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How *Exactly* Do You Take Care Of An Aloe Vera Plant?

Here's what you need to know about plant care when it comes to aloe vera.
PHOTO: (LEFT TO RIGHT) Dario/Unsplash, Alanah Light/Unsplash

If you're into skincare, then aloe vera needs no introduction. Plenty of skincare products contain aloe because its natural cooling properties reduce skin inflammations that occur for people with acne or eczema. It's also in soothing gels used by people who maybe laid out under the sun for too long, lol. So it's no surprise that this succulent has a lot of fans—especially during quarantine. You can break off a piece of leaf and use that clear gel on cuts, rashes, and burns. If you're interested in adding an aloe vera houseplant to your growing indoor garden, here's what you need to know. 

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Plant care for aloe vera: Basics

Believe it or not, there are so many different kinds of aloe vera plants. The kind that most people have at home is the aloe barbadensi. Aloes can be as small as a few inches tall or grow as high as 30 feet. The leaves grow from the base of the plant in a rosette. The leaves come in several colors, including yellow, orange, and purple. And if you keep one alive for years, it can even grow flowers. 

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Plant care for aloe vera: How to water aloe vera

Like many succulents, aloe vera plants can tolerate dry conditions, but don't make the mistake of not watering them. After making sure that the pot has proper drainage, water the plant all the way through. Let the soil completely dry out between waterings. You'll know it's been dry for too long if the leaves shrivel up. Fortunately, these plants are forgiving, so if you water them after a long time, they can recover; the point of no return is if the leaves turn yellow because that means they've died. 

Plant care for aloe vera: How much sunlight does an aloe vera need?

If you're going to place your aloe vera plant outdoors, it's best if it gets either full sun or partial shade. According to The Spruce, "full sun" means a space that allows for six hours of direct sunlight; so yes, it doesn't have to be a "full" day of sun. If you're worried about too much exposure, you can place them outdoors in the morning 'cause that's still the "cooler" part of the day. Alternatively, you can also go for "partial shade," which means three to six hours of sun exposure a day. It's important that they aren't under the sun in the afternoon, though, 'cause that's too intense. 

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If you decide to keep your aloe plant inside the house, place them by the window so they get enough bright light for at least six hours. 

Plant care for aloe vera: What soil to use for aloe vera

This one's important: The soil you use needs to be well-draining. Aloes is native to Africa, and they grow in slopes in the desert; these tend to have really good drainage. If you're growing your aloe vera plant in a pot, cactus soil is a pretty safe option. They also don't need a lot of fertilizer; feeding once a year will suffice. When you re-pot your plant, pick a pot that's wider instead of deeper to allow space for the rootball to grow. 

Plant care for aloe vera: How to propagate aloe vera

Eventually, if you're interested in propagating your plant, you can do this in two ways: 1) Obviously, by seed or 2) By potting the offsets found at the base of your aloe. You just have to make sure that there are still roots attached to the bottom of each piece. 

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How to harvest your aloe plant for the gel

So you want to use the plant's watery gel for the first time. Is it as simple as cutting off a leaf and squeezing the aloe out? Not quite. First, you have to check the leaves. Make sure they aren't damaged or have any mold growing on them. Picking the thicker leaves from the outer section of the plant, cut close to the stem because a lot of the nutrients are found at the base. Do not cut the roots, if you can. 

Wash the leaves thoroughly. After you dry them, carefully cut off the prickly parts. Depending on what's easier for you, use a knife of your fingers to separate the gel from the aloe leaf. Unless you plan on using it, you can dispose of the yellow sap. Cut the gel into cubes or put them in a blender and drain the pulp. It's really up to you. From here, you can apply the substance straight to your skin. 

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Sources: The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, Healthline

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