Selecting the right growth medium for your aloe vera plant can begin its road to success. I’m sure you’re aware that some plants can grow in water or in otherwise soilless conditions, but is the aloe vera plant one of them? Can aloe vera plants survive without soil?
Yes, aloe vera plants can survive without soil. You can grow your aloe vera plant hydroponically in a mix of pebbles and sand with some water and plenty of sunlight.
In this article, I’ll discuss in more detail whether aloe vera plants can live without potting soil as well as elaborate on your soilless growing methods. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have all the info you need to grow your own aloe vera plants without soil!
Does Aloe Vera Need Potting Soil?
Soil is one of those plant necessities along with water and sunlight, or is it? That depends on the houseplant in question. I’ll use a classic example, the lucky bamboo. You can grow this plant in a container of water with some pebbles and it will do just fine (provided you change out the water periodically, of course).
Aloe vera, it turns out, is another plant that can forego soil and not only survive, but thrive. This soil-free means of growing plants is known as hydroponic gardening.
All you need to start a hydroponic garden for your aloe vera plant is some sand, pebbles, and water (I’ll talk in more detail about this soon). To be perfectly clear, there’s no soil involved.
Now wait, I know what you’re saying. You’re relatively new to indoor plants, but you know a few things about gardening. For example, you know that when you grow a houseplant in soil, its roots unfurl within the soil and absorb water and nutrients.
So how will your aloe vera plant survive if it can’t get soil from the nutrients? That’s a very good question, but not one that’s unaccounted for when hydroponically growing houseplants.
Rather than insert the nutrients into the soil through houseplant fertilizer, the nutrients go straight into the water that the aloe vera plant is surrounded by. The nutrients then dissolve.
This is a more direct way of providing nutrients to houseplants. When grown in soil, the plant’s roots have to find the nutrients and then absorb them. In a hydroponic garden, there’s no need for a search mission, as the nutrients are in the water all around the plant.
Can Aloe Vera Grow in Just Water?
Okay, your next question might be this: How does your plant avoid root rot if it’s in standing water all the time? Well, in the case of aloe vera, it wouldn’t. That’s why you’re not supposed to plunk yours in a cup of water and grow it like you would a lucky bamboo.
Instead, as I mentioned in the intro, you should add pebbles and/or sand to a container. The container needs drainage holes in the bottom of it too.
Although pebbles are rarely recommended in non-hydroponic indoor gardens, in a hydroponic situation, they’re beneficial. So too is sand, as both these materials provide aeration and allow for optimal water drainage. Your aloe vera isn’t submerged in standing water, as the water is constantly moving out of its container until you refill it.
How to Grow an Aloe Vera Plant Without Soil
Hmmm, you had never known growing your aloe vera plant without soil was an option, but now you’re definitely intrigued. Should you want to move forward with hydroponics, how do you get started?
7 Easy Steps to Growing an Aloe Vera Plant Without Soil
Here are the steps to follow.
Step 1: Determine If Your Aloe Vera Plant Is Ready
You shouldn’t start your aloe vera plant on a soilless lifestyle until it’s grown to a certain point. If its roots are not yet a foot in length, then it’s too early. By putting your plant in a hydroponic garden at this point, its roots might not be able to settle into its pebbly base, which can spell disaster for your plant.
If your aloe vera plant isn’t yet ready, that’s okay. Continue tending to it in its soil-filled pot for a little while longer. Make sure the soil you use is well-draining; a succulent mix is best.
Step 2: Remove Your Aloe Vera from Its Pot
When the day has come for your aloe vera to transition to a soilless growth medium, you’ll have to take it out of its pot. Aloe vera plants can reach heights of two to three feet, so yours might have grown significantly by now.
As I always say when dealing with a mid-sized or larger plant, it’s not a bad idea to have a second person who can assist you with plant removal from the pot. One of you should hold the pot and the other should grip the plant by its base. Aloe vera leaves may be thick and hardy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rip one right out of the plant if you pull too hard.
Step 3: Let the Roots Soak
Now that you can see your aloe vera plant inside and out, take a look at its roots. If they’re over a foot long, it doesn’t hurt to prune them back using clean cutting shears. Disinfect the shears when you’re done.
