How to Revive a Dying Aloe Vera Plant

Aloe vera plant dying

Have you ever turned around to see your once flourishing aloe vera turn back, droopy, and start dying? Me too!

This happened to me when I first started growing succulents more than 10 years ago. Since then, I have studied botany, and I even work in a garden center that cultivates houseplants. I have gained first-hand experience and insider information from my conversations with specialist succulent growers!

I have personally encountered every single reason for aloe vera dying that I talk about in this article, and I’m going to share with you the tips, tricks, and techniques that I use to save succulents such as aloe vera in a step-by-step guide…

Let’s get straight to the point. My 3 sentence explanation is…

The reason for dying aloe vera is often because of root rot due to watering too often and slow-draining soils. Aloe vera needs the soil around the roots to dry out between bouts of watering. If the aloe is in damp soil the leaves turn soft and brown or yellow and the aloe vera dies back.

I’ve learned that if Aloe vera is in too much shade, the leaves droop and turn light green, whilst potted aloe vera that is moved from an area of shade to the sun can burn and turn brown with a scorched appearance.

Essentially, what we must acknowledge is that aloe vera dies when it’s living in conditions that are contrary to the conditions of its natural environment.

For us to revive our aloe vera, we need to emulate the conditions of low rainfall, partial or full sun, and well-draining gritty soils so the aloe can recover.

Aloe vera is also hardy to zone 9a and can die back in cold temperatures, preferring a temperature range of between 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) for optimal growth.

Keep reading for how I save dying aloe vera plants…

Why Are My Aloe Vera Leaves Turning Brown, Yellow and Soft? (Overwatering)

  • Symptoms. The aloe vera leaves turn yellow, brown, or translucent with a soft feel to the leaves.
  • Causes. Watering too often, slow-draining soil, and the use of pots without proper drainage holes in the base can result in root rot.

So, to help us revive our aloe vera, I find it really helpful if we undertsand how aloe vera grows in its native environment…

Aloe vera is a drought-resistant succulent that has adapted to thrive in full sun, gritty, well-draining soil, and infrequent rainfall in its native range of Oman in the Arabian peninsula.

As we discussed, to grow aloe vera successfully and avoid the leaves changing color it is important to recreate some of the conditions of its native environment by using a gritty, well-draining potting soil and watering only when the soil has dried out completely.

A classic mistake that I see people make (I did too!) is watering your aloe too often or planting it is standard potting soil that stays damp for too long can cause too much moisture around the roots for this desert plant to tolerate.

This causes the aloe vera leaves to turn yellow, brown, or translucent, with soft leaves as a sign of water stress. (To my horror!!)

One of the first things I learned when I was taught how to cultivate aloe vera professionally is that you should only water aloe vera when the soil has dried out completely.

However, it is important to note that aloe vera require watering less frequently in Summer as they are dormant and stop growing as a strategy to cope with drought. (If they go dormant and stop growing, then they do not need as much water, which is useful if you are a desert dweller like our aloe vera plants!)

(Read my article on how to water aloe vera to make sure you are watering your aloe correctly during Summer and Winter as their watering requirements fluctuate throughout the year).

I should mention that it is essential that your aloe is planted in a pot that has drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape so that the soil around the roots does not stay damp to avoid root rot.

Step-by-Step, How I Revive Overwatered Aloe Vera

  • Scale back the watering. If you water aloe vera more than once per week, you are overwatering. Aloe veras should only be watered when the soil has dried out completely. Typically, for me, this takes around 14 days, but it can vary depending on your climate, the time of year, and the size of the pot. (I’ll explain this in more detail further down the article…)
  • Replace the potting soil. The most important thing I learned was that even with the right frequency of watering, your aloe vera can still turn yellow or brown if it is in slow-draining soil. If your aloe is in conventional potting soil, then empty the pot and replace it with specially formulated succulent and cacti soil (link to Amazon), which emulates the well-draining soil characteristics of the aloe vera native environment and reduces the risk of water stress.
Aloe vera potting soil.
These are my hands, holding gritty, specially formulated succulent and cacti soil (on the left), which significantly reduces the risk of root rot compared to ordinary potting soil.
  • Plant aloe vera in pots with drainage holes in the base. Trust me, this is a point worth emphasizing because I see a lot of beginner indoor gardeners make this mistake (It’s an easy one to make). It is important to plant aloe in any pot or container as long as it has a drainage hole in the base.
  • Cut any brown, or yellow soft leaves back to the base with a sterlie pair or pruners. This helps to prevent the rot from spreading to the other areas of the aloe plant. The resulting wound may be damp after you cut, but I can assure you the best course of action is to just leave it to callous over, which, in my experience, takes 2 days. After which, the wound should feel more solid, which prevents the plant from being infected.

Pro Tip: Wipe the pruners with a cloth soaked with disinfectant before you make any cuts to your aloe vera. I use hand gel, which works well to sterilizee the pruners. This prevents any infections from affecting the wound.

