How to Save an Aloe Plant with Yellow Leaves

How to save an aloe plant with yellow leaves

Is your once beautifully green aloe plant turning yellow? Do not worry, as this is a problem I have seen many times in my job as a plant manager at a commercial garden center, and in this article, I share my knowledge gained from hands-on experience of how to save a yellowing aloe…

Yellow aloe leaves can indicate the aloe’s roots suffer from root rot because of overwatering and poor drainage. Aloe plants are drought-resistant and need the potting soil to dry out between bouts of watering. Aloe leaves can also turn yellow due to too much direct sunlight.

I have learned that to save an aloe with yellow leaves, we need to mimic the conditions of its native environment by reducing the watering frequency, repotting the aloe in gritty, well-draining soil, and cutting any yellow leaves back to the base with a sharp pair of pruners.

Keep reading for my guide on how I save dying yellow aloe plants…

Why are my Aloe Plants Turning Yellow, Soft, and Mushy?

  • Symptoms. Leaves turn yellow, with a translucent hue and a soft and mushy texture. Leaves also turn yellow and brown.
  • Causes. Root rot and leaf rot due to overwatering and poor drainage.

To save our aloes, it is important that we understand how they grow in the wild…

Aloe plants are native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, where they thrive in hot and dry climates, growing in gritty, well-draining soils that do not retain much moisture with low humidity.

To cope with these conditions, aloe plants have many adaptations to cope with drought, most notably by storing moisture in their thick, fleshy leaves.

Due to the fact that aloe plants have specifically adapted to resist drought, they do not tolerate damp conditions. They are very susceptible to developing leaf or root rot, which turns the leaves a translucent yellow with a soft, mushy texture.

A classic mistake I see is planting or repotting aloe plants in ordinary potting soil, which retains too much moisture for aloe plants to tolerate and lacks the porous structure that allows excess water to drain away from the roots efficiently.

In addition to this watering aloe plants are adapted to a -deluge of rainfall followed by drought- cycle of watering and soil moisture.

If we do not replicate this cycle of water in our home and water too frequently, then the soil does not dry out between bouts of watering, which promotes the conditions for root rot and turns the leaves yellow with a soft, mushy texture and often I find a drooping appearance.

How to Save Aloe Plants with Yellow, Soft Leaves

I save aloe plants with yellow leaves by only watering when the potting soil has dried out completely and planting aloes in gritty, well-draining soil that allows water to drain away from the roots quickly…

  • Scale back the watering until the soil has dried out completely. I have discovered that there are several factors that affect exactly how often you should water your aloe plants, such as the maturity of the plant, the size of the pot, and the climate, so it is difficult to give precise advice on how often to water aloe as it can vary. However…

My favourite method to establish the correct watering schedule for aloe plants according to your conditions,is to feel the soil at the base of the pot through the drainage hole in the base. If feels damp then I delay watering for a few days. If the soil feels dry then this is the perfect time for watering.

  • After you have let the aloe soil dry out for a few days, take the aloe out of the pot and inspect the roots. Healthy roots should feel firm and appear white (or somewhat brown due to discoloration from the soil), whereas diseased roots look brown, feel mushy, and have an unpleasant smell.
  • Cut any diseased roots back with a sharp pair of pruners back to healthy growth to prevent the rot from spreading. I must stress the importance of wiping the blades of the pruners after each cut with a cloth soaked in disinfectant to prevent the spreading of fungal pathogens from diseased roots to otherwise healthy tissue.
  • Once you have cut away the roots, remove any leaves that have turned yellow and brown/translucent by cutting them back to the base of the aloe with a sharp pruning tool to prevent the rotting areas from spreading. I know this may look drastic, but I find the wounds should be callous over in the next day or so.

Sometimes, I have observed aloe leaves that have turned yellow and soft can sometimes revive without cutting the leaves back if you address the environmental problems of overwatering and poor drainage, but I would always recommend cutting these rotting areas back as they have a propensity to spread.

