When I say the word “succulent,” your mind probably goes right to the cactus: those tall, skinny, prickly plants in the middle of the sandy desert that retain water because gosh knows arid Africa does not provide them with a lot! Succulents are perhaps best known for their ability to suck up (it’s name makes sense now, doesn’t it?) water; they need to be able to extract droplets of water from even the driest soil due to the usual water shortage in their natural environment. So, what other plants have this amazing ability? There’s gotta be more than the cactus! Meet aloe vera: another member of the succulent family! It most certainly meets the water criteria: more than 95% of an aloe is water! Because aloe is made up of so much water, keeping the plant properly hydrated is always the topic of conversation on aloe-growers’ lips:
- How much water does my aloe need?
- How often should I water it?
- Should I change its watering schedule with the seasons?
But these important watering questions (it’s so easy to overwater a succulent!) inspire a variety of answers, answers that are often conflicting. It’s about time that someone delivers a comprehensive watering guide for the aloe plant, so here’s all the aloe vera watering instructions you could ever need!
Flood Warning: Aloes Are Easy To Drown
Because aloes are succulents, their bodies hold a lot of water. So, even if the soil seems too dry, you are probably okay: the aloe has some water in storage. Unlike other houseplants, the aloe keeps water in its leaves, not the soil until it needs it. It therefore seems like your plant runs out of water before it actually does. Because of the anatomy of the aloe plant, it can easily be overwatered. Overwatering, in fact, is the most common cause of aloe death. So watch out, and read on! No aloe’s are drowning today!
Amount, Please! How Much Do I Water My Aloe?
Aloe experts and experience agree: you only want to water your aloe plant about
- once every week
Although a good guideline to go by, the once-every-seven-days rule has its pitfalls. The environment, season, and plant itself (not all are alike!) can also play a role in when your plant needs to be watered next; it is not just a time factor. So how do you cater to the watering needs of your aloe better? Keep reading!
The Touch Test
Looking for a more foolproof way to make sure your aloe is not receiving too much or too little water? Your thumb is best water test:
- Stick your thumb (or any finger of your choosing).
- Wait for it to reach soil (cue jeopardy music)
- Answer the question: how does the soil feel?
- If the answer is sopping wet, put down that watering can and wait a while to give your aloe more water. If the answer is moist, you can hold out maybe a day or two longer (although, if you want to err on the side of caution, it would be safe to give it some more droplets now). If the answer is dry, water away!
What if I Forget to Water?
Due to the water-carrying nature of aloe veras, they are pretty tough plants to kill–even if you have a black thumb. So if you perform the thumb test and your finger hits soil that is as stiff as a dried up sponge, don’t panic too much. Although you have waited a wee bit too long to water your plant, you have probably not caused it much pain or long-term health issues. Aloes can go for extended stretches of time running on little to no water, so as long as you water your dried aloe as soon as possible after you’ve noticed that you’ve neglected it, your aloe should perk right back up. All is forgiven!
Do Seasons Change Things? A Winter Warning
In the winter months your aloe plant goes into a sort of hibernation mode, becoming dormant (i.e., not growing or blooming very much). For this reason, your aloe will need less water than it does at other times of the year. Without growth, your aloe is not using a lot of energy, meaning it will conserve water as it uses it at a slower rate than it would it if were more active. If that’s not interesting enough, here’s another fun winter water fact: as it gets deeper into the coldness of winter, it is normal for your plant to need even less than it did at the start of winter! Let me put it another way: as winter progress, you watering can should stay heavier longer.
So how does all this information mess with your normal aloe vera watering schedule? Numbers, please! During the winter, decrease how frequently you water your aloe to around:
- once every two weeks
But again, don’t rely on the math. Use that touch test (see above)!
Oops! I OverWatered!
Signs and symptoms of an overwatered aloe include:
- droopy leaves
- stunted growth and no flowering
- fungus and other diseases
But an even clearer sign that you were a little heavy handed with the watering is to just feel the soil. It is squishy and soppy? Yup, your problem is overwatering.
Where Are the Holes? The Importance of Drainage
Do me a favor right now: check out a few things about your aloe right now.
Pot: Take a look at the bottom of your aloe vera pot. Are there holes? If there are, congratulations, you’ve picked an appropriate pot for your aloe. The holes at the bottom allow any excess water to drain out the bottom. Without holes, the water would sit in the pot, potentially causing fungus and other diseases to take over and even kill your aloe. Inadvertent drowning is not a problem you want to deal with just because you forgot to put holes in the bottom of the pot.
Potting Soil: Is your aloe sitting in a potting soil mix that includes sand? If yes, you are halfway to the correct answer! Want to try to get the second part right? What type of sand did you use in your mixture? The correct answer is something like builder’s sand. You want to avoid play sand (the kind you’d find in a sandbox), since the small pieces will actually compact and hold extra water inside the pot when it should be helping the unnecessary water exit the premises.
Fertilizing and Watering: What You Need to Know
Before you use that liquid fertilizer on your aloe (which should really only be done about once a month), make sure you water it and water it well. About 12 hours before you plan to fertilize your plant, give it a nice watering. In this time, the excess water will have time to drain out, but some water will form a nice coating around the roots of your plant to protect it against the powerful chemicals of the fertilizer you are about to use!