancy during winter so they have little to no growth. In this phase limit the watering schedule. Also fertilizing the plants during dormancy is not at all recommended. In summer add fresh compost and enjoy the new lush growth.`
Also do look into my article on how to overwinter container plants to get more insights on overwintering process.
What to do with the new aloe plant that you bought in winter
If you found a nice aloe plant in winter keep them warm as much you can (don’t shop around keeping the plant for another 2 hours on a cold winter day). One lesson I learned from buying plants from big box stores is always replant the plant in a same or new pot with new potting soil. Either the soil can’t hold any water or they will be soggy. The second important thing is to water minimally. Upon late spring or early summer you can introduce them to outdoors or continue to keep them as indoor plant.
How to introduce the plants outdoors for summer
The most awaited season has come, now introduce the plants outdoors slowly. You can move your potted plant outdoors by gradually placing it in a brighter spot everyday for few hours to prevent any stress, then eventually after a week or two you can put them in a sunnier spot for that season. Even if the plant gets stressed, bring it to part shade and the plant will recover. But don’t over water them.
If you have mealy bug infestation wipe them with a wet cloth, or with rubbing alcohol. Many aloe growers do face the problem of root rot when grown as container garden. But avoiding over watering you can easily solve the problem.
Harvest & Storage
Harvest the leaves from the base of the plant with the help of knife. While harvesting, if the leaves break the aloe gel with start to ooze out. It is a good practice to place the harvested leaf on a cloth or on a paper towel so it is easy to clean. Don’t harvest the leaves from baby plants. My personal preference is to harvest the leaves from my plant when the leaves are about 15 inches.
The only downside I can think of is that, the matured plants take a lot of indoor space as they are not compact (once they mature). However, you can easily place the younger plants on work desk or night desk if they get decent sun as these are pretty compact. But there are other compact varieties of aloe perfect for growing indoors both in summer and winter.
The 2 rules of growing aloe:
To sum up this article, as long as you follow the two rules below you will have a successful aloe plant.
- Water sparingly, keep in mind that this is a desert plant
- Sunshine, as these plants thrive in heat and sun
Not all plant species are made equal. While some of them have medicinal values, some of the varieties of Aloe are poisonous and some are used specifically for ornamental purpose only. So please use caution and consult with a medical practitioner before using any plant for medicinal purposes.