5 Most Common Problems With Aloe Plants (How to Solve Them)

Common problems with aloe plants

In my experience, by far, the most common problem I find when growing aloe plants has to do with overwatering and moisture-retentive soils.

But why is this? To understand why you are having problems with your aloe plants, we need to know how aloe plants grow in their native environment.

Aloe plants are drought-resistant and need the potting soil to dry out between each watering. If the soil is consistently damp from overwatering, then the aloe’s leaves turn yellow or brown with a soft, squishy texture and drooping appearance.

Whilst overwatering is the most common problem with growing aloes, here is a table summarizing the other common problems that I have observed the you may have with your aloe plants and their causes…

Common Problems with Aloe Plants:Most Common Causes:
1. Aloe Plants Turning Yellow and Brown with a Soft, Squishy Texture.Overwatering, potting soils that retain moisture too long for the aloe to tolerate.
2. Aloe Plant Turning Brown at The Ends:Too much direct sunlight, underwatering, and high temperatures.
3. Aloe Plant Drooping Leaves:Most often, overwatering or poor drainage. Not enough light also causes drooping leaves. Underwatering can also contribute to drooping leaves.
4. Aloe Plant Leaves Turning Red:The red is a pigment known as carotenoids which is a stress response to too much direct sunlight and high temperatures.
5. Aloe Plant Turning White:White leaves are most often caused by a lack of sunlight, but can also be due to sunburn. Epicuticular wax is a white powder produced by some aloe plants to cope with bright sunlight. Powdery mildew is a white fuzzy fungus that can occur in a room in high humidity.

Keep reading to learn how to implement the solutions to save your aloe plant…

1. Aloe Plant Leaves Turning Yellow or Brown, Soft and Squishy

  • Symptoms: The leaves turn brown with a squishy texture which can also cause them to droop.
  • Causes: Overwatering, too much moisture around the roots.

Aloe plants are native to hot and dry regions of the Middle East, where they grow in sandy or gritty soil that does not hold onto moisture for very long and has an open porous structure, allowing excess water to drain quickly.

Aloe plants typically experience a cycle of a deluge of rainfall followed by a period of drought.

Therefore, aloe plants have significant adaptions to dry conditions and can cope with underwatering, but they do not tolerate overwatering and moisture-retentive soils.

Therefore we need to replicate this style of watering to keep our aloe plants happy…But how do we do this?

It is important to let the soil dry out completely between each bout of watering. If you are watering aloe plants more often than once per week, then you are likely to be overwatering, and this is the reason for the brown, soft leaves.

I urge you to keep in mind that aloe is usually dormant in Winter, which decreases the demand for water. This decrease in demand for water can mean that the potting soil stays moist for longer as the roots are not actively uptaking moisture at the same rate.

Therefore you should decrease how often you water the aloe in Winter compared with Summer.

The first thing that I learned about growing aloe plants is that ordinary houseplant potting soil holds onto moisture for too long, which promotes the conditions for root rot, stem rot, and basal stem disease, all of which cause the aloe’s leaves to turn brown and squishy.

How to Save it…

What I have found is that the key to saving your aloe plant with brown, soft leaves is to emulate the growing conditions of the aloe plant’s native environment with well-draining, gritty soil and by allowing the soil to dry out between each bout of watering.

  1. Re-pot the aloe plant in specially made ‘succulent and cacti’ soil, as this accurately replicates the typical well-draining, porous soil conditions that aloes need.
  2. Ideally, re-pot the aloe into an unglazed clay or terracotta pot rather than a plastic or ceramic pot. Terracotta and clay are my favorite pots for growing aloe plants as they have a porous structure, which means that the soil dries out more evenly after watering rather than plastic pots, which, in my experience, hold onto moisture too long for my aloe plants to tolerate. This helps to mitigate the risk of root rot. (Read my article, best pots for aloe vera).
  3. Always ensure that your pot has a drainage hole in the base, and regularly empty any saucers, trays, or decorative outer pots of excess water to ensure good drainage. (I forgot to do this for a week, and my aloe plant turned brown and mushy!)
  4. Reduce how often you water the aloe plant, ensuring that the soil feels dry before watering. To do this, you can pick the pot up periodically to assess the weight, as it should feel much lighter as the soil dries. You can also use a wooden skewer to push to the bottom of the pot to see if the soil around the base still feels damp.
  5. My personal preferred method is to feel the soil at the bottom through the drainage hole in the base of the pot. This way, you can definitively tell whether the soil is still moist or dry.
  6. Cut any soft brown leaves back to the base of the plant with a sharp pruning tool to prevent the rot from spreading throughout the plant. Wipe the blade with a cloth soaked in disinfectant between each cut to prevent spreading fungal pathogens from diseased parts of the plant to healthy parts.

