Sunday

How to Repot an Aloe Vera Plant



Healthy Aloe Vera Transplants
It's easy to repot an aloe vera plant. If I could only make one herb related recommendation to a gardening newbie, it would be to keep an aloe vera or two around -- and give this useful herb away to share the wealth after a repotting session.  The aloes are easy to care for, nearly indestructible, and surprisingly effective at treating the discomfort of minor burns and bug bites. In many cases, a little dab of gel cools a burn better than an over the counter preparation.

I maintain a number of commuter aloe vera plants that spend winters indoors and summers outside. The only established aloe vera plant I ever lost was one I accidentally left out during the first hard frost of the season.  Even with that specimen, I believe the protected, central offshoots were salvageable.

I've kept these plants for nearly two decades in one form or another, and every year in spring and fall, I repot at least one, producing six, ten, twenty or more smaller plants in the process. Thank heavens for neighbors and friends, or I'd be overrun with spiny succulents.  Although the requirements below produce optimum repotting results, aloe vera is very forgiving. Repotting this wonderful herb isn't the chore it appears to be.  You'll see. Grab a trowel and follow me to the next section.

Rootbound aloe vera

How to Repot an Aloe Vera Herb Plant


What you'll need:

  • Garden gloves
  • Hand trowel
  • Knife
  • Small and medium sized pots
    Mature "pup"
  • Potting soil
  • Garden sand or perlite


Directions

Remove the plant from the pot and inspect its root system. Don't panic. You'll probably be able to see where smaller plants are attached to the mother plant through a matted network of fleshy roots.  The idea here is to cut the roots to separate individual plants for repotting while leaving a portion of the root attached to each transplant. Losing some root is unavoidable, but most plants should survive just fine.

Shake off as much dirt as possible, and start excavating plants from the central mass.  If an established plant is very root bound, don't be afraid to tackle it with a sharp knife and extreme prejudice.  I wedge and wiggle a hand trowel into the spot where I want to begin separating offshoots.  Once I've created an opening, I pull the two sides apart to increase the gap and start cutting.  The process isn't pretty and can look alarming, but it all works out in the end.


Mass of tangled aloe vera roots
Some transplants will be tiny (pups), while others will be larger. Once freed, remove any dead foliage from around healthy stems. This may release some liquid (gel), but that's okay.

Eventually, you'll be left with the central "mother" plant, which can also be replanted or replaced in the same pot. This will likely be the largest transplant specimen.

Place the mother plant as well as liberated smaller transplants on their sides in a warm, shaded location overnight.  There may be quite a few, but smaller plants can be placed together in four inch and larger pots, if necessary. Keep these in-process plants away from water and curious critters, including the family cats and dogs.

The next day (this task can actually wait up to a week), start filling pots with a combination of potting soil and sand or perlite.  I like to use equal parts soil to sand. This provides enough nutrition for a season as well as good drainage. Fill the pots two thirds full at first.

Add plants to the prepared pots, centering or spacing them evenly. Add and firm soil up to the crown using your hand or the back of a hand trowel to remove air pockets.
Separated offshoots


Once planted, place pots in bright to dappled light either indoors or out. Don't water plants for the first 72 hours or so, and then water sparingly.

I admit I haven't always been diligent in my aloe vera repotting strategies.  I've repotted pups (baby plants) into unadorned garden earth and soil with pool filter sand mixed in (a no-no) as well as into soil with all the fixings.  My plants have done well regardless. Actually, great soil with lots of compost and moisture retentive additives tends to be too rich and wet for aloe vera anyway, so less is usually more.

Potting Aloe Vera Leaves


Aloe leaves are unyielding, and a repotting session usually results in some casualties. These broken leaves can be replanted, too. Here's how: Create a small trench in a pot of prepared soil and place the broken leaf inside. Although you can bury the leaf completely, you'll have better success if you leave it partially exposed. Water the leaf lightly after 24 hours and place it in a bright but not hot location. It should start showing new growth in two to three weeks. (Note: Use a 50/50 soil mixture as you would for a pup transplant.)

Special Notes on Repotting and Maintaining Aloe Vera


Replanted "Mother"
  • It's a very good idea to wear garden gloves when repotting aloe vera. The spines on these plants aren't just decorative.
  • Any gel released through a wound can mix with dirt and create a gooey mess, so this is a task best performed outdoors.
  • Some aloe starts may be tall but shallow rooted. In this case, a wooden support may be necessary for the first couple of months. I often use crossed chop sticks from local restaurants to support medium sized offshoots.
  • For very large plants, I've been known to place stones in the bottom of the pot for better weight distribution.
  • With aloe vera, water sparingly. 
  • Any broken leaves or dislodged pups should be hardened off for at least 24 hours before replanting.
  • Although aloe can be maintained in the same pot for years, it's a good idea to repot annually or semi-annually.


References

Display Photo - By Bhaskaranaidu (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAlovira_plant.JPG http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Alovira_plant.JPG

Repotting photos  - S.A.Elliott

10 comments:

  1. Thank you! This was very timely for me. :)

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  2. This is such a good plant to have around. Thanks for sharing this information.

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  3. The only plant i have never managed to kill since it seems to thrive on my neglect and now my aloe plant is outgrowing the pot so thank you for the post! Very helpful!

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  4. Hello.

    My plant is very large and has never been transplanted before. I managed to move it but it keeps falling over. Should I place it deeper into the pot? I have it where all the green is out.

    Thanks
    Liz

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  5. Thank you. I was just about to repot an aloe my son gave me for mother's day, and I was planning to make a soil mix with the "oh no" pool sand we have left after removing our above ground pool. Now I'll go buy some garden sand or cactus mix instead. Saved by the bell!!!

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  6. I've just started growing my little aloe from the grocery store. I do have a couple of questions though, it's grown a few inches, about a foot high now. I wondering about when when to repot it. Also what's the deal with the little bag it seems to be in?

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  7. Hi Sugar Bean,

    Aloe vera can be pretty root bound without suffering. The first indication you need to repot is the presence of roots coming out of the drainage hole. The development of pups -- baby aloe vera plants -- is another clue.

    I don't know about the plastic. If the plant gets good drainage and looks healthy, it's okay where it is. If you bought it this season, it probably shouldn't need repotting until next spring. Check it again when it has almost doubled in size.

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  8. Question, please. I have a ton of aloe that I've had for over 20 years. I keep it indoors in a West facing window. Although I do repot occasionally, the pots are very crowded. It gets lots of indirect light and I water it only when the soil gets very dry. The problem is that many of the leaves have gotten flat with very little gel, though some are plump. Will the flat leaves ever re-plump if I do something different?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Cassandra,

      Thinning leaves on an aloe vera are usually a sign of lack of sunlight, under watering or over watering (and the resultant root rot). If too little water is the problem, the outer leaves may turn brown and curl. If too little sun is the problem, leaves may yellow somewhat. Try watering your plant generously, letting it dry for a day and then putting it outside in the sun for a few hours a day over the course of a week or two. This may solve the problem. Just a suggestion.

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  9. Thank you Sara. The plants don't show the signs you mentioned but since I have 10 pots, I'll do an experiment and put half outside and keep half inside. I haven't put them outside before because I am on the coast of NC and it gets brutally hot and alternates between drought and heavy rain. We'll see what happens!

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