How Much and How Often Should You Water Aloe Vera?
If you aren't sure how much water your aloe vera plant needs, you've come to the right place! While it may not need as much water as other succulents, there are some best practices you should follow when it comes to plant hydration. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn walks through how much and how often you should be watering your aloe vera.
Aloe vera is one of the most popular houseplants, and for good reason. Given the right lighting, soil type, and container, the plant can almost take care of itself. The only thing Aloe needs from you is water. Which is easy enough, right?
Water. All living things need it, and Aloe vera is no exception. But it doesn’t take rocket science to water a plant. I once had an old farmer ask me why I wasted my time and money in college to learn how to water plants. But in his snide comment lay an ounce of truth; to learn how to water plants. Even Harold, a dairy farmer, knew there was a right and wrong way to water plants.
Let’s take a look at how to properly water your Aloe vera plant, and how often you should be doing it. Two of the most common Aloe vera problems are over-watering and under-watering, so it’s important to get it right. We’ll consider factors that you may not realize contribute to watering frequency, such as, lighting, temperature, soil types and the seasons.
Many conditions will impact how frequently watering needs to occur. Regardless of growing conditions, you should check in with your Aloe on a weekly basis to determine if additional water is needed. Typically, you should water your Aloe once every 3 weeks, and less during the winter. You’ll need to perform a “finger test” to see if the soil is dry. If you decide to water your aloe, be sure to water it thoroughly, allowing the water to flow completely through the soil and out the bottom of your container.
It is believed that this famous succulent native to the Mediterranean region. This is due to its reference in many Egyptian, Greek, and Roman scholarly texts as well as The Bible. The desert conditions found in places like Israel and Egypt are ideal locations for aloe to thrive.
The dry, sandy soils, and unfrequented of rainfall, are a succulent plant’s dream. Reaching a height of around 2 feet, aloe would easily be sheltered from the intense sunlight by larger plant specimens.
The Role of Water in Survival
We know that water is essential for all living things to survive. But what role does water play in a plant? Water is used in photosynthesis, the process in which plants make their own food.
Without turning this into a lesson in organic chemistry, the presence of water and sunlight within the leaf tissue rearranges their components to make glucose and oxygen. Glucose is a sugar that plants use as a source of food. Oxygen makes its way into the air, allowing us to breathe.
Aloe vera, as well as other succulents, have formed their own unique way to photosynthesize without using as much water as other plants do. Since rainfall is infrequent, it needs to be able to conserve as much of its water as possible.
Non-desert plants will lose water through pores, called stomata, on the bottom of their leaves. Water loss is higher during the day when the sun is the most intense or under windy conditions.
However, Aloe vera leaves are thicker and have a waxy coating on them to help prevent water loss through the stomata. Because the daytime heat in the desert would dry out plant tissues quickly. Stomata would occur at night, decreasing their transpiration rate.
The physical form of an Aloe vera plant is that of a rosette. Rosettes are circular patterns of leaves, closely tucked together, and along with the waxy exterior of the leaf, decrease the amount of water loss.
Now that you understand the biology of the plant, it should help you better understand how much water they need. Understanding how aloe is able to store water in its tissues is a clue as to why this popular succulent doesn’t need to be watered as often as you may think.
Conditions That Impact Watering Frequency
Now that you know the aloe plant has the ability to store water in its tissues, we will address the environmental conditions that will also play a role in how often you water your plant.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to make sure you understand each of these factors for optimal watering, or you’ll likely end up under-watering, or over-watering your plant, which can cause drooping leaves, and other problems.
The amount of light your plant receives does dictate how much and how often you water. Aloes grown under bright, indirect light will need more water than aloe growing in low light or shady locations. More light=more photosynthesis=need for water is increased.
Indoor temperatures will impact the frequency and amount of water your aloe plant will need. If the temperatures are warmer, the plant will need to be watered more often. Whereas cooler air temperatures will require less frequent watering.
