By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Aloe plants are one of the most beloved houseplants. These charming succulents are widely available and come in a variety of sizes. Propagating a favorite plant is usually done with cuttings, which produce viable plants more quickly than seed. However, growing aloe from seeds is rewarding, pretty easy, and can afford you the opportunity to have some exotic and rare plants in your collection. Below are instructions on how to grow aloe from seeds and increase your stock of these helpful plants.
Aloe plants must be four or more years old before they produce reliable seed. The exact time depends upon the species and some plants don’t mature for up to a decade. Once the plant is flowering, it is able to produce seed. You can harvest seed from spent flowers or order them from reputable dealers. In the former method, you need to know how to collect aloe seeds and save them.
Gardeners with mature plants have probably seen the seeds in the flowers after they brown and lose petals. What do aloe seeds look like? They are tiny, grayish brown to black and flat. Seeds that are light-colored or white are not ready to harvest and will not germinate.
Seeds are found in dried pods on the plant and need to be extracted by splitting the pod. Pods will be brownish-green when ready. Keep a basin under the pod to collect the seed and discard the empty pod.
Aloe seed propagation can begin immediately or wait until the following spring if sowing outdoors. Save seeds in a paper envelope in a cool, dark location. Seeds should be used within the year they were harvested for best results.
Aloe seeds generally sprout quite easily. You need the proper medium and situation for better success. A half and half mixture of peat and horticultural sand makes an excellent, well-draining medium. You can also use a combination of the sand, sterile compost and perlite. The idea when growing aloe from seed is to provide loose material that won’t get soggy and is not prone to pathogens or weeds.
Any container will do, but flats use less soil and create a controlled environment for seedlings. Lightly dampen the medium and spread the seed about an inch apart. Cover them with a light dusting of the sand.
If you are in a warm climate, you can grow the seeds outdoors. The rest of us will need to start them indoors with the addition of bottom heat of some kind. Keep the medium moderately moist either way in bright light and where temperatures are ideally 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23 C.).
Many growers put a plastic lid on flats or containers in plastic bags to keep humidity high for germination. Unfortunately, if you are using a non-sterile organic medium, this can lead to fungal issues that may kill your babies.
Mist the surface of the soil to keep it moist until you see sprouts. This may take 2 to 4 weeks depending upon species. Young seedlings should stay on a heat source for two weeks as they develop roots.
Watering from under the seedlings in an open flat prevents damping-off and gives the roots just enough moisture after they have been removed from heat mats. The most important thing when seedlings are still at the two-leaf stage is to prevent desiccation while not drowning the poor things.
Once four or more leaves are observed, pot each into 2-inch (5 cm.) pots with a sterilized mix of 3 parts organic material, 3 parts pumice and 1 ½ parts coarse sand. Grow on as you would adult plants.
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Read more about Aloe Vera
Aloes are quirky-looking plants that every gardener should try at least once. These succulents are great for beginners because they thrive on neglect. Aloes also help clean the air and are highly medicinal, particularly the well-known aloe vera.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of aloes is that they’re very easy to propagate. Not only is propagation an exciting project, it results in lots of plants and saved money. Whether you’re propagating aloe to fill out your garden or make gifts to share, we guarantee you’ll have fun!
Good Products For Aloe Propagation:
Last Updated: November 17, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
There are 22 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Aloe vera is both popular and easy to grow, provided you understand the level of water and sun that mimics the hot climate this plant thrives in. Unusually for a succulent, the aloe plant cannot be grown from a leaf cutting, and instead is typically propagated by detaching younger clone plants from the base of the adult plant or from the joint root system. These young plants must be treated carefully, as explained in detail in the section on propagation.
When you first get started with growing aloe vera, the most important things to consider are the soil and location of the plant. First, decide where you will be growing your aloe vera. Whether indoors or outdoors, it is imperative that you choose a place where your plant will receive plenty of light. This can be a little tricky, though, because too much direct sunlight can cause the plant to dry out and turn the leaves brown — but too little light will stunt the plant’s growth.
It is also important to note that aloe can freeze in the winter if outside, so keep your local climate in mind when deciding where you want to place your plant. I recommend using a pot you can easily bring indoors during freezes or leaving your plant in a location you can cover with a tarp or blanket. If the plant is to be grown indoors, make sure the plant will receive enough indirect sunlight south or west-facing windows are ideal.
Once you’ve decided where your aloe vera is going to live, it’s time to begin thinking about the soil. Aloe vera likes dry soil, so I recommend using cactus potting soil mix. When planting your aloe vera, make sure to position the plant in an upright position, and cover the base and roots with the soil. Provide several inches of space between plants, as they do grow outward from the center. Give your aloe vera a bit of space because the mother plant will offset the "babies" from the outer base.
It’s also important to choose an appropriate planter. Start with a medium or large planter and make sure it has good drainage. Planters with a single large hole in the bottom are best, as your plant will not grow if there is standing water. In fact, one of the most common issues new plant owners run into when trying to care for aloe vera is that they overwater the plant.
