Botany's answer for dry, sunburned or irritated skin, medicinal aloe (Aloe vera, formerly Aloe barbadensis) is the best known of the more than 400 Aloe species (Aloe spp.). Grown outdoors all year in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12 or indoors near a sunny window as a houseplant in colder areas, the succulent has serrated leaves plump with skin-moisturizing and soothing gel. Potted aloes thrive on neglect, and the most strenuous part of caring for them comes when it's time to repot.
Repotting at the Right Time
Potted aloes grow slowly enough to survive in the same pots for years, but they're much more vigorous when moved to slightly larger ones on a one- or two-year schedule. The plants reproduce by sending out pups, or plantlets, along their roots. Repotting provides an opportunity to separate the babies for growing in their own pots.
Preparing the New Pot
Your aloe's new pot should be:
- No more than 1 to 1 1/2 inches wider and deeper than its old one.
- Equipped with at least one drainage hole in its base.
- Made of plastic, clay or ceramic.
A clay or ceramic pot stabilizes a large, top-heavy aloe better than a plastic one.
Cover all the drainage holes with fine-mesh screening to hold the potting medium in place while allowing water to drain. Fill the new pot with rapidly draining cactus or succulent potting mix, available at garden supply stores.
Using gravel or pebbles to cover the drainage holes only crowds the plant's roots.
Preparing for the Move
Grasp the aloe plant gently around its base with one of your hands, and slowly slide the plant free of the old pot with your other hand. Lightly shake or brush the roots to remove as much of the old potting mix as possible.
Trim dead, diseased, severely tangled or encircling roots with a clean, sharp knife. Also trim dead leaves, and cut the roots connecting pups to the parent plant.
Disinfect the knife in rubbing alcohol between cuts to keep disease from spreading.
Set the aloe and any pups you want to transplant in a cool spot out of direct sunlight for three or four days, allowing the air to heal their cut ends. When the wounded areas are dry to the touch, repot the aloe and pups.
Making the Move
Set the large aloe and the pups in their new pots with the potting mix covering their root balls and the bases of their leaves just above the mix's surface.
Tamp the potting mix firmly around the roots to eliminate air pockets, but keep the roots out of direct sunlight, and don't water the potting mix for at least one week. The delay gives roots bruised or broken during the move time to heal. Otherwise, they might rot.
When it's time to water, soak the potting mix, and then let it dry completely before watering again.