If you take your aloe outside during the summer months, the outdoor temperatures, as well as the intensity of the sunlight, will both be greater than inside your home. You will need to check your aloe for watering more often under these conditions.
Type of Soil
Aloe are desert plants. They are accustomed to well-draining, sandy soils. You can purchase a commercial cacti and succulent mix from a garden center. Or mix up your own soilless mix.
Usual recipes for cactus mix include ⅓ compost/organic matter and ⅔ of a combination of inorganic items like sand, pumice, and perlite. Maintaining a higher rate of inorganic items increases the pore space in the soil. This makes it better draining and less likely to become water-logged.
The container your aloe is potted in will play a role in watering too. Materials such as terracotta and unglazed clay will dry out soil faster than plastic pots. Drainage holes are essential for any succulent.
Although holes allow for excess water to drain away, that drainage is needed to prevent overwatering. Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes new Aloe owners make, and sitting in saturated soil long term will cause root rot and possible plant death.
Dormancy is a period of rest plants undergo as a way of self-preservation. Most outdoor plants go dormant in the winter because the harsh winter cold would kill an otherwise healthy plant.
Aloe is a bit different though. Even as a houseplant, as the summer months approach, Aloe vera can go dormant. This is because, in its natural environment, the light intensity and temperatures in the desert during summer are too much for the aloe to bear.
With little to no rainfall happening, aloe goes into survival mode by going dormant. Because the plant is in a state of rest and not making food, the amount of water the plant needs is greatly diminished.
As fall approaches, temperatures drop and rainfall may resume to a more regular basis. The aloe will come out of dormancy and begin active growth again.
While dormant, it is easy to overwater your aloe plant. The plant is resting and not photosynthesizing, so it doesn’t need as frequent watering. Be sure to look for active growth such as new leaf formation or even flowers as signs of dormancy breaking. Once you see the new growth, resume checking your aloe’s soil to see if you need to water it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Aloe vera grow in the shade?
Aloe can grow in the shade, but shade isn’t great for aloe to live its best life. Aloe prefers bright, indirect sunlight. An example of indirect sunlight would be near a west or south facing window, exposed to the bright light, but the sun’s rays are not shining directly on the plant. A minimum of 6 hours of bright, indirect light is optimum.
If your aloe receives less than 6 hours of high light, the stems may begin to stretch out seeking better lighting. Stretched out stems are often weak, leading to plant breakage or gangly looking plants.
What Temperatures do t hey like?
Aloe vera plants like temperatures in the upper 70s to lower 80s Fahrenheit, but can tolerate temperatures anywhere between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit quite well. Hotter temperatures can stress out your plant causing leaf discoloration and increased water loss. If temperatures drop below 50 degrees, your desert loving plant will develop leaves that are soft and squishy, or even drop its leaves entirely, and stems may collapse.
Normal household temperatures are adequate for growing aloe. Just keep your plant out of any draughts, from doors, windows, fans and furnace registers/vents, Also avoid cold window sills in the winter months to prevent your aloe from sudden death by window glass becoming too cold.
How do I make my Aloe vera flower?
Forcing an aloe vera to flower is very difficult to do in a location such as a house, but not impossible. The age, size and the light level your aloe receives greatly influences flower production. Older, mature aloe plants that are in bright, indirect light are often the plants that bloom the most.
Sometimes, being in a pot that is a little too small can influence flowering as a stress response mechanism. The plant goes into panic mode thinking it’s going to perish and sends up a flower as a means of reproducing itself to keep the population of aloe alive for another generation! As heroic as that sounds, it’s not going to die in all honesty though, but the flower is still pretty just the same.
Aloe typically flowers after they’ve been dormant too. So you may see flower stalks rising from the center of the rosette in fall and winter since your aloe is actively growing again.
Again, great information, but how much water does my aloe need? As you can see, there are many factors deciding the exact amount of water and how frequently to give your plant a good, solid drink.
When you are inclined to water, check the soil and see if your aloe really needs it. If it is dry, thoroughly water your plant, allowing water to flow completely through the soil and out the bottom drainage holes.