11 Common Problems With Aloe Vera Plants
Are you running into problems with your aloe vera plants, but aren't quite sure what to do? While aloe vera can be fairly low-maintenance, there are some problems some gardeners may encounter. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn walks through the most common problems with Aloe Vera and how to prevent them!
Aloe vera, one of over 500 different species in the genus Aloe, is currently found growing wild in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, despite originating in the Mediterranean Sea region. One of the most common houseplants found in homes around the world, Aloe vera is a very versatile plant.
With its forgiving nature to being neglected and to excessive coddling, Aloe vera is a tough plant. Although considered low-maintenance and a good plant for learning the art and science of growing plants, Aloe vera does have occasional issues.
Most problems encountered with growing Aloe vera are minimal and can be easily remedied. By learning proper light levels, water requirements as well as which insect pests to watch out for, you can make Aloe vera a successful addition to your houseplant collection. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most common problems, and how to fix them!
Weak, Stretched Leaves
Aloe vera thrives in a location that has bright, indirect sunlight. Inside, those are usually spaces that face east, south, or west. If placed too far away from the light, leaves often stretch out when seeking higher light levels. This is a normal process referred to as etiolation.
There is no way to shrink back existing leaves, once they are stretched, they are stretched. But you can move your Aloe vera to a brighter spot and any new growth will be shorter, sturdier, and more compact. Be sure to keep your aloe out of direct sunlight, however. Otherwise, you run the risk of leaf scorch and sunburn.
If this goes unchecked, it may lead to your aloe having droopy leaves, which can cause them to consistently fall over.
Leathery, Tough Leaves
Being a busy mom, most of my houseplants are some sort of succulent. Reason being is that they will forgive me when I repeatedly forget to water them. Often, I don’t realize they need to be watered until I notice the leaves went from smooth and bright green to a sad, wrinkly, dull color.
Underwatering can be an issue with Aloe vera but is way more forgiving than overwatering. It is always better to err on the side of too little water than try and recover from too much water.
You will need to give your aloe a thorough watering to get it to bounce back properly. Fill the top of the pot with water and allow the water to flow all the way through the pot until it comes out the bottom. If the soil is too dry, the water may run straight through before the soil can absorb it.
Or a crust may have formed on the top surface prohibiting water from entering the soil profile. If this happens, gently loosen the soil with your fingers or a small houseplant rake/shovel. By breaking up this dry soil, you will allow water to penetrate the entire soil depth.
If your soil was very, very dry, you may need to give your aloe a second watering. Which seems like we are walking on the edge of overwatering. Check the leaves to see if the turgor pressure has improved-if the leaf looks and feels fuller than prior to watering.
If the leaf still feels wrinkly or looks thin, wait a day or two and give your plant an additional thorough watering. Your aloe may have used all the water that was available in the soil but isn’t quite full yet. A second watering will give you aloe the proper amount of water it needs.
Overly Squishy Leaves
On a healthy plant, the leaves are green, firm, but give a little bit when squeezed between your fingers. If you notice that your leaves are puffy looking, overly squishy and fall apart in your hands when you touch them, the likely culprit is overwatering.
Being a succulent, Aloe vera is great at storing water in its leaves. Since rainfall is unpredictable and water sources are sparse, succulents and cacti have adapted to retain water during periods of drought.
As the plant needs water, the leaves will release the stored water for the plant to use. If there is too much water inside the leaves, the cells burst-think about overfilling a water balloon-and the leaf tissue’s appearance begins to lose its vigor.
Sometimes succulents and cacti can be salvaged depending on the severity of the damage overwatering has created. Remove the affected plant from its container.
With clean pruners, remove any damaged, unhealthy roots-healthy roots are white in color, brown roots are dead roots. If you want to reuse the pot it was in, be sure to clean the pot thoroughly before filling with fresh cactus potting mix.
Gently replant, and then water the potting mix. Place the plant in a brightly lit location and occasionally check to make sure the soil is damp-not wet, just damp. Over the next few weeks, new root growth will begin, however, if too much damage has occurred, the plant may not recover.
Brown Leaf Tips
Although unsightly, brown leaf tips on an Aloe Vera are not a death sentence. It is the plant’s way of sending you a message that something is not right. Now you must figure out what exactly it is trying to tell you.
