Maybe you’ve recently gotten your hands on an aloe vera plant, and while you know you can grow it in soil, you’re curious about other methods.
Or maybe you have time to divide your plant, but you need a way to keep those offshoots alive while you gather supplies to pot them up. In either case, growing aloe in water is an easy and fun solution.
Aloe vera can be grown in water by submerging the roots and suspending the plant above using a bulb vase or inverted water bottle. Much like a hydroponic system, this water-growing method requires special considerations for light, fertilization, and possible problems like root rot or algae growth.
So just how is the water-growing method done, and what are these special considerations? In this article, I’ll cover the supplies you need (not many!), how to propagate aloe, to begin with, and how to grow it in water, and troubleshooting to make sure your aloe thrives.
Things You’ll Need
Time to gather your supplies:
- A sharp knife
- A bulb vase (like this functional one, or this more decorative one) or plastic bottle
- An aloe plant
Does Aloe Vera grow better in water or soil?
Aloe vera will do better in the long term planted in soil, but this water-based growing method is still useful for keeping aloe alive in the short term.
Aloe plants can live up to a couple of weeks in just water, so if you’re short on time or need to go to the store and pick up supplies to plant it in soil, this is a great way to keep your aloe alive in the meantime.
It is also a fun experiment or even a way to explore very small-scale hydroponic growing.
How to Grow Aloe Vera in Water (Step by Step)
To successfully grow an aloe vera in water, follow these steps:
- Clean the roots of your aloe plant in water to remove any soil. Be gentle, as aloe roots are rather sensitive to being cut or torn.
- If you are dividing an existing plant, untangle the roots to lift the “babies” away from the “mother.” Make sure each baby has some roots attached. As a last resort, use a disinfected knife to cut the pups away. (See below for more detailed instructions on propagation from pups.)
- If you don’t have a bud vase, you can make one with a plastic bottle. Simply cut off the top of the bottle, turn it upside-down, and push it down into the base of the bottle. This creates a funnel much like the throat of a bud vase that holds the plant above the water without totally submerging it.
- Use filtered or distilled water to fill your vase or bottle.
- Place the aloe baby in a bulb vase filled partway with water. You want the roots to only be partially submerged–leave part of them exposed to the air so that they can take up oxygen, too.
- To keep the aloe healthy, you’ll need to change the water in the vase or bottle on a fairly regular basis. This refreshes the nutrients available to the aloe and prevents the formation of algae.
There are the basics of the water-growing method, but it’s worth delving a little deeper into the basic principles of the propagation of aloe vera, too!
How to Propagate Aloe Vera
One of the best things about aloe is that it is easy to propagate. Propagation is a way of removing leaves or stems from a plant and encouraging them to grow roots so that they can then be raised as an entirely new plant.
Aloe in particular is a great plant to practice propagation on. It can be easily grown from a cutting that you strategically remove from the plant, or you can harvest, root out, and pot up the “pups” or ancillary stems that a strong aloe plant regularly produces.
You’ll cover both those methods here.
From a Cutting
- Propagation from cuttings is best done in the springtime.
- Use a sanitized knife to cut off a large, healthy leaf. Try to cut very close to the main stem, taking a piece of it with you if you need to.
- Let the cutting sit out in a warm, dry spot for one or two days, to allow the cut a chance to scab over.
- Fill a tray or pot with a fifty-fifty mix of sand and potting soil.
- Water the soil, and place the leaf in the soil with the cut end down.
- Position the tray in a warm, humid area that gets good light throughout the day, but no intense direct sunlight.
- Use a spray bottle to mist the soil, keeping it lightly moist but not too wet.
- A rooted cutting will begin to form new leaves and is ready to be potted up (or placed in water!).
From Offsets or Pups
Propagation of an aloe plant from one of its pups is very easy!
- First, identify a pup. They will look like miniature aloe plants growing out from the base of the mother, with their own leaf set and root system.
- If you see that your aloe does indeed have pups, then remove the plant from its pot. Carefully brush away the soil from the roots until they are mostly clear of dirt.
- Take your time and gently untangle the pup’s roots from the mother’s. It is better to tease the roots apart than to cut them apart.
- When you have freed the pup from the mother, take this opportunity to inspect the roots of both and make sure they are healthy. Cut off any black, brown, or mushy roots.
- Return the mother to her pot, perhaps with some fresh soil.
- From here you can do one of two things:
- Plant the aloe pup in a small pot with well-draining potting soil.
- Or, clean the dirt from the pup’s roots and use the water-growing method to keep them alive until it has developed more roots or until you are ready to pot it up.