So here is my method that I use to establish when your aloe vera needs watering (to avoid the leaves turning soft and brown). I feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole. If the soil is damp then I delay watering for a few days. If the soil is dry then this the perfect time to water.

This is the method I was taught when I was put in charge of growing succulents at the garden center where I work, and it works a treat!

I learned the reason it works is because this frequency of watering replicates the natural conditions of a downpour of rain followed by a period of drought, to which aloe is adapted.

Ensure there are no roots or compacted soil that block the drainage holes of your pot and if you are using a saucer or tray underneath the pot, empty it regularly to allow water to escape freely so that the soil can dry out.

Once the aloe’s soil has had a chance to dry out completely and you have adjusted your watering frequency or replaced the soil so it drains suitably quickly for succulents, then the aloe has a chance to revive.

When I did this, my aloe showed signs of recovery over the following weeks, but from experience, aloe plants recover much quicker in the Spring than any other time of year.

Once the aloe starts to show signs of recovery, resume watering again, ensuring that you allow the soil to dry out between each bout of watering.

As I said, if some of the more affected leaves turn limp and may drop off, and if any individual leaves do not look as though they are recovering, you can cut them back to the base with a sterile pair of pruners to reduce overall stress on the plant and promote recovery.

My Experiment: Do Clay Pots Pelp Overwatered Aloe Plants Recover?

I have grown many succulents (particularly aloe vera), and I noticed that the soil of the aloe plants grown in clay or terracotta pots dried out a day or so quicker than those planted in plastic or ceramic pots.

This is advantageous as it creates the favorable dry soil conditions that aloe vera prefers.

I discovered the reason for this is that clay and terracotta are breathable in structure, which allows the aloe vera’s potting soil to dry out more evenly and theoretically mitigates the risk of overwatering and the brown, yellow soft leaves that go with it!

Plastic, by comparison, is impermeable, which means it can retain water around the roots of the aloe for longer.

My Set Up:

I conducted an experiment where I had 4 aloe plants suffering from overwatering (someone at the garden center where I work had overwatered lots of succulents!) and planted 2 of them in clay pots, and planted the other 2 in plastic pots. I had followed the steps I outlined above, by replacing the soil and decreasing the frequency of watering.

The goal here was to see if the aloe vera in the clay pot had a better recovery compared to those planted in a plastic pot.

I monitored the progress…

I watered the 4 pots at the same time, and I can say the potting medium dried out on average 2 days more quickly in clay pots compared with the plastic pots.

This meant that the soil is drying quickly as it would in the aloe vera’s native environment.

And the results…

Out of the 4 aloe vera plants I was trying to save, three aloe vera plants recovered but one of the aloe vera plants panted in plastic succumbed to root rot and died back. The aloe vera in the clay pots started to show signs of recovery more quickly and looked much healthier, and I observed they started to grow again 3 weeks before the aloe in the plastic pot.

My takeaways:

This small experiment taught me that one of the most important factors when caring for and reviving aloe vera is the speed at which the soil dries out; with the quicker, the better.

Clay and terracotta pots are, therefore, my preferred option when I’m trying to save an overwatered aloe vera and to be honest, I grow all my aloe ver and succulents at home in clay pots, and now I haven’t had any problems with overwatering since.

Aloe vera with severe root rot

If the aloe continues to get worse and the leaves get progressively discolored despite best practices of care, then root rot is the cause, at which point, in my experience, it can be very difficult to save aloe vera.

The most effective option is to take cuttings of any healthy remaining offsets for propagation.

Aloe vera propagates readily from off-setts, and it is likely the only way to save your aloe.

Watch this helpful YouTube video for how to easily propagate aloe vera from cuttings to produce lots of extra plants at no extra cost:

(Read my article, how to tell if your aloe plant is overwatered or underwatered).

Why Are My Aloe Vera Drooping and Leaves Dying at the Base?

  • Symptoms. Aloe vera with drooping leaves and a leggy appearance.
  • Causes. Not enough direct light. Aloe vera prefers some sun to grow compact and not to droop.

(Drooping can also indicate overwatering, but it is usually accompanied by yellow or brown leaves.)

From experience, the most common reason for aloe vera leaves drooping is because they are not in enough sun.

The common mistake that I see is that a lot of people locate their aloe in a bright room, but if it does not get direct sunlight, the leaves always droop.

From research I learned that aloe vera have specifically adapted to growing in open areas with around 4-6 hours of sun per day with a preference for morning sun followed by bright indirect light in the afternoon.

What I’ve observed is that if your aloe vera is in the shade, then the leaves can grow very long and weak with lighter green colors, with the leaves eventually drooping down under their own weight.

The lower leaves of the plant often turn brown and die back as the aloe redirects its energy to grow the leaves closer to the center towards light.

The aloe leaves grow initially in the direction of the strongest source of light but usually droop downwards before they reach any direct sun.

With 4-6 hours of direct sun, the aloe stays more compact, and the leaves remain upright.

(If your aloe vera leaves are curling inwards, read my article Aloe vera leaves Curling for how to save it).