When watering, the soil should feel damp but not soaked. The best way to gauge watering is to feel the plant leaves every few days, as long as they are cool or moist, the plant has enough water. If the leaves are dry or brittle, first examine the sunlight conditions, then adjust water as needed. Before you water again, the soil should be completely dry. During cold months, it will need less water.
One way to dose your plants with all of the goodness that aloe has to offer is by making a soil drench for them. Simply put, a “soil drench” is watering plants with a dilute aloe vera water mixture. We do this treatment for freshly transplanted seedlings, newly planted trees, stressed plants, or sometimes, just as a special treat for our plants! Another use for the soil drench is to pre-moisten seedling starting soil, to aid in germination.
High Times recommends using aloe vera as a regular part of your cannabis watering routine. To read more about how to organically grow cannabis, see this post. Our spoiled cannabis plants get aloe vera with every watering, though not always fresh aloe. We’ll talk more about freeze-dried aloe vera powder as an alternative in a moment.
To make an aloe vera soil drench, all you need to do is blend aloe vera leaves with some water. It’s really that easy! With this method, there is no need to skin the leaves and extract the gel first.
The freshly harvested aloe leaves from the front yard garden. This is the amount we used (plus a couple more small ones) to make two 5-gallon buckets of soil drench. The red leaf is from a plant that was very exposed, to sun and also a light frost that came through a couple months ago.
After searching around online, it appears the suggested amount is about 1/4 cup of fresh aloe vera gel per gallon of water. A little goes a long way! As you’ll see in the video to follow, we don’t bother with measuring. An estimation is okay, since you really can’t “overdo it” with aloe! On average, we use about 2 large leaves or 4-5 small leaves per 5 gallon bucket of water.
When you are preparing your aloe concoctions, time is of the essence! Fresh aloe will start to ferment and lose a lot of its beneficial properties within 20 minutes after being prepared and exposed to the air. That is why pretty much every store-bought aloe vera product out there contains preservatives of some sort. Therefore, make sure you have all your supplies and extra water ready and waiting, so you can blend and use the aloe vera as soon after cutting as possible! If you ever have excess aloe and can’t use it quickly, I suggest freezing it for later use.
After blending, diluting, and mixing, simply water your plants with it! We generally give smaller seedlings about a cup each, and larger plants up to several cups. The beaker I am using in the aloe video is 16 ounces.
It is best to add a special drink like this (or something like compost tea) within a day or two after a plants routine watering. When your soil is already nice and moist, it more readily accepts additional moisture – so your precious aloe solution won’t run off the top and away from the plant! Additionally, doing this right after a routine watering means you probably won’t need to water again for a few days, which gives the aloe good contact time before you further wash it away.
The process of making a fresh aloe vera soil drench. Look how much it frothed up and expanded! The blender was only half full of cut leaves and water before blending.
An aloe vera solution can also be used as a foliar spray, also known as “foliar feeding”. What is the purpose of foliar spraying? Well, studies show that plants can uptake micronutrients and enzymes faster and at a higher absorbed concentration directly through their leaves than through their roots.
Of course, a foliar feeding is not intended to replace quality soil, compost, and occasional root fertilizing. Core macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are still best derived from soil. But when you want to give a plant a little extra TLC, or help it recover from a deficiency, disease, or stress, a little supplemental foliar love with aloe could be the ticket! Our cannabis plants are sprayed with aloe on almost a weekly basis up until they begin to flower.
To prepare a foliar spray, the steps are very similar to that of making a soil drench! However, you want to only use the inside gel this time, as blending a whole-leaf would make it chunky which could clog a sprayer.
Because plants more readily uptake nutrients from foliar applications than through their roots, less aloe is needed for the foliar spray than in a soil drench solution. A suggested dose is only two to three teaspoons of fresh aloe gel to 1 gallon of water. As you can see, just one small leaf would be more than enough for this practice!
The process of filleting an aloe vera leaf to extract the gel portion.
Fill a sprayer with your blended solution. I highly suggest using pressure sprayers over the types you have to repeatedly hand-squeeze. Apply evenly to your plants leaves until they’re dripping, and again, preferably within 20 minutes of first cutting the aloe vera plant. It is best practice to foliar spray with aloe just before sunlight, or after sundown – avoid wetting leaves in direct sunlight, which can cause sunburn.
While we love using the fresh stuff for transplants and other plants as much as possible, our supply can’t always keep up with the demand, especially during cannabis season. Therefore, we supplement by using freeze-dried aloe vera powder too. Simply mix and rehydrate per the instructions on the package. To maintain maximum freshness and potency, store it in the freezer after opening. The powder can be used for both a soil drench or foliar spray, for any type of plant!
Aaron uses powdered aloe in every cannabis soil watering and for weekly foliar sprays, mixed with rainwater. Moreso than fresh gel, a little powder goes an even longer way! The aloe powder we use from BuildASoil is 200x concentrated, and only requires ¼ teaspoon per gallon of water for foliar applications.
