11 Reasons Your Aloe Vera is Turning Brown & Mushy
is your Aloe Vera plant turning brown and mushy? There are a number of different reasons this can happen, and thankfully, some of are reversible. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn looks at the most common reasons Aloe Vera plants start getting soft, discolored leaves.
Aloe Vera has been grown and used for centuries in many different parts of the world. You would think that with a nickname of being the “Plant of Immortality”, Aloe Vera would be one tough plant, able to tolerate ill conditions and unintentional mistreatment. It can, to an extent. But, as any living being, aloe can only take so much before sending out the plant version of Morse code.
While fulfilling aloe’s basic needs of light, water, nutrients and ideal temperatures, we humans can over do it. And at some point, the aloe has to surrender. It will typically send out its S.O.S by means of browning leaves, and plant textures degrading from fleshy, firm leaves and roots to nothing but a glop of mush.
What can we possibly be doing to push our aloe plants to the point of decline and impending death? Below we will navigate the most common reasons as to why your Aloe Vera is turning brown and mushy. You’ll also learn how the different ways we can correct and prevent this misfortune from happening again in the future.
What is the number one killer of succulents and houseplants, particularly Aloe Vera? You guessed it, overwatering. Overwatering occurs when you water your plant, but the plant does not need water. Many times overwatering happens because watering is assumed to be a no-brainer activity.
People get in their heads that it’s Friday, I better water my plants without taking into consideration the needs of the plant. The soil surface may appear dry, but deeper into the pot, the soil may be surprisingly wet.
So adding additional water to the container, is causing too much water to remain at the root zone. Excess water can lead to root rot in Aloe plants. You’ll also see the leaves getting soggy and slimy to the touch.
Plants like aloe prefer to stay on the dry side when it comes to soil. When in doubt, let it dry out…a few more days and check to see if water is needed.
Yes, there is such a thing as underwatering desert and succulent plants. Even though they live in a hot, arid environment, they still need water to survive. Some gardeners make the mistake of thinking aloe is a no-water plant.
Yes, Aloe has the ability to hold water in its leaves for long periods of time. In the desert this is useful because it is often unknown when the next rain shower will occur. So being able to hold onto the water it has for as long as possible is a good survival tactic.
But, Aloe being grown in an indoor location means it should never get to the point of being underwatered. However, I’ve had desert plants at home begin showing signs of under watering, then realizing it’s been at least a month since I last water those plants.
Typically when a plant is underwatered, the leaves turn a pale yellow to tan color. Other symptoms of under watering include brown spotting on the leaves, brown leaf edges and the leaf tips turning brown.
Sudden Environment Changes
If you’re familiar with the popular “Polar Bear Plunge” events that happen during the winter months, you will understand my point quite easily. For those of you who are new to the Polar Bear Plunge”people sign up to plunge into a freezing cold body of water during the dead of winter while sporting bathing suits.
The looks on participants’ faces tells their story perfectly. The utter look of shock on their faces going from robes to bathing suits, usually in the snow, and then either running or jumping into an outdoor body of water is more than enough to get your blood pumping.
Now imagine your aloe plant. It’s been living the good life indoors for most of the year. Then, one day, BAM! You take it outside in the summer sun with no warning or explanation.
Similar to jumping into the frigid water, a sudden change in environment can cause your aloe to go into shock. The drastic change in temperature and light intensity can cause the leaves to become “sunburned”.
Aloe leaves will turn brown, red or even gray when thrust outdoors without a period of acclimation. Acclimation happens over the course of 7-10 days, where every 2-3 days you gently increase the amount of sunlight your plant receives, starting in the complete shade and ending in a location that receives bright, filtered sunlight.
Even though it does get cold in the desert at night, Aloe Vera does not do well when temperatures are consistently below 50℉. You would think it would be difficult to reach that low of a temperature in an indoor setting, but there are a few potential places inside that can cause aloe to become too cold.
During the winter, if your aloe is close to a window, or between drapes and the window, cold air is present. Curtains are good at trapping cold air close to the window, keeping our indoor spaces warmer.
However, if you are a plant, being trapped between the window and curtain can cause significant tissue damage. Cold damage can also occur if the aloe is touching the windowpane directly.
Another possibility is air conditioning vents. The constant flow of cold air can both decrease the temperature and dry the air out surrounding your houseplants.
Once you’ve fixed these problems, your Aloe plant should revive and become healthy again unless there was too much damage done to the plant.
Too Much Light
Acclimation is the process of allowing a plant to get used to a new environment over the course of about 7-10 days. Every 2-3 days, the amount of sunlight the plant is exposed to increases. This allows the plant to adjust to its new environment gradually, and helps prevent plant shock.
If a drastic increase of light is given to a plant that is not accustomed to living outdoors, the plant tissues can be damaged. Aloe is a desert plant, and can tolerate bright sun, but it usually is found under larger cacti or in grassy patches, protecting it from the sun’s direct rays.
This type of light is filtered sunlight, meaning the sun is not shining right on the plant. Rather, the light has to pass through some other plant before reaching the aloe.
If you do not properly acclimate your aloe to the outdoors, you do run the risk of the leaves getting sunburned. Leaves that have received too much light will have a brown, red or gray appearance. These color changes can appear on the entire leaf or as random spots on the leaf surface.