How I Revived My Drooping Aloe Vera (Step-by-Step)

Why is my aloe drooping
Here is an aloe I spotted at a garden center with a drooping leaf.
  • The secret is to gradually expose your aloe vera to more sun. What I did was to find an area with around 4-6 hours of direct sunlight for my aloe, but I moved the pot back and forth from shade to more sun over the course of 4 weeks, exposing it to around 20-40 minutes more sun every few days (I can tell you, it is not an exact science, as sometimes the weather was cloudy). If you move aloe vera suddenly from shade to intense direct sun without a chance to acclimatize, then the aloe leaves burn due to the drastic contrast in light intensity. Moving aloe from shade to sun over 4 weeks with more time in direct sunlight each day prevents sunburn as the aloe has the opportunity to adjust.
  • If the center leaves of the aloe are still upright but the outer leaves are drooping, then I cut back the drooping outer leaves to the base. I’ve learned firsthand to not trim down individual leaves halfway as they do not regrow from the wound. Also, my severely weakened drooping leaves often did not stand back up, so I removed any growth that was very light green and too weak to stand, leaving the remaining center leaves. Cutting back encourages more aloe leaves to grow, and the plant can recover.
  • For aloes that have been in the shade for too long, I can tell you that my experience is that the leaves are too weakened to stand back up again and no amount of sunlight can fix it. The only way to revive it is to take cuttings from the healthiest-looking leaves for propagation. Aloe can propagate from drooping leaves and produce a strong new plant.

How I Revive Sun Burnt Aloe Vera

As we discussed, aloe vera thrives when it is located in 4-6 hours of direct sun.

However, aloe vera leaves can turn brown due to sunburn if they are moved from an area of shade to full sun which is what has happened to me in the past.

I theorized that this happened as I bought an aloe vera from a store and it had been shaded for a period of time whilst on display.

I discovered that aloe vera does its best to adapt to the lower level of light when indoors, and the leaves turn to a lighter green rather than their characteristic dark green.

Then, when I brought the aloe home and planted it in a pot, I located it in full sun, and it was the middle of Summer (in California) when the sunlight was at its most intense!

I personally observed how the contrast in light intensity causes the more light-sensitive leaves to burn and commonly turn brown.

As I mentioned earlier our aloe veras require a slow introduction to more light by exposing the aloe vera to more sun every day over the course of 4 weeks to avoid sunburn.

Once the aloe leaves are brown and burnt, they do not return to a healthy color (the aloe does not die back necessarily), but the aloe vera can carry on living.

So, I revived my aloe for aesthetic reasons and cut individual leaves back down to the stem or base to encourage new growth or propagate from any remaining healthy green growth if there is extensive sunburn.

The other option is to keep it growing and then wait for an offset to appear (which happens a lot in Spring and Summer) nad then propagate this healthy plant.

This is an aloe leaf with a white substance called Epicuticular wax or farina which helps to protect the aloe vera from intense sunlight.

Something else that can happen is if you are touching the leaves too often or perhaps wiping the leaves with the misapprehension that the white substance on the leaf (as shown in my photo) is dust, then this can wipe off the Epicuticular wax or farina which is your aloe vera’s sunscreen!

From my research, I’ve learned that this is produced naturally by aloe vera to help it cope with the blazing sun in its native environment. Once you have remove it then I would just make sure your aloe vera is in morning sun rather then afternoon sun which reduces the risk of sunburn!

When this happened to one of my succulents the wax was visible again in around 3 weeks.

My Method for Reviving Aloe Vera Not Growing

If your aloe vera does not appear to be growing then I can assure you, this does not mean that it is dying, and it is part of its seasonal cycle.

I was taught that aloe vera enters a state of dormancy in the Summer, typically when the temperature consistently exceeds 80°F (27°F).

At this point, aloe vera stops growing as a survival strategy to conserve water during times of intense heat and drought.

My aloe vera always resumes growing in cooler temperatures in the Fall and Spring, but growth should also slow down in the Winter as a reaction to fewer hours of sun.

In the Summer and the Winter, aloe vera is more susceptible to overwatering as the demand for water is lower in Summer due to dormancy, and, in Winter, the soil tends to dry out more slowly, so scale back the watering in Summer and Winter.

For more on why aloes stop growing and the best practices for caring for them, read my article, Why has my aloe vera stopped growing?

Do you have any more questions about Aloe vera or any interesting insights? If so, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!!!

Key Takeaways:

  • Aloe vera dies from overwatering and slow-draining soils. It is drought-resistant and requires the soil to dry out between waterings. Aloe vera develops root rot in consistently damp soil, with leaves turning brown or yellow and dying back.
  • Aloe vera leaves droop when they are in the shade as they grow longer and weaken, looking for more light. To prevent drooping, grow aloe vera in 6 hours of sun.
  • Aloe vera can suffer sunburn leaves when moved from an area of shade to full sun. Aloe veras require time to acclimatize to intense direct sunlight.
  • Revive aloe vera plants by replicating their natural environments with full sun and gritty, well-draining soil, and only water them when the soil has dried out completely around the roots.

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