Aloe is a great plant to keep on hand- not only because of its unique look but its multiple uses as well. According to Healthline, aloe vera plant is helpful as a:
- Sunburn soother
- Wound healer
- Digestive aid
To keep this lovely and useful plant healthy, the right soil makes all the difference.
The best soil for aloe vera resists compacting and has a light, fluffy texture that allows water to freely flow through. Aloe soil includes non-absorbent ingredients like perlite, sand, bark chunks or pumice to increase soil drainage and aeration. Aloe plants prefer soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, typically 7.0 to 8.5, but will tolerate pH as low as 6.5.
Since soil is such a key factor to your plant’s health, we’re taking a take a deep dive into soil qualities for aloe vera and how to get the perfect blend for your plant.
Let’s get started!
Why Aloe Needs Specialized Soil
Aloe vera is a succulent plant, meaning that it stores water in its chunky leaves. Its native habitat includes harsh, desert-like regions around the world.
Think about water and soil moisture in desert climates. Since there’s so little rain, the lower levels of soil almost immediately suck up whatever precipitation does occur. And the hot sun quickly evaporates much of what’s left.
Thanks to these two factors, the upper soil levels in the desert remain dry almost all the time. And that’s where aloe vera likes to grow in the wild.
Because it’s adapted to growing in dry soil, aloe vera grows best in soil that drains freely and allows air to reach the roots. Also, aloe is prone to root rot, a dangerous condition brought on by an overgrowth of fungi that thrive in damp soil.
If allowed to progress, root rot will turn your aloe’s roots soft, brown and incapable of absorbing oxygen or nutrients. The roots can no longer sustain the plant, eventually causing your aloe to die.
So you definitely don’t want root rot getting a foothold, and using appropriate aloe vera soil is one of the best ways to prevent that. Sandy, loose soil allows water to drain away rapidly, unlike dense, water-retentive soil that just traps moisture around your plant.
Is All-Purpose Potting Mix Safe for Aloe Vera?
There are plenty of great all-purpose potting mixes out there, and they usually claim to have ingredients for “enhanced drainage” or something similar. While they’re usually light, fluffy and better-draining than your standard garden soil, all-purpose potting mix is not safe for aloe vera.
Why is that? It just doesn’t drain well enough for a desert native like aloe vera.
All-purpose potting mix usually has a large percentage of peat moss, coco coir or other water-retaining ingredients with a relatively low percentage of sand, perlite, rocks or other drainage-promoting materials.
That’s a great blend for many tropical houseplants, but you’ve got to go the extra mile to give aloe vera the fast drainage and airy soil texture it needs.
The good news is that you can amend all-purpose potting mix to meet the needs of aloe, which we’ll cover in more detail in the next section.
But never plant your aloe in all-purpose potting mix straight from the bag– that’s a recipe for disaster.
Aloe Vera Soil Mix Recipe
Many aloe growers prefer to blend their own aloe soil since they have more control over what goes into their soil. Also, if you have many aloe plants to pot up, making your own soil can be more cost-effective.
Everyone has their own special recipe that they like to follow, and you’ll probably develop your own proprietary blend over time as well. But this recipe is a great starting point you can customize through experimentation, or you can use it as-is and get pretty reliable results:
- 1 part all-purpose potting soil
- 1 part perlite OR 1 part pumice
- 1 part coarse sand
- ½ part compost (you can make this yourself or buy pre-made compost at a garden center; it’s expensive online!)
The sand, pumice and perlite elements help add the fast drainage and good soil aeration that aloe needs. Thanks to their non-absorbent nature, water flows right past them so there’s no excess moisture sitting in the soil. And the compost serves as a light fertilizer.
Here’s an example that would yield 3.5 cups of aloe soil:
- 1 cup of regular potting
- 1 cup of coarse sand
- 1 cup of perlite OR pumice
- 1/2 cup of compost
With 3.5 cups of finished aloe soil, you should be able to fill about one 5-inch pot or two 2-inch pots.
It’s best to use your mixed soil right away, but you can also store leftover aloe soil in an air-tight plastic bag if need be. Because the soil contains organic ingredients, it can start growing mold, so be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible and keep it at room temperature.
If you can, try to use it within a couple of months, and discard it if you see any mold growth.
Best Bagged Soils for Aloe Vera
So you can make your aloe soil pretty easily. But if you’re like me, you prefer to pick up pre-made bagged soil specially formulated for aloe and other succulent plants.
There are a lot of great choices out there for succulent soil, so many that it can easily get overwhelming. Here are three solid choices to help you cut your shopping time down a bit:
1. Espoma Organic Cactus Mix
This is the one I personally use for my own aloe and succulents, and I’ve been pleased with the results. It has a light, well-draining texture that doesn’t get compacted and holds just the right amount of moisture to nourish your plant.
Here’s what the texture looks like:
The soil mix contains:
- Sphagnum peat moss
- Yucca extract
- Limestone (to adjust pH)
This soil also contains Myco-Tone, Espoma’s proprietary blend of mycorrhizae, which are helpful fungi that enhance plant growth and health.
Working together, these ingredients make it an excellent product for aloe vera due to the moisture balance, drainage capacity, and pH.
2. Perfect Plants All-Natural Succulent Soil
This soil offers a nice balance of drainage and nutrition to keep your aloe healthy and thriving. To accomplish that, it uses these primary ingredients:
- Coco coir
- Composted pine bark
So you’ve got excellent drainage thanks to the perlite, sand and bark chunks. And the coco coir holds an ideal amount of moisture that won’t drown your aloe but still allows plenty of time for the roots to absorb water.