How can I make my Aloe Vera grow faster in water?
To make your aloe grow faster in water, make sure its needs for light, oxygen, and fertilizer are met.
Aloe plants really like a bright but indirect light. This means that placing them a few feet back from the east or south-facing window will work very well. They will receive plenty of sunlight, but none that is intense enough to burn their fleshy leaves.
The roots of an aloe that is grown in water need to be partially exposed to the air, so make sure that your plant has about an inch of its roots exposed above the waterline. This is so important because all the cell tissues of a plant need oxygen to function. And while the green parts of a plant create oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, the roots don’t have this capability and need to absorb O2 from the environment around them.
You can also treat your aloe in water with a small amount of liquid fertilizer to encourage growth. A specialized hydroponic fertilizer like this one is a good option, but any balanced indoor plant fertilizer will work.
Add the fertilizer to the water that your aloe’s roots are resting in, and make sure to cut the dose to half the strength of the recommended amount to avoid any nitrogen burn.
So what can you do when your aloe growing in water isn’t growing at all but seems to be dying?
Common Problems of Aloe Vera Growing in Water
Although it’s pretty simple, the water-growing method isn’t foolproof and there are some problems associated with growing aloe vera in water. So you may need to do some troubleshooting if you notice your aloe beginning to flag.
Aloe Vera dying in water
If your aloe begins to die, with many of its leaves or even its roots beginning to turn yellow or brown, it is probably time to transfer it to a pot. However, you should also check for:
- Is it too close to a bright window? Too far away?
- Do the roots have access to air?
- Have you changed the water recently?
- Does a small amount of fertilizer affect its appearance?
Aloe Vera in water leaves turning yellow or brown
Yellow leaves typically indicate that aloe is not receiving enough light, so move your plant a bit closer to a window.
It is also sometimes a sign that the aloe is becoming desiccated, which happens when it is in the path of dry moving air significantly above or below room temperature. Double-check the location of the plant to see if it is
- near a heating or A/C vent.
- too close to a cold window.
- in a drafty room.
These are all likely culprits behind discolored yellow leaves.
Brown leaves are either a sign that your aloe is dying—in which case, see above about potting up—but could also be from sunburn.
- Use sanitized scissors to cut off the affected areas.
- Move your aloe back from the window.
- If you have other houseplants, try placing your aloe in their midst to create a forested, filtered sunlight effect that will prevent sunburn.
If algae begin to build up in your water, don’t panic! It’s a pretty easy fix. You’ll want to:
- Throw out the contaminated water.
- Wash the vase with soap and water.
- Refill with clean, distilled, or filtered water.
- Place the vase out of direct sunlight. You can put it inside an opaque container, or in the shade of another object.
- See if you can find a cooler spot for your vase–light and heat are the main contributors to an algae bloom.
Stunted leaf growth
If your aloe doesn’t put on much growth, or it puts out new leaves that are very small, it may be suffering from a deficiency of light and of fertilizer.
See if you can find a slightly brighter spot for it, and give it a little bit of fertilizer. If neither of these things helps, it’s probably time to plant it in the soil to give it its best chance of survival.
This can happen to any plant when its roots are totally waterlogged—remember that roots must be able to absorb oxygen from the environment around them. If the roots of your aloe growing in water are turning black, brown, and mushy, that is root rot.
Now, If you catch it early enough, you can cut off the bad roots and keep your plant alive. If you want to keep growing it in water, make sure that the roots are partially exposed to the air by reducing the amount of water in the bottle or vase.
When too many of the roots are discolored, it is a fatal case of root rot, and you’re better off discarding your dying aloe and trying again.
Tips for Maintaining Aloe Vera in Water
- Use filtered or distilled water in your bottle or vase, and change it regularly!
- Less fertilizer is better than more–plants grown in water are more sensitive to excess amounts of certain nutrients.
- It’s been said before, but let the roots breathe! Don’t completely submerge the bottom of the aloe in water, but leave an inch of airspace between the waterline and the base of the stem where the roots originate.
- Make sure your aloe receives bright but indirect sunlight since light that is too strong will burn the leaves and affect plant health.
Aloe vera is a highly versatile houseplant with a lot of potential applications. Using the water-growing method to help propagate aloe pups, or to grow a complete plant, is a fun project that can teach you a lot about how to respond to a plant’s signals and to meet its needs.
If you take nothing else away from this article, remember that the right light and plenty of oxygen to the roots are the two key elements for growing aloe vera in water.
(Source: University of California)