One last use for aloe vera in the garden is as a natural rooting hormone. When taking cuttings of established plants to propagate new ones, also called “clones”, aloe vera can assist in rapid root development for the new cutting. This is a common practice used for everything from fig trees to milkweed to cannabis.
There are varying “best practices” for cloning out there, and I am no expert. Some folks suggest soaking new plant cuttings in an aloe solution, be it fresh gel or powdered, for 4 to 12 hours before planting. Others recommend soaking the cloning medium (e.g. coco coir or peat root riot cubes) in an aloe vera solution to pre-moisten it, and then insert the cutting. Or, simply dip the cut stem in aloe gel before placing it in its medium. I have also heard of people inserting the cutting into the middle of an aloe leaf and letting it root there!
Again, since aloe is so mild, there is really no way to do any harm with it! We have had success with rooting milkweed cuttings by soaking them for a week in an aloe-water solution. You may find one method more or less effective than another. If you use aloe as a cloning agent, let us know what works for you in the comments!
In closing, aloe vera is badass.
You can’t argue against that, right?! I am even more convinced after doing my homework for this article. Now that we know just how phenomenal aloe vera is, are you ready to incorporate it into your personal and plant health care routines? Again, I will follow up with more information about human-uses soon too!
Until then, check out the video below – all about harvesting and processing aloe vera for a soil drench. I hope you enjoy the meander around the garden with me too!
Here is wishing you the best on your aloe adventures, and plenty of vitality in the garden! Please feel free to ask questions, and spread the love by passing this on.
When planting Aloes, it’s of extreme importance to provide good substrate drainage. That’s why it’s good to make a mixture of the following ingredients: garden soil, sand and perlite. You can use coconut peat too at the beginning. It’s necessary to sterilize the substrate in a microwave for 3mins or in the oven at 350°F (180°C) for 45 minutes.
You can plant Aloes in any kind of container. See-through plastic containers are the most practical, because you can easily see how damp the substrate is at any time. Ceramic containers are not recommended because they keep the moisture around the walls for longer periods of time. It’s necessary that the container has numerous holes at the bottom, so that the excess of water can flow easily.
Make the substrate and put it in the container, but as you do that be careful not to overfill the container. It’s best to leave at least 0.8 inches (2cm) to the top. You can correctly water the substrate during planting like this: the container in which the seed is planted should be sunk in water (it’s best to use rain or boiled water). You can do it by filling any container with the amount of water needed to fill half of a container used for sowing. Leave the container in water for some time, until you see that the surface of the substrate is wet. After you see that, you can take the container out of the water and leave it to dry well.
You should put Aloe seeds on the surface of the prepared substrate, gently pushing them with a straight object. You don’t need to cover the seeds with substrate.
You can keep the moisture in the container in various ways. You can use nylon and position it with a rubber band to the container you can use a piece of glass which can be positioned at the edges of the flower pot… The best way to do this is to simply put the container into a plastic bag with a zip opener.
Aloe seed is best to plant during the warm months, but you can plant it during winter too, provided that you can supply it with an ample amount of light, warmth and moist. Minimal temperature for Aloe germination is 70°F (21°C). The container with the seed should be put on a bright spot in your apartment, but not exposed to direct sunlight.
Bag with the container should NOT be opened for at least three months. After those three months, you should open the bag every day for half an hour so that the seedlings which germinated can slowly start to get accustomed to the climate which is different from the one it’s been in. You should do this for a month, after which the plant will be completely ready to leave the bag.
Light plays an important role in lives of your baby Aloes now. Put them on a bright spot, under no circumstances exposed to direct sunlight and spray it from time to time. You may need to repot them only when the plants start running out of space or the container is too shallow.
Place: You need to provide a bright spot for Aloes, but the plant shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight during the whole day. It’s best to find a somewhat shadowy spot. If the plant turns darker or gets brown spots, that means that the sun is too strong. You can grow in the garden during summer, and during winter it needs a bright spot with a temperature of 42 to 53°F (6 to 12°C).
Watering: Aloes need to be watered somewhat more often, but you should wait for the substrate to dry during two watering processes. Water it less often during winter, approximately 3 times from November to March. You can spray it here and there, but don’t overdo it. There’s a high probability that the Aloe will wither during winter and look dry, but it will get its good looks when the spring arrives. Too much moist, during either summer or winter is not good because the root rots and the plant can die.
Topdressing: You can apply topdressing to the plant every 14 days during summer with mineral plant fertilizer. You should completely exclude topdressing during winter.
Substrate: The ideal Aloe substrate is garden soil mixed with a bit of sand, in proportion 2:1. The most important part for it is to provide good water flow, i.e. not to keep water in the pot for too long. In order to manage the best substrate water flow you can, you can add a bit of perlite to the prepared mix, and you can cover the bottom of the pot with gravel.
Repotting: Aloes are repotted only if the old container becomes too small for them, and you should do it only in spring. During repotting you need to be careful and find a flower pot deep enough and to plant the plant on the same depth it was in the last flower pot.
Aloe usually flowers only after three to six years.