Aloes make great indoor plants for the home gardener. Being succulents, they’re relatively easy to maintain. Should you be watering Aloe Vera from the top or the bottom? In this article, we explore how to water your Aloe Vera plant correctly.
1. What Is Aloe Vera?
The Aloe Vera plant (scientific name: Aloe Vera, genus Aloe) is a part of the Lily family and a type of succulent known for its cooling gel with medicinal properties.
1.1 What Are Succulents?
Succulents are plants which have fleshy leaves (or other tissues) that store water in dry climates. The word succulent comes from the Latin word sulcus, which means ‘juice’ or ‘sap’.
These plants store water for long periods to survive in areas with high temperatures and low rainfall levels. So they develop thick, fleshy leaves and/or stems that retain water, just like the cactus. (Yes, cacti are also succulents!)
2. Where Is Aloe Vera From?
Understanding the kind of environment the Aloe plant originated in and thrived in is important if you want to understand the kind of environment you, as the caretaker of one, will need to create for a happy and healthy Aloe Vera plant.
Aloes are thought to have originated in Arabia or the Arabian peninsula. Native to Arabia, this plant has been naturalized in North African countries, the Mediterranean region, Europe, the US, South America, and East Asian nations. They’re found pretty much everywhere around the world today thanks to their adaptability and have been used for centuries by the Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans.
There are more than 300 types of Aloe Plants, Aloe Vera or “True Aloe” being one of them. Aloe Barbadensis Miller is the most common type.
3. The Ideal Environment for Your Aloe Vera
Typically, Aloe Vera prefers hot, dry regions or subtropical ones, i.e. regions which are further from the equator than tropical ones. They prefer temperatures between 21°C to 25°C but can tolerate much higher than that.
Areas with low rainfall and lots of suns are best, though the Aloe plant, like most other succulents, can survive in most climates except those with heavy frost or snow.
You would, therefore, need to imitate these environments to see your Aloe Vera plant thrive.
The natural soils Aloe Vera grows in are nutrient-less desert soils. This means your soil (and pot) needs to be sandy with very little water retention.
4. How Much Water Does Your Aloe Vera Need?
Minimal watering is what makes Aloe Vera such a convenient addition to one’s surroundings, besides its beauty. It can survive up to two months without watering!
Over-watering is a major concern with succulents like Aloes. Giving them too much water can cause a fungal infection in their roots called ‘root rot‘, which can kill the plant.
This happens because these plants already hold a lot of water in their bodies – their major characteristic is to retain water to survive in dry regions.
The actual amount of water you should give your Aloe Vera is debatable. Some gardeners recommend watering them once a week, and some recommend it once in two weeks or even three weeks, depending on the region. Andrew Gaumond at Petal Republic says they rarely need watering more than once or twice a month.
4.1 What Determines the Right Amount?
a) Soil Type: It is best to go for dry, sandy soil that holds very little water. If your soil is the wetter type, water less frequently and/or add sand and gravel mixtures to get it to a dryer consistency. Avoid clayey soils.
b) Season: Aloe Vera needs much less watering in the winter season, even lesser the colder it gets.
c) The amount of light and heat the plant gets: The more sunlight it gets, the more water it’ll need.
d) Region: Cooler regions mean watering less frequently; for example, in the United States, you could go up to three weeks without watering it, but in a tropical country like India, you might have to up the frequency to once a week. Is your region cool or warm? Tropical or snowy? Humid or dry? Create the conditions of your Aloe Vera’s natural habitat.
e) Area: Is it indoors or outdoors? Outdoor plants get more sun, heat and light. So their soil will dry out faster. Aloe Vera plants love the sun, so make sure to find them in a nice, sunny spot. If the plant is indoors, keep it in a place with plenty of indirect sunlight.
f) Stage of Growth: Younger Aloe plants are in the process of spouting more leaves and growing. They need watering more frequently than an adult will. It can take about four years for an Aloe Vera to mature. Be careful not to test how long your younger Aloes can go without water, though! Their root systems are not yet developed, and they need more frequent watering.
5. How to Water Your Aloe Vera Plants
Here comes the most important part!
Ensure your soil is dry. Roughly 1 to 3 inches of the topsoil should be dry to the touch (if you don’t have a moisture gauge). Always check the soil before watering, and water only if the first 2-3 inches of soil are completely dry.
Aloe Veras require infrequent but deep watering, which means that when they do get watered, you’ll need to soak them thoroughly.
Because they need a thorough soaking, the best way to water these plants is by a combination of watering them from the top and the bottom (more on that below), though it should not make too much of a difference with either one, if done correctly.
The common consensus seems to conclude that bottom-watering is best for Aloe Vera, but each method comes with its benefits and risks, so make sure to check the details below and see what watering method works for you.
When watering from the top, do not water the leaves; this can cause damage. Top-down watering here means you slowly, gently pour water near the base of the plant, on the topsoil below where the leaves meet to form a short stem. It is on the soil around the stem area at the plant base that you should water.
About a litre or a bit more for every six inches of pot size should do per watering.
How often you need to water your Aloe Vera does not have much to do with whether you water them from the top or the bottom, it remains the same. Check in on them every 2 to 3 weeks.
5.1 Determine When It’s Time to Water Your Aloe Vera
If the soil looks dry only a few days after having watered them, it is alright; Aloes store water in their leaves and have most likely just absorbed it. Firm, plump leaves mean the plant is full – literally – it’s filled its leaves with water. Limp, softer leaves are a sign your plant needs its feed.
