Why are My Aloe Vera Leaves Curling? (How to Save it)

Why are my aloe vera leaves curling

Are your aloe vera leaves curling inwards, and are you not sure why? The exact same thing happened to me when I first started growing aloe vera! It was literally my first houseplant! So I did some research and found that…

Aloe vera leaves curl inwards due to drought stress. Aloe vera stores water in its leaves. If the aloe is not watered often enough or watered too lightly, the aloe consumes the moisture stored in its leaves to survive, which causes it to curl inwards.

My mistake was caused the Aloe vera leaves to curl was because I misinterpreted the advice that “aloe vera does not need much water” to mean that they should be watered with a small quantity of water when actually, from research aloe vera require less frequent watering than most plants but should always be watered with a generous soak.

I was taught that a generous soak ensures enough water infiltrates the soil to reach the roots. However, I learned that the aloe prefers the soil to dry out between bouts of watering to replicate the watering cycle of their native desert habitat.

Aloe leaves also curl up due to the soil not absorbing water properly and because of certain environmental factors can cause them to dry out too quickly.

Keep reading about what conditions are causing your aloe vera leaves to curl and how you can save them…

(Note that leaves can droop rather the curl due to overwatering and lack of light, in which case read my article on how to revive a dying aloe vera for the solutions).

Aloe Vera Leaves Curling Inwards Indicates Drought Stress

So if we are to undertsand why our aloe leaves are curling INWARDS, then we need to undertsand how they grow in their native environment…

Aloe vera are succulents that store water in their leaves as a survival strategy for growing in climates of infrequent rainfall, gritty well-draining soils, and high temperatures in their native range of Oman in the Arabian peninsula.

My research tuaght me that when aloe is suffering from drought stress the leaves start to curl inward, become thinner and concave as they plant depletes its remaining stored water.

This is in contrast to a healthy aloe vera leaf, which should look thick, plump, and fleshy, which indicates the optimal amount of watering.

Healthy aloe vera.
How healthy aloe vera should look with thicker leaves.

I discovered that there are several reasons for drought stress that can cause your aloe vera leaves to curl inwards, which I listed below in the order or prevalence:

  1. Watering the aloe too lightly (aloes require a generous soak).
  2. Not watering frequently enough (aloe are drought tolerant but still require scheduled watering).
  3. Aloe vera is located in the current of air-con, forced air, or excess wind (too much airflow can sap the leaves of moisture and dry out the soil quicker).
  4. Sources of heat indoors can heat up the soil and drive water loss from the leaves.
  5. High sun exposure and temperatures (aloe prefer some sun, but several hours of intense sun and heat can dry the plant out quicker).
  6. Water-repellent soil (When soil that contains peat dries out, it can bake hard, which repels water off the surface, and water drains down the side of the pot without actually reaching the roots.
  7. Lower humidity can also increase transpiration from the leaves.

I’ve seen that all these factors can increase the rate at which the soil dries, increase the rate at which aloe vera loses moisture from the leaves and in the case of light watering and water repellent soil, prevent water from reaching the aloes roots.

How I Revived My Aloe Vera with Curling Leaves

Watering Aloe Correctly to Restore Curl Leaves

What we need to think about is that whilst aloes do not require watering as frequently as other plants, they must be watered with a really generous soak, so that the moisture can infiltrate the soil and reach the roots.

A good soak also encourages the roots to grow and establish in the soil, which further increases the aloe vera’s resistance to drought.

A classiuc mistake to avoid is watering too lightly. If you water too lightly only the top inch or so of the soil becomes moist and the moist does not soak down and reach the roots where it is required causing the leaves to curl inward.

I recommend always watering aloe vera with a generous quantity so that water visibly trickles out the base of the pot.

This ensures the water has reached the roots so that they can uptake the moisture they require so that the leaves return to normal after 2 or 3 cycles of watering.

From experience, I can tell you that there is no universal advice for how often to water aloe as it depends on many variables such as climate, sunlight, and humidity.

The most important thing I learned about keeping aloe vera is that how often you should water your aloe vera is dependent on the rate at which the soil dries out.

My personal method for establishing how often to water your aloe according to your climate is to give the soil a good soak and then monitor the soil’s moisture.

To test the soil moisture, I feel the soil through the drainage hole in the base at the bottom of the pot.

If the soil is moist then I delay water for a few days. If they soil feels dry then this is the perfect time for watering.

The reason I advise you to water this way is that this cycle of a good soak followed by soil that dries out replicates the conditions of the aloe vera’s native environment, with a downpour of rain followed by a period of drought and keeps the leaves plump and healthy whilst also avoiding root rot.

I have lived in both hot climates (In southern California) and temperate climates (in the Pacific Northwest) and typically, I found watering once about every 2 weeks is a good watering routine for most climates but we need to remember that the demand for water can fluctuate as aloe vera can be dormant at certain times of the year.

(For exactly how often and how much to water your aloe vera in Summer and Winter, read my article on how to water aloe vera plants).

I’ve tested a few methods to restore aloes with curling leaves and the best by far is to place the aloes pot in a basin of water for around 10 minutes. to allow the parched soil to soak up the water so that the roots get a good drink and a head start for the curl leaves to recover.

Whenever I do this, I find the aloe starts to look better by the end of the day, and by 2 or 3 watering cycles, my aloe’s plump appearance is restored.

Water Repellent Soil Causing Leaves to Curl

Sometimes, I’ve seen that gardeners diligently follow the correct best practices of watering their aloe plants and yet the leaves still curl due to drought stress.

At first, this baffled me too, but I did my research and found out this is usually because the aloe is planted in potting soil that contains peat, which turns hydrophobic (repels water) when it dries out.

