How to Water Aloe Vera Plants

Choosing the best pots for aloe vera

I love aloe vera plants, and they are one of the first succulents I bought when I first got interested in houseplants. However I made the classic mistake of watering it too often and it turned soft and mushy! Has this happened to you too?

Since then, I have studied botany and actually work at a garden center cultivating succulents like aloe vera, so I’ve been able to gain first hand experience and talk to expert growers who taught me all the tips and secrets to water aloe vera successfully and avoid root rot.

In this post, I’ll share with you all the methods and techniques for watering that actually work in a step-by-step guide. I know what works because I now water succulents at work as part of my responsibilities!

For those of you in a rush, here is my 2 sentence explanation…

Aloe vera are drought-resistant plants and should only be watered when the soil around the roots has dried out completely. Typically, watering aloe vera once every 14 days allows the soil to dry out between bouts of watering to meet aloe vera’s water requirements without causing root rot.

As I said, it is imperative to get the watering right with aloe vera as they are susceptible to root rot which is caused by watering too often and slow draining soils.

We also need to know that aloe vera has different water requirements at different times of the year as they enter a state of dormancy in reaction to hot temperatures in Summer as a survival strategy to conserve water.

Therefore, our aloe vera’s demand for water fluctuates throughout the year.

The most important thing I learned was that watering aloe vera properly should be in conjunction with the appropriate well-draining, succulent, and cactus soil mix to mitigate the risk of root rot, so I talk about that too in this article.

Keep reading for how often and how much to water your aloe in the Summer and Winter months and for the correct potting mix to ensure your aloe vera stays healthy…

How Often to Water Aloe Vera (Indoors and Outdoors)

For us to understand how to water our aloe vera plants, I always think it is best if we undertsand how they grow in the wild…

Aloe Vera plants are succulents that are adapted to growing in climates that experience frequent drought with full sun and infrequent rainfall.

As you can see, their thick, fleshy leaves are designed to store as much water as possible.

As aloe vera are adapted to harsh, hot, and dry climates, they are very susceptible to over-watering when cultivated by gardeners. (Myself included!)

In my job at the garden center, I was taught that to water aloe vera effectively, we need to emulate the watering conditions of their native environment to meet their moisture requirements while replicating the drought conditions to which they are adapted.

Therefore our Aloe vera plants should only be watered when the soil around the roots has dried out completely. In my experience, this typically this means I have to water my aloe vera once every 14 days.

However, I have grown all kinds of succulents for many years, and I can tell you that there is no universal watering advice that applies to all aloe vera plants in all scenarios!

I have learned firsthand that the length of time that it takes for the soil to dry around the roots varies depending on different growing conditions, such as:

  • The humidity and temperatures of your climate (higher humidity reduces water loss from the leaves and lowers the aloe’s demand for water).
  • The size of the pot or containers (smaller pots dry out much quicker than larger pots).
  • The type of pot (clay and terracotta dry out more quickly than plastic and ceramic pots and planters).
  • Whether the aloe is indoors and in a current of air-con or forced air or outdoors and in an open area with more airflow (excess wind can sap moisture from the leaves).
  • The rate of drainage from the soil (aloe vera needs to be planted in well-draining soil).

After much trial and error I have found that the most reliable way to establish how often to water aloe vera plants to suit your climate, is to feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole to determine whether it is moist or dry.

If the soil feels moist through the base of the pot then I delay watering for another day or so, but if the soil feels dry this is the perfect to water your aloe vera plant.

I’ve found the reason this is so effective is because it mimics the natural watering cycle to which the aloe is accustomed and ensures the aloe has enough water to stay healthy and grow, yet the soil dries sufficiently so that you avoid any problems with root rot.

This is the same method of establishing a watering schedule that I use whether your aloe is indoors or outdoors, as root rot due to watering too often is always the biggest threat to an aloe vera.

If you find it inconvenient to feel the soil through the drainage pot of your aloe pot here are my other technques that I use…

Pro Tip: I lift my aloe vera pot up after I’ve watered it to assess its weight. The pot should feel reassuringly heavy after watering, and I lift it up periodically over the week. Once the pot feels much lighter, I know the soil has dried, and it is a good time to water.

Avoid this common watering mistake! I tested using moisture meters extensively, which should tell you when the soil is dry. What I found was they often told me the soil was dry when, in fact, it was still damp, which on one occasion resulted in root rot as the soil did not dry out between bouts of watering.

However, it is important to note that aloe vera goes into a state of dormancy in reaction to high temperatures during summer, and it actually reduces its demand for water, which is a survival strategy for drought.

