Best Potting Soil for Aloe Vera Plants Indoors


Best potting soil for indoor aloe vera plants

I remember buying my first aloe vera plant and repotting it into a larger pot with new potting soil, and to my horror, my aloe started to turn yellow, brown, and then black with a mushy feel to the leaves! What had I done wrong?

After some research, I discovered that I planted it in the wrong type of potting soil! The soil retained far too much moisture for too long for this drought-resistant plant to tolerate!

From my experience, I was able to determine that the best soil for indoor aloe vera plants is specially formulated succulent and cacti potting soil which contains inorganic material with varying particle sizes to allow water to drain easily and to reduce compaction around the roots. Succulent and cacti soil recreates the preferred soil conditions of aloe vera’s native environment.

Of course, this experience also taught me that the appropriate soil for aloe vera should complement good watering practices and the aloe vera should always be planted in pots with drainage holes in the base to create the right balance of moisture and dry for aloe vera to thrive.

I created a table for a quick summary of the key soil charactertics:

Aloe Vera Potting Soil Requirements:Soil Characteristics:
Well draining:Well-draining soil emulates the dry soil conditions in the aloe’s native environment. Aloe vera is susceptible to root rot, so it is important water drains away from the aloe vera’s roots efficiently.
Aerated:Aloe vera requires soil with inorganic material at a large particle size to help oxygen circulate around the roots as they absorb moisture from water vapor in the air rather than as water directly from the soil.
Low to medium fertility:Aloe vera has adapted to growing in gritty soil with not much nutrients and prefers lower nutrients soil. Ordinary potting soil contains too many nutrients for aloe vera.
Soil pH:Aloe vera can tolerate growing in slightly acidic, neutral, and slightly alkaline soils without any problems.

Keep reading for more on the ideal potting soil, why you shouldn’t be planted in aloe vera in ordinary potting soil, and how to avoid root rot for aloe vera…

What Kind of Soil Does Aloe Vera Need?

Aloe vera is a succulent that is adapted to tolerating drought-like conditions in its native range of the Arabian peninsula.

In their natural habitat aloe vera grows in gritty, well-draining soils that do not hold much water and allow excess water to drain away so their roots are not sat in boggy ground.

Due to the aloe vera’s adaptations to dry environments, they are especially vulnerable to root rot which is caused by overwatering and planting aloe vera in a potting mix that retains too much moisture around the roots.

To grow aloe vera in pots we need to replicate the soil conditions of the aloe’s native environment with more inorganic material (grit) than organic material (compost).

Aloe vera should be planted in a specially formulated succulents and cacti, gritty potting mixture which effectively emulate the preferred soil conditions of succulents.

Specially formulated succulent and cacti soil on the left which is optimal for aloe vera compared to ordinary potting soil on the right which retains too much moisture.
Specially formulated succulent and cacti soil on the left which is optimal for aloe vera compared to ordinary potting soil on the right which retains too much moisture.

A gritty succulent soil mix has a good aerated, porous structure that allows water to reach the roots of the aloe vera and yet also drain away efficiently which significantly reduces the risk of root rot and mitigates a lot of the danger from overwatering whilst having the right balance of nutrients that aloe vera requires.

I know the cacti and succulent soil look like stones, but this is exactly the soil conditions that these plants grow in the wild.

Aloe vera is not a heavy feeder and is a relatively slow-growing plant that stays healthy and compact in full sun so there is no need for additional feed to bolster the nutrients of the soil.

Can you use Regular Potting Soil for Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera is specially adapted to growing in gritty soils, therefore regular potting soil is not appropriate for growing aloe vera. As I found from my own experience, ordinary potting soil retains far too much moisture for the aloe vera’s roots to tolerate.

Typically, when aloe vera is planted in ordinary unamended potting soil, the aloe leaves start to turn brown or yellow as a sign of stress (like mine did) due to damp conditions and eventually die of root rot.

(If your aloe vera leaves are turning brown or yellow repot it into new soil and read my article on how to revive a dying aloe vera plant for the solution).

I did an experiment to find out if you can substitute cacti soil for your own soil mix, which is amended with grit, sand, and perlite…

If you do not have access to succulent and cacti soil, the next best solution is to pot aloe vera in regular peat-free potting soil, amended with preferably perlite, grit, or sand.

I have done this personally as an experiment to see the difference it would make… I tried all three soil amendments (perlite, grit, and sand) and mixed them 1 part potting soil to 1 part grit, or sand or perlite.

(At this point I had so many aloe vera pups that I propagated, so I didn’t have to buy any more aloe plants!)

My Findings!

What I found was that the aloe plants that I grew, perlite and grit, actually grew very well. I had to be a bit more mindful when it came to watering because I noticed this potting mix retained moisture for longer compared to my standard ‘succulent and cacti’ potting mix that I bought online.

The aloe plants planted in perlite and grit are still thriving to this day whereas the aloe that I potted up with sand did not grow so well. I determined that perlite and horticultural grit are better soil amendments for aloe vera than sand, as they have a larger particle size which mimics the aloe vera’s preferred gritty soil, more accurately providing an areaeted structure and ensuring good drainage.