  • Wash any excess soil away from around the roots (as the soil can harbor fungal pathogens that could reinfect your aloe) and re-pot your aloe. Wash the pot out with disinfectant, as the pot can also carry fungal pathogens.
  • Re-pot your aloe plant in special succulent and cacti soil. Specially formulated soil mimics the soil conditions of the aloe’s natural environment with a much more gritty, porous structure, which promotes good drainage.

I must emphasize the importance of repotting your aloe in gritty soil in addition to a good watering schedule because even if you water your aloe plant less often, the soil can still retain moisture for longer than the drought-adapted aloe plant can tolerate, causing the leaves to turn yellow because of root rot.

Best potting soil for indoor aloe vera plants
This is my well-draining, gritty potting mix for aloe plants helps to mitigate the risk of root rot.

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

Always plant aloe plants in pots with drainage holes in the base and empty any saucers, trays, or decorative outer pots of excess water regularly to prevent water from pooling around the base and causing root rot.

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

Once you have repotted the aloe in new potting soil and scaled back the watering, I personally find the aloe plant can grow new roots and recover in as little as three weeks if done during active growth (Spring and Summer).

Two more tips that help mitigate the risk of root rot pertaining to repotting are:

  1. Repot your aloe into a terracotta or unglazed clay pot, as they are porous. Terracotta and clay pots are by far my favorite pots for succulents as they allow the potting soil to dry evenly. If you reduce the amount of time it takes for the soil to dry evenly slightly then this can keep the aloe healthy and prevent the leaves from turning yellow. Plastic and ceramic pots are impermeable and, therefore, have the potential to retain moisture for longer. I have observed that problems with overwatering are always more common for plants that are planted in plastic pots.
  2. Plant your aloe in a pot that is proportional to the size of the plant. A larger pot has a greater capacity for soil and, therefore, a greater capacity to retain moisture. Repotting aloe plants in a pot that is similar in size or only an inch or 2 in diameter larger than the previous pot ensures that the potting soil dries out at a similar rate.

(To learn more, read my article on the best pots for aloe vera).

Here is a YouTube video that I recommended with a great visual guide for cutting back the roots and yellow, mushy, rotting parts of the aloe:

Why Are My Aloe Plants Turning Yellow at the Tips of the Leaves?

If your aloe is turning yellow at the tips, then this indicates the aloe is in too much direct sunlight. Aloe plants prefer a few hours of sun but adapt to their lighting conditions.

I see this problem far more often for people who have recently moved the aloe from indoors to outdoors, as the contrast in the intensity of sunlight can cause a yellow/brown coloration to the tips as a sign of stress.

Aloe plants can tolerate several hours of direct sunlight (as they are adapted to desert environments) but I must caution that they need time to acclimate to the increased light intensity.

If the light is suddenly significantly more intense (because you have just moved the pot to a sunny window sill or outdoors), the aloe does not have the time to acclimatize.

Whether your aloe plant’s tips recover and return to their green color depends on the severity of the stress from the sunlight, but from what I have seen, they do often recover.

What I recommend that you do is…Move the aloe plant to an area of bright indirect light and sequentially expose the aloe to more sunlight over the course of 2 or 3 weeks (for example, move the pot to a sunnier location for 20 minutes longer each day before moving it back to the indirect light).

This allows the aloe to react to its surroundings and protect itself from harsh direct sunlight to stay green and healthy.

(Read my article, how to revive a dying aloe vera).

Key Takeaways:

  • Aloe leaves turn yellow and soft with a translucent hue because of too much water around the roots due to overwatering and poor drainage. Aloe plants are drought-resistant and need gritty, well-draining soil and infrequent watering to prevent root rot from turning the leaves yellow.
  • Cut back any leaves that are yellow and soft back to the base of the plant with a sharp pair of pruners to prevent the rot from spreading to healthy green leaves.
  • Aloe leaf tips turn yellow due to too much direct sunlight. It is important to expose aloe to more light gradually so it has time to acclimatize rather than moving the pot into intense direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves.
  • To save an aloe with yellow leaves, recreate the conditions of the aloe’s native environment by planting the aloe in gritty, well-draining soil and only watering when the potting soil is dry. Cut back any yellow, soft, mushy leaves back to the base with pruners to prevent the rot from spreading to healthy green leaves.

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