Aloe also requires watering less often in the Winter…

How Often to Water Aloe Vera in the Summer

Interestingly enough, our Aloe Vera plants have a period of summer dormancy as a strategy to conserve water during the hottest and driest times of the year.

If the temperatures are high enough during their summer dormancy, the aloe vera essentially stops growing, which significantly reduces its demand for water.

(There are several reasons for aloe vera to stop growing, read my article for why this is and how to solve it).

From my research I discovered that it is when temperatures consistently exceed 80°F (27° C) that the aloe vera’s growth slows down as it conserves moisture.

It is during the hotter Summer months that the aloe plant is more susceptible to the affects of over watering so it can be necessary to scale how often you water.

This took some extensive trial and error on my part, but after many hot summers (I used to live in Southern California) I found that watering Aloe Vera once every 2 or so weeks during the hottest weeks of Summer is appropriate whilst the plant is dormant.

I know this doesn’t differ greatly from my rule of thumb of growing aloe vera every 14 days, but what I’ve found happens is that when temperatures get really hot in Summer, a lot of beginner houseplant owners greatly increase their watering frequency, which is the right thing to do for leafy houseplants such as monstera, but not for succulents!

Again we have to think about how our aloe vera grow in the wild! This reduced frequency of watering replicates the Summer conditions of the aloe’s native environment with less frequent rainfall and longer periods of high temperatures and drought.

How Often to Water Aloe Vera in the Winter

Of course, whilst there is a summer dormancy, as you can imagine, there is a winter dormancy. I’ve found aloe plants should be watered less often in Winter for several reasons:

  • The optimal temperature for growth is 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C). If your Winter temperatures are consistently cooler the 55°F then the growth rate slows down and the aloe veras demand for water is reduced.
  • Fewer hours of sun, low intensity of sunlight. With shorter days in Winter, the aloes rate of growth slows down and the rate at which the soil dries out also decreases.
  • The soil stays moist for longer in Winter because of lower temperatures. Watering aloe vera with the same frequency in Winter as in the Spring or Fall causes the soil to be too damp for aloe vera which increases the risk of root rot.

Of course, as we talked about earlier, you must wait till the soil dries out before watering your aloe vera in Winter to mitigate any risk of root rot.

Due to the amount of variables, it is difficult to give universal advice on how often to water aloe vera during Winter due to differences in climates and conditions.

However, in my experience, watering once every 3 to 4 weeks in Winter is typically a good balance to meet the aloes watering requirements whilst keeping the soil sufficiently dry to avoid root rot. This style of watering works for me!

However, as I suggested earlier I monitor the soil as much as possible to establish your watering schedule for Winter. We need to tailor our watering schedules to our aloe plants in our climate rather than follow generic watering advice that I read elsewhere online.

Testing your soil moisture by feeling the soil through the drainage hole at the bottom is always the best way to accurately tell when your soil has dried all the way through and, therefore, when the best time for watering your aloe is.

How to Tell if Aloe Vera is Watered Too Often or Not Often Enough

I can tell you from my own experiences that if you are watering aloe vera more than once per week, then you are almost certainly overwatering.

Overwatered Aloe Vera

The symptoms of an overwatered aloe vera are leaves that turn brown or yellow with a drooping appearance. The leaves also have a mushy texture.

What happened to my own aloe vera when I overwatered was that it turned mushy first, and then the mush turned brown and eventually black. I observed that a mushy patch was spreading. (I had to cut off the leaf to save my plant!)

If the aloe vera leaves are turning yellow or brown, then scale back the watering immediately and allow the soil to dry out to give the aloe a chance to revive.

(For more help with a dying aloe vera plant, read my article How to revive a dying aloe vera plant)

Under Watered Aloe Vera…

In my experience, problems with underwatering are far more rare as aloe vera is exceptionally tolerant to drought as it grows in desert conditions.

However, the symptoms of underwatering are the leaves of aloe vera shrivel curling inwards, and drooping when the plant is not being watered frequently enough.

In this case, the solution is to is to give the aloe a good soak at the roots, then wait for the soil to dry again in the following 2 or 3 weeks and soak it again.

When this happened to me, I tested submerging the pot of my underwatered aloe in a basin of lukewarm water for 10 minutes, which was a great way to rehydrate the soil.

My aloe recovered from its shriveled and wilted appearance with 2 or 3 cycles of watering, and the leaves should look healthy and feel firm and plump rather than shriveled.

If your aloe leaves are curling inwards, read my article Aloe Vera Leaves Curling for the solution)

How Much to Water Aloe Vera

Through my experience, I’ve observed that whilst many factors influence how often to water aloe vera, the amount of water should always stay the same regardless.

The secret is to always water your aloe vera at the base with a generous amount of water to soak the surrounding soil.

