The first thing potential aloe vera growers need to know is that aloe is a hot weather plant. A native of semi-tropical and arid desert African regions, the low-maintenance aloe vera plant is classified as a succulent, a plant that has adapted to its hot climate by developing thick, fleshy leaves and stems meant for storing water. There are more than 250 species of aloe plants, varying in size from one inch to a substantial two feet high. The aloe plant variety most commonly cultivated by homeowners is the Aloe barbadensis, or aloe vera plant. The sap which bleeds from broken leaves of the aloe vera plant can be used as an ointment for cuts, burns and other mild forms of skin irritation. Given the climate needs of aloe vera plants, they are often grown indoors where they can thrive in consistently warm temperatures. Outside planting of aloe vera is only recommended for homeowners living in USDA zones 10 through 11.
Aloe vera plants can be started from seed, though this is a process which meets with more success in a highly controlled greenhouse environment. For cultivators who'll be growing their aloe plant in the home, the easiest way to start is to either purchase a baby aloe plant from a local nursery, or to plant shoots that have been removed from an adult aloe plant in their own planter. The best potting soil for an aloe plant is a general, all-purpose potting mixture that has had coarse sand and perlite added to it. For your planter, choose one with holes in the bottom for proper drainage, as excessive moisture in the soil will cause rotting of the rhizomes and the eventual death of the plant. A larger catchment tray can be placed under the aloe vera planter to prevent any watering from leading to a dirty mess on your table, counter or floor. If this isn't an option, an alternative is to place an inch of gravel at the bottom of your planter, underneath the potting mix. A good aloe vera pot is also one which is more wide than deep, as the rhizome root system of aloe plants grows horizontally and shallowly. Make sure to place the pot in a window where it can receive regular periods of adequate sunlight, though bear in mind that extended periods of direct and intense sunlight over many days can also cause the leaves of your aloe plant to brown. Regular, indirect sunlight is best for the proper nurturing of your aloe plant.
Watering your aloe vera plant should not be as regular or as heavy as with other house plants you may have. Rather than adhering to a watering schedule, the best way to determine whether your aloe plant is ready for watering is to test the soil with your fingers. Only when the soil around your aloe plant is totally dry to the touch should it be watered, with smaller plants receiving about a cup of water and larger aloe plants getting as much as two cups. Water the soil around the plant only; the leaves of the aloe plant need no watering or misting whatsoever. Since aloe plants go into a markedly slower growth period during winter months, even when inside, the soil around the plant will dry much slower than it does during the growing season, and will therefore require less watering during this time. Every spring, fertilize with a 10-40-10 fertilizer at half strength. This fertilizer application will only need to take place once a year.
Pruning your aloe plants is absolutely necessary for their continued health and survival. Newer shoots or leaves growing from the base of the mother plant should be removed when they attain a length of three to four inches to prevent them from robbing water and nutrients from the mother plant. When the mother plant is overloaded with an overabundance of leaves, the leaves will begin to protrude sideways from the mother plant rather than standing up at an angle. Remove the shoots which are the lowest and the closest to the soil, as these are the heartiest shoots and therefore have the best chance of surviving propagation. Pot any removed shoots in the same sort of soil and planter you would normally use with an aloe plant, water thoroughly upon planting, and then wait two to three weeks before watering again to compel the new root growth to spread out and look for more water.