Your Aloe Vera Plant Looks Droopy—Did You Kill It or Can You Save It?
Limp leaves are never a good sign. But even if your plant is struggling, that doesn't mean it's done for.
Aloe vera is a popular houseplant that has long, slender, succulent leaves often edged with soft teeth. Each plump leaf is filled with the gel-like substance you see in sunburn lotion. Like most succulents, Aloe vera isn't too hard to grow if you meet a few conditions it requires. First, it needs very well-drained soil and should be planted in a pot with drainage holes so the roots never sit in water. And because aloe prefers things on the dry side, make sure to water your plant sparingly. If you see the long leaves start to droop and get mushy, you can almost bet you've got an overwatering situation. The good news is that you can still save your plant.
Overwatering Aloe Vera
When an aloe plant is being overwatered, the leaves develop what are called water-soaked spots that look soggy and soft. It is almost as though the entire leaf becomes saturated with water, then it turns to mush. Eventually, the entire plant dies.
No Drainage is Deadly
Your plant can also become waterlogged when the pot it's in lacks a drainage hole. Adding a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a pot, although often offered as a simple solution, actually compounds the problem. As moisture moves down through the soil, it forms what is called a perched water table over the pebbles. Not until the soil above is saturated will the water move down into the pebbles. That means your aloe's roots are constantly saturated. When all the air spaces between soil particles are filled with water, your plant's roots will die from lack of oxygen (yes, roots need to "breathe").
How to Fix Watering Problems and Save Your Aloe
You might be able to save your waterlogged plant if you dig it up and let it dry out for a day or two. Gently remove any leaves and roots that appear to be dead or mushy. This could also be a good time to divide your plant if it has several offshoots called pups growing from the base. The younger plants with shallower roots may still be fairly healthy so you can move them to new containers in fresh potting soil. Once the main plant's root ball has mostly dried out, dust the base of the plant with rooting powder and replant it in a pot with a drainage hole. Give aloe bright but indirect light, and keep it on the dry side. It may take a couple of weeks, but you should begin to see new, healthy leaves starting to grow from the center of the plant.
If you want to use a beautiful planter that has no drainage hole, either drill a hole for drainage, or use it as a decorative outer pot that you place a smaller, plain plastic container into (this is called a cachepot). Elevate the inner pot on a half-inch of pea gravel or other small stones so the bottom of it won't sit in excess moisture that drains out after watering. You can also move the plastic pot to a sink to water and then replace it in the cachepot once it is done draining.