If the aloe vera’s conditions continue to decline with brown, squidgy rot spreading through the plant, then your best option is to take a leaf cutting or part of an offset for propagation. Fortunately, I have found that Aloe plants create offsets and propagate very easily from any remaining healthy part of the plant.

The process of propagation is best explained visually, so watch this helpful YouTube video on how to propagate aloe plants…

(To learn how often to water aloe vera at different times of the year to avoid root rot, read my article, how often to water aloe vera plants).

2. Aloe Plant Turning Brown at The Ends

Aloe plant turning brown at the ends due to too much sun and high temperatures from indoor heating, which dried out the soil.
This is my tiger tooth aloe plant, which turns brown at the ends due to too much sun and high temperatures from indoor heating, which dry out the soil (I had this particular plant above a radiator).

If the aloe is turning brown at the ends, then this is usually due to a combination of too much sun and not enough moisture.

Aloe plants typically prefer 4-6 hours of morning sun. If they are in the full glare of the sun all day with high temperatures during Summer, then this can cause them to turn brown as a sign of stress.

In full sun, the aloe pot may also heat up and dry out too quickly for the roots to draw up the moisture, which further exacerbates the stress that turns the leaves brown, dried out, and crispy.

How to Save it…

From experimenting with my aloe plants, I have found the sweet spot is to find a window sill that has only about 4-6 hours of sunlight.

If you are in a particularly hot climate, then try to locate your aloe in an area of bright light in the afternoon, as the combination of high temperature and intense sun is too much for the aloe to tolerate.

When I lived in Southern California, I located my aloe plants in a window with morning sun but I used a sheer curtain on the hottest days of the year, not only. to keep my house cool, but to diffuse some of the intense sunlight to benefit my aloe plant.

If the aloe is fairly mature, the roots may be pot-bound and it is a good idea to repot your aloe to a larger pot.

Choose a pot that is at most 2 inches wider in diameter than the previous pot.

If you choose a pot that is too large then the aloe can suffer from overpotting which is when a larger pot dries out much more slowly which can promote the conditions for root rot.

3. Aloe Plant Leaves Drooping

Why is my aloe drooping
This is an aloe plant with a drooping leaf that I saw, which was due to being in low light.
  • Symptoms. The aloe’s leaves are drooping down, with a limp appearance. Some leaves may even form a crease where they are bent.
  • Causes. Not enough sunlight, the pot may be too small and drying out too quickly or watering too lightly. Overwatering can also cause drooping leaves.

By far, the most common reason that I come across for aloe leaves bending and drooping is that they are not in enough sunlight.

Aloe plants naturally grow in bright areas with some direct sunlight.

If the aloe does not have any direct sunlight indoors, then it does not have enough energy to support the leaves, which causes them to grow weak and droop downwards. (Whenever I see a dying or drooping aloe plant, it is because it is aloe plant is living in conditions contrary to its native environment).

The aloe’s leaves grow long and leggy, often towards the strongest source of light, which causes it to weaken.

However, I have also observed aloe plants drooping due to a lack of water. Overwatering is more often the reason for problems with aloe vera due to their sensitivity to excess moisture.

However it should be noted that aloe plants draw moisture from the soil to store in their leaves causing them to be thick and plump. If their is not enough moisture the leaves turn thinner and curl inwards of ten with a drooping appearance.

In my experience, people occasionally misinterpret the advice that ‘aloe plants do not need much water’ to mean that aloe plants do not need a great quantity of water.