6. Watering Techniques: Top-down or Bottom-up?
There are many ways of watering a plant. You could pour water into their pot or run drip irrigation or even use self-watering pots and containers.
For your pet gel-filled houseplant, the two easiest and most inexpensive ways of watering Aloe Vera are the top-down method and the bottom-up method.
The names of the methods are more or less self-explanatory. ‘Top-down’ watering means you pour water into your plant’s pot from above, and it travels down through the pot. Watering from the ‘bottom-up’ method means you sit the potted plant in a container of water and let it soak the water in from the bottom of the pot (which should have drainage holes) up to the top of the soil.
6.1 The Top-Down Watering Method
The most common and straightforward way of watering a plant there is.
Fill your watering can with water, preferably room temperature water. Aloes, and succulents, in general, won’t do well with cold water.
Pour near the base of the plant, and keep watering until you see the water draining itself from the bottom of the container. Be careful not to drench the leaves because Aloe Vera have short stems, and water on the leaves can block their stomata.
Make sure you’ve drained the excess water before putting your plant back where it was.
- Easiest to do
- Inexpensive and practical
- Excess water drains away quickly
- The top-to-down flow can help wash away pests such as insects or eggs away from the plant, as well as excessive minerals or salts. Remember, Aloe Vera thrives on desert soil which is loose, sandy and does not contain much organic matter or nutrients.
- Risk of damaging plant leaves: A lot of plants can transport water from leaves to roots without sustaining much damage or blockage, but succulents like Aloe Vera do not do well at absorbing water from leaves and sending it to their roots. Instead, they need water near the roots for best absorption and not on their thick, waxy leaves.
- Letting the pot without properly draining the excess water poured from the top can lead to soggy soil, which leads to more pests, especially fungi, accumulating.
- Pouring water from above can press down on the soil particles and eventually make them get pressed together. This is called soil compaction. Healthy soil needs space, and the air pockets naturally present in it.
- Soil compaction increases soil density and can make drainage more difficult, and also prevent oxygen from reaching the roots. Aloe Vera requires loose sand-like soil allowing for maximum drainage. It is essential to occasionally till the soil in this case.
6.2 The Bottom-Up Watering Method
This style of plant-watering involves placing the plant in a container filled with water and letting it sit in it, so it can take the water up through the holes in its drainage pot. You can do many or even all your plants at once if you have a big enough container.
This method works to prevent overwatering because your plant will soak up the amount it requires. However, be careful not to leave the plant for too long or too little.
To water your Aloe Vera plant from the bottom, place your pot in a tub, a bucket or any suitable container filled with room temperature water. Soak it for around 5-10 minutes or more, depending on how long it takes to get the soil wet up to three inches from the top.
When you sit your plant, try to ensure the water reaches up to three-fourths up in the pot.
Check if the soil is wet up to three inches with a finger or a stick to check if the water has reached up to the surface.
Let your Aloe Vera then sit for a few minutes to drain any excess water out. Letting it sit without draining the extra water could just make it unnecessarily soggy, and then, hello, root rot!
• Good for plants like succulents that don’t need much water and are at risk of being over-watered.
• Because the water is further away from the plant’s roots, this is thought to boost root growth and depth because the plant has to work harder to reach the water.
• You don’t damage your leaves because the water reaches the roots directly.
• Bottom watering is less likely to attract pests if your soil is less soggy.
• It can get messy; soil or water might spill while transferring the plant in and out of containers which just makes for more work.
• Harder to do as your plant grows bigger and heavier
• The biggest con here is that top watering ‘flushes’ the plant when the water gets drained through its pot, taking pests and extra salts or minerals with it. When you bottom water, this draining or flushing from the top doesn’t happen.
Too many accumulated salts and minerals can ‘burn’ your Aloe Vera, meaning they can damage its roots.
7. So, What Method Works Best? Top-Watering or Bottom-Watering?
7.1 Combine the Two Methods
Though either of the two will do just fine, a combination of these will give you the best of both methods. By watering the plant from near the topsoil (avoiding the leaves!), you allow flushing to happen, and by letting it sit for a while in water instead of pouring it, you don’t overwater it.
7.2 Try Alternating
You don’t have to use both these methods at the same time. You could try pouring around a third of the water gently from the top and then let your Aloe Vera sit in the rest, or you could just alternate between top-watering and bottom-watering, i.e., watering the plant from the top one time than from the bottom the next time.
Even just occasionally switching between methods will ensure you’re making up for the benefits of the other method and the risks of your preferred one. Each method comes with its pros and cons, as mentioned above, e.g. Bottom watering is more time-consuming as compared to top watering, so it might be harder to do for some. It depends on what works best for you.
Though bottom watering is generally the preferred option, top watering your Aloe Vera can work, too, as long as you pour your water near and around the base of the plant and not from higher above. Combining the two methods in one watering session can be a little tricky and is probably best saved for after you’re sure of how much water your aloe vera needs. Alternating between the two in a turn-by-turn cycle is a beginner-friendly option. Even if you prefer to water your Aloes only one way, occasionally try watering them the other way to make up for the shortcomings of watering them from just the top or the bottom.
Also, check out www.aloeplant.info for more on these wonderful plants.