The sand was just too fine (even horticutural sand), and my aloe had poor growth that year, and the soil stayed damp for longer, which I think could well result in root rot. (It hasn’t had any problems with root rot yet because I reactively reduce how often I water it to account for the greater moisture retention).

So, in conclusion, if you do not want to buy a commercial succulent and cacti potting mix, you can successfully make your own with 1 part potting soil to 1 part horticultural grit as I did!

This ensures that the soil not only drains well but does not hold onto as much moisture for too long to mitigate the risk of root rot and to replicate the preferred lower nutrients of the aloe vera’s native soil.

Do Not Plant Aloe Vera in Peat Soil

This is a tip I got from a specialist succulent grower…Avoid planting aloe vera (or any succulent) in potting soil that contains peat moss.

We know that Aloe vera requires the soil to dry out between bouts of watering to recreate the natural cycle of moisture in their natural environment, to keep the plant healthy, and to prevent root rot.

However, when peat soil dries out completely, it bakes hard and becomes hydrophobic (repels water), which causes water to run off the surface of the soil and down the side of your pot and out the drainage holes without reaching the aloe vera’s roots.

This prevents the roots from up taking any moisture despite watering and causes the aloe vera to suffer drought stress (the aloe vera leaves turn thin and curl inwards).

Our succulent and cacti soil, however, maintains a porous, open structure even when it has dried out completely, thanks to the large particle size of the soil mix. This allows the water to reach the roots and ensures the aloe vera stays hydrated with thick plump leaves.

Potting Soil, Drainage of Pots, and Watering

The most important factors for keeping aloe vera healthy and free of root rot are:

  • The correct type of potting soil.
  • How often do you water the aloe vera?
  • Planting Aloe vera in pots with drainage holes in the base.

The correct potting soil for indoor aloe vera is essential to keep the plant healthy and should work cohesively with good watering practices by planting aloe vera in pots with drainage holes in the base.

The best way to mitigate root rot and keep your aloe healthy is with the right potting soil, but it is essential that you only water your aloe vera when the potting soil has dried out completely.

When we Allow the soil to dry out completely and then watering with a good soak, we replicate the watering conditions in their native environment and keeps the aloe vera leaves plump and healthy (read my article on how to water aloe vera).

Pro tip: To detect when the soil has dried out, I feel the soil and the bottom of the pot their the drainage hole in the base. If the soil is still moist then I delay watering for another day or so. If the soil feels dry this is the perfect time to water.

A pot with a drainage hole allows excess water to drain through the potting soil and escape freely so that the soil around the roots has the opportunity to dry effectively between bouts of watering.

(Read my article on choosing the best pots for aloe vera).

Key Takeaways:

  • The best potting soil for indoor aloe vera is a succulent and cacti potting mix that emulates the aloe vera’s natural preferred soil conditions. This mix allows for good drainage and aeration around the roots and provides the right balance of nutrients for aloe vera to thrive in pots indoors.
  • Do not plant aloe vera in ordinary potting soil, as it retains too much moisture for the aloe vera to tolerate. Ordinary potting soil does not drain efficiently enough for aloe vera, which is susceptible to root rot if there is too much moisture around the roots
  • Do not plant aloe vera in peat soil as this bakes hard when dry and causes water to run off the surface of the soil and the moisture does not reach the roots where it is required.
  • Plant aloe vera in well-draining gritty, potting soil that replicates their native soil, allow the soil to dry out between bouts of watering, and plant aloe vera in a pot with a drainage hole in the base.

2 thoughts on “Best Potting Soil for Aloe Vera Plants Indoors

  1. Thanks, very informative and helpful article. My aloe appears to be thriving despite the fact that I unknowingly planted it in a potting soil/white sand mix; should I repot it using the cacti/succulent soil? Also, when an older Aloe get large is there anyway to separate into two or more plants. Thanks again for the great info!

  2. Hello Gina!

    Great question. The most important soil characteristics for aloe plants are good drainage and that the soil does not hold onto moisture for too long.

    If your aloe is thriving then I suspect you have created an appropriate potting mix for your aloe that effectively replicates the balance of inorganic material (the white sand) and organic material (the potting soil) for good soil drainage that aloe plants require to stay healthy in their native environment.

    As long as the soil dries out between bouts of watering your aloe should stay healthy.

    A good way to test this is by feeling the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes in the base of the pot. If you can detect moisture then delay watering. If the soil feels somewhat dry then this is the optimal time for watering with a generous soak (typically watering aloe once every 2 weeks is a good schedule, read my article how to water aloe vera for more detail on this).

    As long as your aloe is healthy I recommend that you do not change the soil. However if the aloe leaves turn yellow, brown or black then overwatering or damp soil is usually the cause, in which case scale back the frequency of watering and change the soil to succulent and cacti soil.

    In reference to your other question, aloe plants do not separate as such but they do produce offshoots which can be separated from the main plant (there is a photo of this half way down in my article choosing the best pots for aloe vera).

    Aloe vera is also very easy to propagate from leaf cuttings which is a great way to reduce the size of your aloe and create more plants (there are some great tutorials on YouTube).

    It is also worth noting that aloe plants in full sun stay in a more compact shape, whereas aloe plants in less sun grow taller ( as they look for more light).

    Please feel free to ask, if you have any more questions or need any more clarification on this!

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