There are many different ideas about why an Aloe vera’s leaf tips turn brown. When it comes to tropical plants, brown, dry leaf tips often mean the humidity is too low. But aloe is a desert plant, so too low of a humidity should have no effect on it.
One possibility as to why the leaf tip is brown is underwatering. Since the tip is the farthest point away from the stem, it would be the starting point for leaf tissue to begin to shrivel. If left too long, shriveling turns to becoming a dry, papery, brown leaf tip.
And because the brown is concentrated in the tips, as opposed to the entire length of the leaf, root rot, incorrect light, temperature levels, and fertilizer burn can be ruled out.
You can prune the brown leaf tips off the plant, but the leaf will not grow a new tip. Often when the leaf is pruned, the area immediately behind the cut will become brown. So, you don’t really get rid of the browning, you just move it further into the leaf.
It is normal for older leaves, especially mature plants, to yellow and fall off the plant. As a plant grows new leaves, the older leaves are no longer needed, or may become shadowed by the new growth, not receiving adequate light to grow.
Yellow Aloe Vera leaves can also be indicators of you’ve made the mistake of overwatering or underwatering. Check your soil moisture to make sure your plant is not too wet or desperately needing a drink.
It’s highly unlikely your aloe’s leaves are changing color due to a lack of nutrients. Aloe thrives in poor soils that contain low nutrient levels. If desired, you can fertilize your aloe with a cactus fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing in the spring since your aloe will go dormant during the summer. Excessive salts in the soil during dormancy can cause root damage.
Leaves Turning Colors
Aside from turning yellow because of old age, sometimes Aloe vera leaves that are normally green can start to appear red in color. This is especially true for aloe plants that have recently been moved outdoors for the summer months. The cause of this color change is a direct result of direct sunlight, your plant now has a sunburn.
But Aloe vera are desert plants, so why can’t they handle being in the full sun? Although they are desert natives, taking your aloe plant from indoors to outside needs to happen slowly.
The process of acclimating your aloe to its new environment takes 7-10 days. On the first day, place your aloe in a shady location, protecting it from the direct rays of sun. You will want to leave the aloe in that spot for 2-3 days.
After the 3rd day, expose the aloe to a little more light, bright indirect light is the best option. Again, after 2-3 days, move the aloe to an even sunnier spot. By the tenth day, your aloe should have adjusted to its new light exposure.
However, keep in mind that those dog days of summer may still cause some leaf discolorations. The sun is simply too hot and bright for plants, including aloes.
Brown Spots on Leaves
Watering plants is something I feel I can do with my eyes closed. Turn on the hose, aim, water! Or fill up the kids’ watering cans so they can “help” me water, paying no attention to any water that may be sitting on top of the leaves. It is just water. And plants need water. What harm can it do?
Water sitting on the leaf surface can be a big problem, depending on your water source. Although the myth has recently been busted, it was previously believed that water droplets sitting on a leaf surface under full sunlight would function as a magnifying glass and in turn heat up, causing the leaf to “burn”.
Scientists discovered that most water evaporates before any burning can take place. So why do we see random brown discolorations on top of the leaves. Again, let’s consider the source.
If you are watering with water collected from a rain barrel, spring or well, chances are the level of soluble salts are low. Municipal or city water is often treated with chemicals to get it clean enough for human consumption.
Some of those chemicals include chlorine and fluoride. When you water your plants with city water, water often splashes onto the leaf surface. As the water evaporates, the salt concentrations increase, and often remain well after the water has gone.
This salt-making contact with the leaf surface may be the source of the brown, burnt appearance. Improper fertilizing can also cause salt damage to your plants. The salts used in the fertilizer can remain on plant surfaces long after the water is gone.
If you want to prevent these brown burned spots on your Aloe vera plant, you can water it one of two ways. The first way is to use a watering can and avoid splashing water on the aloe’s leaves.
Place the spout of the can close to the soil surface and fill up the pot until the water begins to drain out of the bottom holes. If the pot is small enough to transport, take your aloe plant to the sink and submerge the pot in about 2” of water.
Because of the drainage holes, water can get inside of the pot and travel up the soil profile to the soil surface, thoroughly watering your plant.