3. The Succulent Cult Organic Succulent and Cactus Soil Mix
This sandy soil mix can be used for indoor or outdoor aloe plants and contains 75% mixed substrate and 25% perlite plus limestone. So it will provide a good balance of moisture, drainage and the pH level that aloe vera needs.
Professionally formulated to have the light, airy texture that aloe requires, this soil is great for repotting larger aloe plants or starting off brand new aloe pups.
The bag we’re looking at here is 3 quarts, but if you need a little more soil to work with, you can also get this soil mix in a 6-quart bag.
Does Aloe Vera Grow Better in Acidic Soil?
Aloe vera does best in soil with a neutral pH (7.0) to one that’s slightly on the alkaline (higher than 7.0) side. Given the choice, aloe would pick soil that’s somewhere between 7.0 and 8.5 on the pH scale.
But aloe is a tough plant, and it will tolerate soil that’s slightly on the acidic (lower than 7.0) side as well. Your plant should do fine in soil with a pH as low as 6.5.
Most commercial potting mixes, either those formulated for aloe or the all-purpose ones you use a base in your own blend, should be pretty close to a neutral pH. So the danger really comes from the fertilizer you might add. So let’s look at that in more detail.
How to Fertilize Aloe Vera
Fertilizers contain minerals, like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, in the form of water-soluble salts. These salts are acidic in nature, and they can build up in the soil for a few reasons:
- You gave too high a dose of fertilizer
- You fertilize too often
- The pot lacks sufficient drainage, so the salts can’t get flushed out
Aloe is not a heavy-feeding plant at all, so it doesn’t need much in the way of fertilizer. Here are a couple of tips to help you fertilize appropriately and keep that pH at a safe level:
- Use a specially-formulated succulent/aloe fertilizer (like this one from Cute Farms) that has a more dilute nutrient concentration.
- If you’re using a standard houseplant fertilizer, dilute it to half-strength, and give a maximum of three feedings during the active growing months (April-October).
- Never apply fertilizer to dry soil; always mix your fertilizer into water or give a generous watering if using a dry formula.
- Make sure your pot has at least one drainage hole to allow excess water (and fertilizer) to flow out freely.
Caring for Your Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe vera is a resilient plant that is adaptable and low-maintenance, so its care needs are pretty minimal. Once you master these simple tips, you should have a thriving aloe plant:
Water Your Aloe Vera Correctly
Knowing how to water your aloe vera plant correctly is an absolute must.
What does that look like? Follow these steps:
- Check the top third of soil for moisture using your finger. If the soil is dry, water thoroughly. If it’s moist, walk away. Typically, you’ll need to water every 2 to 3 weeks during active growing periods (spring and summer) and once a month or less during winter
- Pour water directly onto the soil, taking care not to get the leaves wet.
- If using a saucer to catch drainage, don’t allow water to sit in the saucer.
- If the soil isn’t absorbing water or stays moist for too long, consider repotting your aloe in fresh succulent soil.
Choose the Right Pot for Aloe Vera
Remember how we said earlier that matching your aloe’s natural habitat as closely as possible is key to keeping your plant healthy? Using the right pot is a big part of recreating ideal growing conditions.
Pots made of porous material, like (unglazed) terra cotta or cement, allow water a way out and air a way in, much like sandy soil in the desert. And make sure your pot has at least one drainage hole in the bottom. This lets water flow freely out of the pot instead of getting trapped in the pot.
When it comes to sizing, choose a pot that’s no more than 2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot. A pot that’s too big will just hold excessive, dangerous moisture.
Give Your Aloe Plant the Right Environment
To give your aloe the most comfortable living conditions, follow these suggestions:
Temperature. Maintain a room temperature between 55-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Aloe can tolerate temps lower than 55 degrees for a short timeframe, but not for long. So keep your plant away from drafty windows in winter and strong air conditioning blasts in the summer!
Humidity. Humidity needs to be low to average (around 40%). That’s about where most homes fall anyway, so living rooms and bedrooms should be no problem. However, be careful with your aloe in rooms that tend to be more humid, like bathrooms and kitchens.
Lighting. Place aloe in a spot where it will get bright, indirect sunlight for 3-4 hours daily, and use a grow light if you don’t have a sunny window available.
Outdoors, put your plant in a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.
Repotting. Plan to repot your aloe vera if:
- Its growth has slowed
- Leaves are changing colors or wilting
- Roots poking through the pot’s drainage holes or the soil surface
So how often will you need to repot? Aloe is a pretty slow-growing plant and they prefer to grow in tight quarters. So you probably won’t have to repot more than every year or two.
Frequently Asked Questions about Soil for Aloe Vera
- Aloe vera’s natural habitat is in dry, desert regions of the world, where the soil drains freely and stays dry most of the time.
- Aloe soil includes ingredients that enhance drainage and allow for airflow into the soil. These often include sand, perlite, bark chunks and pumice.
- You can make your own aloe vera soil by blending all-purpose potting soil, perlite or pumice, sand and compost. There are also many great pre-made succulent soil available for purchase.
- A pH level of 7.0 to 8.5 is most ideal for aloe, but they will tolerate pH as low as 6.5. Fertilizer is the most common way to decrease pH levels to a dangerous range, so use a light hand when fertilizing.
- Aloe care includes infrequent watering, an appropriate pot, correct lighting and periodic repotting.
Soil is a big deal, especially for a plant like aloe vera that has some special requirements. You can make your own soil or buy a pre-made blend, but either way, aloe vera grows best in well-drained and aerated soil that doesn’t hold too much water.
With this information, you should be able to find a quality soil mix for your plants that takes care of their needs!
What’s your experience with growing aloe been like? Do you have a soil recommendation you can share with the rest of us? Please leave a comment!