Too Little Light
Just as too much sunlight can damage your Aloe Vera plant, not enough sunlight can also cause discoloration of the leaves and poor plant structure. Aloes that are not getting enough sunlight will look spindly, pale yellow and often, the leaves will droop.
Many times aloe that are grown under low light will stay too wet because they are not photosynthesizing as much as they should be. Because of this excess water, stems often get mushy and collapse because they are not rigid enough to support the top of the plant.
Aloe Vera needs at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. That can be all at once, or a combination of different times throughout the day. East or west facing windows are good for this type of light because the intensity isn’t as strong as it would be in a southern exposure. If you only have sunlight from a south facing window, make sure that the light is filtered prior to reaching your aloe.
Aloe Vera is susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections. Diseases include fungal infections like aloe rust, anthracnose, and basal stem rot, as well as bacterial infections from bacterial oft rot. For aloe rust, disease emergence favors cool temperatures and high humidity.
Now stop and think. Does Aloe Vera like cool temperatures? Nope. How about high humidity? Nope. So if you are able to make the temperatures warm and the humidity on the low side, will this aloe rust be able to manifest? Nope. Will your aloe plant be happy? Yup. Crisis averted.
For reference, rust starts off as pale yellow spots on the leaves. The spots will eventually turn brown and you may even see orange colored spores on the bottom of the leaf. Anthracnose looks like water soaked circular spots on the leaf surface that have brown or tan colored centers.
As the spots get bigger, they will turn reddish brown in color and combine, making larger areas of dead tissue. Basal stem rot is what the name implies, the base of the stem, near the soil surface turns brown or black and begins to rot.
As for bacterial soft rot, the leaves will become watery and slimy to the touch eventually collapsing and falling off. The best way to prevent bacterial soft rot is by not overwatering your aloe.
It is imperative Aloe Vera have a well draining potting mix. You may choose to buy a commercially available cacti and succulent mix, or make you own. Regardless of which you choose, the soil should be composed of ⅓ organic matter and ⅔ inorganic matter.
Inorganic matter, such as pumice, sand, perlite or turface, is going to provide the necessary pore space within the soil. Without it, the potting mix will begin to compress down and when watered, have no air pockets for plant roots to properly function and survive.
Too Much Fertilizer
Aloe Vera do not need supplemental fertilizer. Out in the desert, you will find aloe growing in areas that are very nutrient poor. When growing indoors, if you planted your aloe in a cacti and succulent mix containing ⅓ organic matter, your aloe will receive enough nutrition from the compost/coir/leaf humus breaking down.
It is a good idea to repot your aloe every 2-3 years to replace decayed organic matter inside the pot. This will help with water availability in the soil as well.
Adding supplemental fertilizer to your water or directly to the soil can cause tissue damage. The salts that are used in fertilizers are literally able to burn your plant (if you live in a colder climate, look at the vegetation that sits closest to the roadways in the winter.
If the roads are treated with salts when icy, vehicles spray that salty water in the surrounding soil. Salts build up over time and cause root and leaf burn, often resulting in plant death). The concentrations of salts vary product to product.
Some people will still be inclined to fertilize their aloe. If you choose to fertilize, be sure the soil is wet before fertilizing. There is less of a chance for root burn when the soil is already wet. Plan on watering your aloe one day, and within the next two days, follow with your fertilizer Hard lesson I learned 20 years ago and has stuck with me ever since.
Most plants like to be left alone. You provide them with their basic needs and they do the rest. On occasion, we caregivers get the idea to repot or transfer our plants to a new home, without asking the plant what it wants. In turn, the aloe plant will demonstrate its unhappiness through leaf discoloration and overall mushiness.
Repotting can be done in a way that prevents as much transplant shock as possible. Disturb the roots minimally, only removing dead or damaged roots using clean and sanitized tools. Use cacti and succulent potting mix and a pot that is one size larger than the previous container. Water thoroughly and place back in its original location.
When you take your plant outdoors in the summer, it is important to bring them back inside before the outside temperatures get too cold. Aloe Vera does not do well when temperatures dip below 50℉.
Tissue damage can result if exposed to low temperatures, often seen as soft, mushy leaves that look somewhat clear or translucent. If you’ve ever had produce like lettuce freeze accidentally in the refrigerator, the symptoms of frost damage look very similar.
If the frost damage occurred once, your aloe plant is most likely salvageable. The root system should not have been impacted and will be able to grow new leaves again over an extended period of time..
It is possible for your aloe to get frost damage indoors as well. In the winter, if your aloe plant sits too close to a window, or is near an exterior door that is frequently used, the exposure of cold air can cause tissue damage.
Aloe Vera can turn brown and mushy for many reasons. The important part is determining the cause of the browning and/or mushiness before too much tissue damage has happened.
Being able to identify the reason for the discoloration can be initially tricky. Pay attention to little details about how you maintain your aloe. How you go about watering and temperature fluctuations in the environment can have an impact on your plant. It’s also important to pay attention to where the browning is happening and if there’s any pattern.
The process of elimination is sometimes the easiest way to determine the cause of a problem. Using the information above to determine the causation of browning and rot will not only assist you in properly caring for your aloe plant, but the rest of your plant collection as well.