However, I must emphasize aloe plants should be watered thoroughly to the extent that excess water trickles out of the base of the pot.

One thing I have come across is that some people’s aloe plants are planted in soil containing peat moss which can be problematic as as peat turns hydrophobic when it dries out, which means it repels water off the surface without soaking in and infiltrating the soil properly to reach the roots.

If you water aloe plants more than once a week, then the drooping may be due to overwatering. Feel the leaves to see if they are squishy, turning brown, or yellow, and follow the instructions at the top of the article.

How to Save it…

If the aloe’s leaf has drooped over and has a crease or bend in the leaf, then I regret to inform you that this individual leaf will not perk up again.

The leaf won’t necessarily die as such but lives its life in a droopy state.

In which case, cut this leaf back to the base. I would highly recommend watching the YouTube video above as I have personally, cut and propagated these drooping leaves in soil and created a new healthy new aloe plant. This is always the best thing to do with a drooping leaf.

If the aloe leaves are drooping but not necessarily bent, then move your aloe to a room with brighter light.

It is important not to move your aloe into full sun straight away as it is likely to burn in the sun as the leaves have acclimated to the shade. (This is a very common mistake!)

Move the aloe into some direct light for 20 minutes or so longer each day over the course of 2 weeks. The morning sun is best and more forgiving than the afternoon sun.

Useful tip: To prevent the aloe from falling, leaning, or drooping in one direction, it is best practice to rotate the aloe plant by 90 degrees every time you water. This ensures that each side of the aloe is more evenly exposed to the sun, creating healthy growth that does not droop.

If the aloe leaves appear thinner and perhaps brown at the tips as well as drooping, then I can tell you underwatering is a more likely cause.

Always give the aloe a good soak to the extent that excess water trickles out the pot’s base to ensure the soil is evenly moist. A good ‘succulent and cacti’ soil contains enough grit to maintain a porous structure even when the soil has dried out completely, which prevents a lot of problems with watering.

(Read my article, best potting soil for aloe vera plants indoors).

4. Aloe Plant Leaves Turning Red (Too Much Sun)

Aloe plants turning red at the tips due to high temperatures and too much sunlight.
This is my friend’s aloe plant, which turned red at the tips due to high temperatures and too much sunlight.

As I stated previously, aloe plants are native to hot and dry climates with blazing sunshine and turn red as a way of protecting themselves from sunburn.

Aloe plants produce carotenoids, which an antioxidant and display as a red pigment and acts as a sunscreen in reaction to sun and heat.

Red leaves are a sign that your aloe is in too much sunlight and perhaps too much heat.

Interestingly, I have found this can be due to the pot. Remember that dark-colored pots absorb more light and heat, which can contribute to heat stress.

Whilst aloe can tolerate heat and sun, it can sometimes be too much at the height of Summer if the aloe is in full sun.

The leaves may also turn red at the tips if you have moved the aloe from a comparatively shadier location to full sun.

Aloes take time to acclimatize to their surroundings, and a sudden increase in light intensity is likely to trigger a stress response.

If the conditions of high temperatures and intense sunlight persist, then the ends can turn brown and crispy.

How to Save it…

Whilst I realize red leaves may seem alarming, do not worry, as the leaves turning red are usually just a sign of stress rather than a serious problem, and almost all succulents have a similar reaction to excess heat and light.

Just move the aloe to a cooler location to alleviate the stress.

Aloe plants do prefer some direct sunlight, but the optimal balance is around 4-6 hours of morning sun with some shade in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day, so find a room in the house that fits this criteria.

Once the sun and heat stress have been alleviated, the aloe can return to its green coloration.

5. Aloe Plant Turning White (Not Enough Sun and Nutrients)

Epicuticular wax is a natural sunscreen which gives the aloe leaf a white appearance in direct sunlight.
This is Epicuticular wax (I promise it is not dust!), which acts as a natural sunscreen that gives the aloe leaf a white appearance in direct sunlight.

If the aloe plant leaves are turning white, this can be due to a lack of sunlight, sunburn, a substance known as Epicuticular wax or farina, or a lack of nutrients. Powdery mildew (a white furry fungus on the surface of the aloe) can occasionally be a problem in rooms with high humidity and not enough light.

