How to start an Aloe Plant

I tried growing an aloe leaf and failed. It rooted, but somehow it did not survive. The only thing I can come up with is that I gave it too much water. To find out what I did wrong, with my aloe offshoots I kept notes and followed instructions where I could find them. This page is the result. Unfortunately, online, detailed advice is NOT easy to find.

You’ll see what worked for me and what didn’t.

The conclusion after all my trials is pretty simple: trust the aloe cutting or offshoots to take care of themselves. In other words: put them in soil and leave them alone. Once they start growing they have roots and then you can start watering them as you would an adult plant: i.e. not too much.

Aloe does NOT root well from individual leaves. You need an offshoot.

The thing to remember with all succulents is that they have their own water supply, so they do NOT need you to supply water all the time. More about starting succulents in general.

Starting aloe from ‘Terminal Cuttings’ or offshoots

terminal cuttingA healthy aloe will grow offshoots within a year or so. These are by all accounts the best way to grow new aloe. I’ve got two in pots right now. Unfortunately mine broke off without any roots. Ideally you’ll start with a terminal cutting that has roots already formed.

Also, the best time to break them off is apparently in spring or summer. Aloe is dormant in winter. However, I’ve got two cuttings in pots right now, though it’s autumn, and am hoping they will grow.

I’ll let you know what happens. 100_1966-300x225The ideal size for a cutting is, so everyone says, 2 to 4 inches. That is 5 to 10 cm. I started with one of about 4 cm and one of 6 cm. We’ll see. If the sources are right, my larger cutting is more likely to survive.

This online source says to just let the aloe offshoots, like the one in the pictures100_1974-300x225, get big enough to have roots of their own. As in 4 to 5 inches, or at least as wide as your hand. You can then ‘tease them out’. That procedure would have certainly saved me trouble like you’ll read about in the rest of this blogpost.

However, you may find it useful to read about what does NOT work!

The ‘baggy’ method – fungus on the soil

After a week I looked at my two plants and one had dry soil, so I watered it. The cutting looks fine: green and not dried out at all.

The the one that had been in the bag looked equally happy: also green, also not dried out. BUT the soil it was standing on did not look so good. Obviously still moist, it had developed a fungus. So I’m terminating that experiment. This cutting is now given the same treatment as the other one:

Simply being in soil and watering at most once a week.

The image above is from this experiment.

Three months later both Aloe shootoffs are still alive

Looking at both my cuttings, it’s clear they’re still alive.

The (aborted) baggy method has left that cutting alive, but with some type of small insect running around in the soil. I’ll have to be careful when it comes to repotting them both, to make sure the insects don’t spread to my other plants. I’ll also be looking into methods to get rid of them.

The biggest danger to aloe cuttings is too much water, like it is to other succulents. The baggy method will not do any good: you only risk creating a nursery for fungus and insects.

The ‘don’t water at all for months’ method

After three months my offshoots are well, but not visibly growing. That is: with water about every two weeks they’re still alive, but I’m not sure there are any roots.

So, I’m starting to suspect the ‘don’t water for months to be sure they get roots’ method is good. It’s just: I can’t bring myself to do that. Since the original plant has developed a new offshoot, I suspect that will be my next experiment. That is: if I can bring myself to not water a plant.

Still, this experiment is going better than my last: both are still alive.

4 Months Later: Baggy Method Does Have Advantages

I looked at both my aloe cuttings this week. That is: I took them out of the soil. I was very careful, but there was no sign of roots on either.

However the one that was started with the baggy method has more signs of roots forming: the bottom is thicker and it’s perceptibly larger than when I started. After four months it still has so few roots that it was easy to simply take it out of the soil with the bugs in it and start over in a clean pot with fresh soil. I guess I could have done that earlier.

I think with Aloe you just really have to be patient. I now understand why not watering for months is a viable option. It’s not one I’m brave enough to try, but I did put the cuttings back into the soil without watering them at all.

So, I do think perhaps the best method is this:

  1. Put the aloe cutting in soil, in a plastic bag for about a month
  2. Get it out: get rid of the soil, and whatever bugs and fungus may have developed
  3. Put it in fresh soil, in a clean pot
  4. Water ever two weeks or less, till you’re sure you’re seeing it grow.
  5. Water every two weeks.

Aloe warning signs

If the soil is moist but the plant is shrinking, it’s probably suffering from rot. What I do is hope that time will dry out the soil and the plant will survive.

The way to guarantee the plant will die is to give them MORE water.

A more drastic measure is to throw away the soil you put it in, give it new soil and not water till the plant is starting to grow again (wait at least a week or two).

Conclusion

100_1976-300x225There are all kinds of ways to make sure your aloe cuttings survive. Getting them to take root is another matter. It turns out that the desert method is best: simply starting out not giving them water at all, even if they shrink a bit, till they start growing.

But the thing I’ll be doing next time is even simpler: I won’t get the cuttings out of the mother’s pot till they’re strong enough to make it on their own. That is: when they have roots.

Things to watch out for when starting an Aloe Vera plant:

  • Give as little water as you dare, till the plant starts growing.
  • Using a plastic bag as a green house will likely make more fungi and insects than roots grow.
  • This is potentially a very sturdy plant. Trust it to be able to survive on it’s own

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