Stem collapse is a signal of overwatering. Like leaf collapse, stems will often become overly soft and squishy, sometimes even turning yellow, brown, or black. Because the cells inside the stem are weakened, they can no longer support the weight of the leaves. This is when the stem collapses.
Prevent overwatering by watering your Aloe vera only when it needs it. Environmental conditions such as humidity, temperature, light exposure, size of the plant, size of the pot and the type of potting mix all contribute to when a plant needs water.
There is no set schedule when it comes to watering. You water when your plant needs water. And when you do water, water thoroughly, allowing the water to flow all the way down the soil profile, draining out the pot’s bottom.
Flowers on Aloe vera are very pretty. This flowering succulent blooms in a Lily-like in shape. The flowers themselves range in colors of yellow and orange. This is a great color contrast to the foliage and effectively advertises the flowers for desert pollinators.
Indoors, flowering does occur, but not as frequently as in the desert. Age of the plant, size of the container, environmental conditions as well as the time of year will influence flowering.
Aloe vera is a plant that undergoes summer dormancy. Dormancy is the period of rest plants undergo as a means of survival. Chances are deserts will not have adequate rainfall during the summer months. If aloe continued to grow and photosynthesize, it would use up all the water it had stored in its tissues and without water, the plant would die. To live, the aloe goes dormant.
After dormancy, autumn here in the United States, the aloe will resume growing. Flowering occurs after the dormant period, usually in the late fall and early winter. It’s a nice blast of color in often a dull, lackluster time of year outside.
Mealybugs & Scale
Unfortunately, aloe is not immune to an occasional infestation of insect pests. Mealybugs and scale tend to top the list of bugs aloe is subject to attack. Mealybugs are a white, cottony insects that commonly hangs out on the underside of leaves, and on plant stems, near leaf nodes.
Depending on the species, there may also be a long tail protruding from the end of the bug. Scale is a brown or black insect pest that likes to live on the leaves, specifically the mid-rib of the leaf. These insects often resemble tiny little helmets in shape.
Mealybugs and scales attack plants by sucking out the juice, or sap, from plant tissues. Because of their preference for living on the underside of the plant leaves, it is often difficult to detect an outbreak.
Upon feasting on the plant sap, the excrement from the insects forms a sticky residue on leaf surfaces. This stickiness, called honeydew, is a telltale sign of an insect problem.
There are ways to get rid of mealybugs and scale insects. One way is to purchase a commercial pesticide formulated to control mealybugs and scale. These products are usually composed of insecticidal soaps or a horticultural oil.
Another method of controlling mealybugs and scale is applying rubbing alcohol directly. Using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, dab the soaked cotton swab on the insects.
Gently rub the cotton swab on the insect to help dislodge it from the plant tissue. Periodically change out your cotton swab and continue until all insects have been removed. You can rinse the leaves off to remove any excess rubbing alcohol if it has not evaporated off.
Aphids are another pest that frequents the Aloe vera plant. Aphids can get very problematic in a brief period of time. Many female aphids are born pregnant, so you can go from a small insect population to an out-of-control infestation literally overnight.
Aphids pierce and suck sap out of plants, and are usually found on the new, soft, supple growth. Damage caused by aphids is usually tissue collapse and curling.
Aphids can be controlled similarly to mealybugs and scale insects. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils work great at smothering aphids. Be sure to read the label and follow the application instructions thoroughly so the chemical can be most effective without harming your aloe plant.
You can also make a solution of dish soap and water at home to help control aphids. Mix one or two drops of liquid dish soap with one quart of water in a spray bottle. Spray the aphids directly with the mixture until the solution drips down the stems and on the underside of the leaves.
Repeat every few days until the aphids are gone. If your aloe happens to be in the sun outdoors, place in a shady location prior to spraying to avoid injury to the leaves.
As with any cacti or succulent, the number one cause of demise is overwatering, and aloe is no exception to this travesty. As long as you follow proper watering techniques like thorough watering and watering only when needed, the Aloe vera plant is a great house plant for beginning houseplant enthusiasts.
Its adaptability to different environmental conditions makes it easy to learn how to properly care for succulents before venturing into more finicky species of desert beauties.