Then fill a bucket or container large enough to house the aloe vera. This is just a temporary home. Put the plant into the container so its root ball is covered in water. The roots were probably caked in soil before now, and cleaning them one by one would be time-consuming. Soaking the root ball will clean the roots and help them retain water so they’re pliable and moist. Leave the plant there overnight.
Overnight means eight to 12 hours, but nothing longer than that. Remember, aloe vera plants aren’t huge on being saturated in water for long periods, so don’t cause your houseplant undue stress.
Step 4: Rinse the Roots If They’re Still Dirty
What if you pull your aloe vera plant out of its water-filled container some 10 or so hours later and the roots are still dirty? You can always soak the plant for two hours longer, but even that might not make enough of a difference. Instead, you can gently rinse the roots using cold water from your kitchen or bathroom tap.
Just a short rinse suffices here since the roots are quite moist already. If you douse them in too much water, the plant might not survive upon being moved.
Step 5: Set up the Aloe Vera Plant’s Hydroponic Home
Now it’s time to ready your aloe vera’s new home. A translucent plastic or glass container is ideal so you can clearly see how much water you’ve poured into the plant’s container at any one time. As I said before, drainage holes are a must.
You also want to carefully select the pebbles you add to the container. The pebbles should be marble-sized apiece. If they’re smaller than that, then the roots of your aloe vera plant won’t be able to get a good enough grip and the new setup will fail. Larger pebbles won’t introduce enough space from one stone to another. This will limit water drainage as well as how much oxygen reaches the aloe vera.
If you have doubts about how well-draining your hydroponic indoor garden is, adding sand is definitely not a bad idea. Sand can make the water cloudy though, so be prepared to replace your aloe vera plant’s water a lot.
Step 6: Add the Exterior Shell
The interior container or shell is one part of the equation when hydroponically growing an aloe vera plant. You also must have an exterior shell for the water to drain into so all that extra water doesn’t leak onto your carpeting or flooring.
Step 7: Use a Water Gauge
The last part of your setup is installing a water gauge, also known as a hydroponic gauge. Instead of eyeballing how much water is in the aloe vera’s container, the gauge will tell you in precise measurements so you never forget to refill.
The Benefits of Growing an Aloe Vera Plant Without Soil
If you’ve only ever raised houseplants in soil, the move to a soilless setup can be a little daunting. Since you may still be on the fence about what to do, here are some reasons that I hope will convince you to give hydroponic gardening a try for your aloe vera and other plants!
Fewer Invasive Pests
I’ve written about this on the blog before, but mites and aphids are the two biggest enemies of aloe vera. They want to drink the bountiful sap within its leaves just as much as you want to use that gel for its soothing, cooling effects.
Aphids drown in water and so do mites unless they’re water mites, which can live in streams, rivers, and ponds. While your plant’s pest problem may never be 100 percent gone, growing aloe vera hydroponically is the closest you’ll get to a pest-free existence for your houseplant.
No Mold or Mildew on the Soil
Using contaminated soil, overwatering your plant, and/or leaving it in standing water can contribute to the development of mold and mildew in the soil. This is quite a significant problem for your indoor plants that often requires removing all the infected soil and rehoming your plant. Since no plant likes being moved more often than necessary, your plant undergoes a lot of undue stress.
I’m not saying that because you switched your aloe vera plant to a hydroponic garden that its risk of mold and/or mildew is nonexistent. That would be nice, but it’s not the case. Since the water you feed your aloe vera is nutrient-rich (more on nutrients in just a moment), there’s a higher likelihood of mold developing.
However, getting rid of the mold would be just as easy as dumping the water, scouring the plant’s container, and refilling. That’s a lot better than removing mold-infested soil scoop by scoop, that’s for sure.
I talked about this earlier, but it’s certainly worth bringing up again now. Instead of making your aloe vera plant’s roots seek out the nutrients like it must when growing in soil, the nutrients in its water-filled container encircle the plant. That makes for easier nutrient absorption with less energy required.
Growing succulents like aloe vera is already an eco-friendly move since these plants need less water than the average houseplant. You may also find with a hydroponic setup that you’re using even less water than you would compared to watering your indoor plants that grow in soil.
On top of that, if the water is healthy (you know, no mold or anything), you can recycle the aloe vera’s water so it goes through the drainage holes of the exterior shell and right back into the interior shell!