However, when people tell me their succulents are turning white, I usually find that it is just an accumulation of Epicuticular wax which is a white powdery substance that reflects ultraviolet light, effectively acting as a sunscreen and reducing water loss from the leaves, which are both adaptations to living in hot and dry climates.

From my observations, I have found some varieties of aloe plants exude more Epicuticular wax than others, and it is best not to touch your succulent leaves too often if it is excluding the wax, as it can come on off your fingers.

Whilst it isn’t harmful to yourself, it can remove the succulent sunscreen which can cause it to burn or lose too much moisture in Summer.

If the aloe plant’s leaves are turning white it may also be Etiolation (a lack of sunlight) or because of a sudden increase in light intensity.

Etiolation can also cause the leaves to start to droop as the leaves grow leggy looking for more light.

If the succulent has been moved from shade to intense direct sunlight, this can scorch them white or turn the leaves red depending on how severe the contrast of coming from shade to bright sunlight is for the aloe without having time to acclimate to the new conditions.

Another possible reason is that the aloe plant has matured to a good size and has been in the same pot for a very long time. In this case, the roots can exhaust the potting medium of nutrients, which causes the chlorophyll to degrade (chlorophyll is responsible for the green color), turning the aloe yellow or white.

How to save it…

If the aloe is turning white and it does not have any direct sunlight, then I would advise you to move the aloe to a sunnier location, ideally with 4-6 hours of morning sun.

When I lived in New York, I didn’t have a window sill that received enough light in Winter for my aloe plant to thrive, so I used a grow light, which helped save my aloe.

Avoid moving it to full sun as this contrast is likely to cause the aloe to burn. Instead, move the aloe to a sunnier location for 20 minutes longer each day for around 2 weeks to allow the aloe to adjust gradually to the increase in light intensity.

If your aloe is in direct sunlight and turning white, and you suspect it could be sunburn, then you need to find an area with the morning sun, as the morning sun is less intense than the midday and afternoon sun.

Aloe plants that have turned white can turn green again if the cause is a lack of sunlight. However, if your aloe has burnt in the sun, then unfortunately, from experience, these individual scorched white patches do not recover their appearance.

Aloe’s do not typically need much fertilizer as they are adapted to growing in low-nutrient soil, but if your mature aloe plant is turning white, then apply a specialized ‘succulent and cacti’ fertilizer (available in garden centers or online) in the Spring and Summer can remedy the problem. A specialized fertilizer contains all the nutrients the aloe needs at the right concentration, whereas a general plant fertilizer is likely to burn the roots of an aloe plant.

Fertilizer for succulents
This is the fertilizer I use for my succulents, including my aloe plants.

For aloe suffering from powdery mildew, move the aloe to a less humid room (from a bathroom to a living room, for example) mix a tablespoon of baking soda with a pint of water and a tablespoon of soap (which helps the formula stick to the mildew) into a spray bottle and spray any affected areas.

To be honest, once you move your aloe to a less humid room then the lack of humidity is often enough to tackle powdery mildew on its own without spraying with baking soda solution.

(Read my article, 7 Ways to Keep Your Aloe Plant Alive (Indoors).

Key Takeaways:

  • The most common problems with aloe plants are associated with overwatering and damp soil. Aloe plants need the soil to dry out before watering. Excess moisture around the roots causes leaves to turn brown and soft with a drooping appearance due to root rot.
  • A trifecta of too much heat, too much sunlight, and dry soil causes aloe plants to turn brown at the ends.
  • Aloe leaves start to droop due to stem rot which is caused by overwatering. A lack of sunlight can lead to etiolation, which causes the leaves to grow weak and limp, resulting in a drooping appearance.
  • Aloe plants produce carotenoids which display a red pigment in reaction to stress from high temperatures and too much sunlight. The carotenoids act as sunscreen protecting the aloe from sun damage.
  • Aloe plants can turn white due to not enough sunlight, sunburn, lack of nutrients, powdery mildew, or because of epicuticular wax, which is a reflective substance used as a sunscreen.

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