The reason I Water with a really generous soak is that there is enough water to infiltrate the soil and reach the roots of the aloe where it is required.

Again we take cues for how to water our aloe plants from their native environment as this recreates the natural watering cycle of a heavy downpour or rain followed by a period of drought, to which the aloe vera is habituated.

Watering heavily encourages the roots of your aloe to establish in the soil to further increase the plant’s resistance to drought so that the roots can access the nutrients that they require.

A classic mistake I see is when people water too lightly.

I’ve spoken to lots of friends who say their aloe vera is dying despite watering.

When I question them it turns out that they are watering too lightly then only the top inch or so of the soil is moist and the roots cannot access the water they need which results in symptoms of drought stress such as shriveling leaves.

It turns out that they misinterpreted the advice that “aloe vera does not need much water” to mean that it does not require a good quantity of water when really the advice is misleadingly referring to aloe vera not needing watering as often as most houseplants!

So give your succulents a good soak, okay?!

(Succulent leaves can shrivel due to both underwatering and overwatering. To establish which is the problem for your aloe plant and to therefore implement the correct solution, read my article Why are my succulent leaves shriveling?)

Aloe Vera Needs Well Draining Soil To Compliment Proper Watering

This is the mistake that I see most people make.

Whilst establishing how often to water your aloe is critical for growing success, it is equally important that they grow in the appropriate well-draining soil to avoid root rot.

Aloe vera plants do not grow well in normal potting soil or compost as it stays moist for too long after watering, which causes the aloe leaves to turn brown or yellow as a sign of stress due too much moisture around the roots.

As we discussed, our aloe vera grows in very sandy or gritty soils that are very porous, drain very quickly, and do not hold very much moisture in its native environment in Oman.

Therefore, to grow aloe very successfully, we must replicate the well-draining soil characteristics that aloe vera requires to stay healthy.

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

One of the first things I learned when taking care of aloes is that aloe vera should be planted in potting soil that is specially formulated for succulents and cacti (which is available at garden centers or on Amazon) which contains a higher proportion of inorganic material (sand, grit, and stone) to promote soil drainage and mimic the soil conditions preferred by aloe vera.

Once I started potting my aloes in this special soil (I got my bag of soil from a garden center, but it is available online), I found that it is so well draining that it is actually more forgiving if you overwater your plant, so I highly recommend it!

A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing aloe vera plants.
A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing aloe vera plants.

Plant Aloe Vera in Pots with Drainage Holes in the Base

Even as succulents go, I’ve found that aloe vera is particularly sensitive to too much moisture around its roots, so it must be planted in pots and container drainage holes so that excess water can escape and the soil dries out between bouts of watering.

As we talked about, watering till you see a trickle of water emerge from the base of your pot through the drainage hole is a great way to ensure you have watered you aloe vera with the right amount so that it reaches the roots.

Of course, we have to remember that in pots or containers without drainage holes, water collects around the roots, causing root rot, and your aloe vera leaves turn brown, yellow, and eventually black due to rot.

(Read my article Why is my aloe vera limp?)

There are several reasons that I have encountered as to why water could be draining slowly from your pot despite drainage holes in the base.

  • The use of a saucer or tray underneath your pot. Often saucers and trays are placed beneath pots to prevent watering spilling in your home. The saucer must be emptied regularly rather than allowing water to pool around the base of the pot as this can keep the soil around the roots too damp for the aloe to tolerate.
  • Roots or compacted soil can block drainage holes. If you notice your soil draining slowly, then check the base of the pot to ensure that excess water can escape freely.
  • Decorative outer pots can prevent water from escaping. Aloe vera, sold in stores, is sometimes planted in a plastic pot with drainage holes rather than displayed in a decorative outer pot that does not have drainage holes, which causes excess water to pool around the roots, resulting in root rot.

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

Do you have any insights about watering aloe vera? Or do you have any further questions? Please let me know in the comments below!!

Key Takeaways:

  • Aloe vera is adapted to tolerate drought and needs the soil to dry out completely between watering bouts. Water aloe vera once every 14 days with a generous soak to meet its moisture requirements without causing root rot. Check that the soil has dried out before watering aloe vera plants.
  • Aloe vera should be watered less often in the Summer. It is in a state of dormancy in Summer, a survival strategy for drought and hot temperatures. Water aloe vera once every 3 or 4 weeks in Summer to avoid root rot.
  • Water aloe vera less often in Winter as fewer hours of light and cold temperatures slow the rate at which the soil around the roots dries out and slows the growth of the aloe vera plant, reducing its demand for water.
  • Plant aloe vera in well-draining soil that replicates the sandy and gritty soil in its native environment to prevent the aloe vera roots from rotting.

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