When the soil dries out between bouts of watering (which it should between watering aloe vera) certain potting soils can bake to a hard texture which prevents water from infiltrating the soil and reaching the roots of your aloe vera.

What happens is that water then runs off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot and tickles out the base of the pot.

This can give the impression that your aloe vera is well watered when, in reality, the soil around the roots remains dry.

You’ll notice this if you see water trickling from the base of the pot immediately after watering. It should usually take a few seconds to infiltrate through the soil if it is planted in the right soil.

The water-repellent soil then causes a period of extended drought, despite watering, and causes the leaves of your aloe vera to curl inwards and turn thin rather the thick and plump.

How to Solve it

If you soil is water-repellent and contains peat, then you should re-pot your aloe vera in a well-draining soil mix.

There are two reliable ways that I have tested to tell if the surface of your soil is repelling water:

  • Watch it closely when watering to see if there is any evidence of the water soaking into the soil or if roughly the same quantity of water that you use drains out the bottom of the pot, which indicates it is not absorbing into the soil properly.
  • I use a chopstick and push it into the soil around the root ball. If the chopstick emerges dry, then water will not infiltrate it properly.
  • I pick up the aloe’s pot after watering. If the potting medium has absorbed the water properly the pot should feel noticeably heavier. However, if the pot is suspiciously light, you’ll know that the water has not soaked into the soil properly.

So how do we solve this?

My method is to re-pot my aloe in a special succulent and cactus potting mix (available from garden centers and on Amazon), which is specifically formulated to emulate the well-draining soil characteristics of the aloe vera’s native environment.

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

A succulent soil mix contains more grit and sand which improves drainage and importantly, it retains a porous structure that allows water to infiltrate the soil even when its dries out.

I can tell you from experience that succulent soil mix is the best potting for aloe vera as it helps to maintain the optimal balance of moisture so that water reaches the roots yet drains quickly enough to prevent root rot which is a common problem for aloe vera.

This allows the water to reach your aloe’s root to provide some much-needed hydration for the curled-in leaves.

I would take your aloe out its pot and run the roots under a tap (ideally with lukewarm water) and use a chopstick to pry the soil away from the roots. Then its very easy to pot up your aloe with a gritty succulent mix (i buy mine from the local garden center, but it is also available online).

As I said before, the aloe usually recovers with 2 or 3 cycles of watering and regains their healthy, plump leaves. In my experience, aloe plants almost always recovers when the leaves curl in as it is just a case of the aloe vera taking up the water it need to replenish its reserves in its leaves.

Indoor Aloe Vera Leaves Curling

Whilst the leaves of aloe vera can curl whether they are indoors or outdoors, there are several factors for aloe vera indoors that can increase the rate at which the plant dries out that we need to think about…

Air conditioning, forced air and readiators create air currents in your home and can increase the temperature significantly at night, which is usually when temperatures cool in the aloe’s native habitat.

This can sap moisture from the aloe vera’s soil at a quicker rate than the roots uptake the water and cause the leaves to curl inwards as a result. This happened to me as my aloe vera was sat above a radiator, and the soil was completely dried out in less than a day!

Also, I’ve noticed because of lower humidity indoors, the potting soil typically dries out at a much quicker rate than it does outdoors.

Consider these factors when establishing your watering cycle, as indoor aloe vera usually requires watering more frequently than outdoors.

However, I must emphasize that generic watering advice is not helpful as the rate at which aloe vera dries out (so that the leaves curl) can depend on many factors.

Therefore I would always use the method of monitoring soil moisture by feeling the soil through the drainage holes to establish when the soil has dried out from its last bout of watering before watering your aloe again.

This balance ensures hydrated leaves and prevents root rot.

With the optimal watering frequency, the leaves of the aloe can recover from their curled-up appearance in the following weeks.

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

Outdoor Aloe Vera Leaves Curling

If your outdoor aloe vera leaves are curling inwards, then i would attribute this to higher levels of sun exposure and perhaps wind is drying out your aloe vera.

This happened to my aloe vera when I lived in a climate hot enough to keep them outdoors (California). What I did was find a more sheltered location for your aloe to prevent excess wind from sapping moisture from the leaves.

I spoke to some local horticulturists in the area, who were much more well-versed in growing succulents outdoors at the time. They taught me that aloe prefers 4-6 hours of morning sun followed by bright indirect light in the afternoon when grown outdoors.

My aloe was in full sun, and if I felt the soil in the evening after watering in the morning, the soil was often dry and drying too quickly for the roots to uptake the moisture, hence the curling leaves. If your aloe is in full sun then it can dry out much quicker causing the leaves to curl inwards.

My Best Tip: I started watering my aloe vera in the evening to give my potted aloes a chance to draw up the water without having to contend with the heat of the day. This was a gamechanger for preventing the leaves from curling inwards.

I would think about increasing the frequency of your watering to suit your climate, and always water with a generous soak so the leaves can recover.

However, as we discussed earlier, you should only water when the soil is dry to avoid problems with root rot.

(If your aloe vera is growing slowly, read my article why is my aloe vera plant not growing?)

Do you have anymore questions or insights about you aloe plants? Please share them below in the comments! I’d love to hear what worked for you!!

Key Takeaways:

  • Aloe vera leaves curl inwards because of drought stress. Aloe vera store water in their leaves, and when the water is depleted, because of drought, the leaves curl inwards.
  • Soil that contains peat can be water repellent when it’s dried out, which prevents water from infiltrating and reaching the aloe’s roots. This causes drought stress, and the leaves curl inwards.
  • Indoors, air currents form air con, and forced air can dry out your aloe quickly, causing the leaves to curl inwards. Outdoors, too much wind causes the leaves to dry out and curl inwards.
  • Revive the aloe by watering it with a generous soak and water according to the climate to prevent leaves from curling inwards.

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