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Aloe, I must be dying

When I brought home my little aloe plant and stopped trying to kill it by exposing its roots to the elements, I had a vision of a long relationship. I saw me and the aloe plant riding out the winter together, huddling around candles in my living room, telling each other stories on the long, cold nights. And then, come summer, I envisioned how the aloe plant would provide soothing care when I inevitably underestimate the strength of the sun.

It’s been dry and cold here, and I don’t care if we had one day where the temperatures were near 50 degrees F, that barely counts when the next day brings whiteout blizzard conditions on the highway. I mean, I’m starting to think all those strings Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family tied to themselves so they could find their way to the barn and back in the Illinois winter are starting to make an awful lot of sense. I’m not talking plot devices, people. I’m talking snow that swirls up and blinds you.

To compensate for the dry and cold, I’ve been watering the aloe plant daily. It seemed the thing to do, and it gave me and the plant a moment each morning to hang out and get to know each other better.

I will admit that it crossed my mind just before the weekend that it might behoove me to check and find out how much water an aloe plant actually needs. That, perhaps, I could look up this information up on the Interwebs, or even just get wicked lazy and ask my lovely and helpful blog readers.

But I was busy, and besides, it was just water. How bad could it be?

Dying aloeVery bad, it turns out. Of my aloe plant’s five tentacles (I’m sure there’s an official name for them, a name that has nothing to do with octopi, but I like the word tentacles and don’t usually get to use it in a sentence that has nothing to do with evil people and/or warlords.), three are now mushy and brown at the base of the plant.

So now I don’t know what to do. I’ve stopped watering, but I don’t know whether to trim off the dying tentacles and hope the rest of the plant lives, or if I should just let it be and see what happens.

Trey, I think you spoke to soon when you commented that the plant would be fine. I think I’ve over-attended to it, and now it may not be long for this world.

26 Comments on “Aloe, I must be dying”

  1. #1 Heather
    on Jan 29th, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    I’m horrible at keeping houseplants alive too, but I know that nothing needs to be watered every day. I found this (it doesn’t look good for your plant because the only way you can kill an aloe appears to be overwatering):

    It would be good to check the root system to see if there is any root rot. Root rot in aloes is very, very easy to determine because the rot will be extremely smelly. The roots and bottoms of the plants will be soft and mushy. If this is the case and your aloe has more than one branch (mine has at least a dozen), find a branch that does not have the mushy roots and bathe it (the roots and lower stem) in a 50% household bleach solution for 10 minutes, then rinse twice with tap water. DO NOT PLANT the new plant for at least 48 hours,during which the roots will develop callous tissue, serving as a seal against other pathogenic microbes. Place in a moistened peat-based potting medium, and water only when the soil feels dry to the depth of one knuckle. Before you know it, you will have a newly rooted aloe plant.

    Good luck!

  2. #2 inadvertentgardener
    on Jan 29th, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Heather, those are incredible instructions — thank you! I will give your remedy a try and report back.

  3. #3 Carol
    on Jan 29th, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Genie, I sometimes go as long as two weeks, even in the winter, between waterings for some house plants. I just divided up a bunch of aloe and have only watered them once every week to 10 days or so, and they seem to be fine. Do try to save yours!

  4. #4 kate
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Oops … I did this to several succulent plants and many did not survive. Luckily, you can follow Heather’s advice – Aloes are pretty tough and before long, you’ll have some new plants.

    During the winter, I water about every 6 weeks… the plants need a rest. I take them outdoors after the frost risk has passed.

    Good luck!

  5. #5 katie
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Once a week is a good watering schedule for most plants… But you CAN talk to them every day… If that makes you feel like a more loving gardener… you could even sing…

  6. #6 gintoino
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 6:16 am

    I’m so sorry to ear about your aloe. I consider them one of the easyest plants to grow. They neen litle atention (if any ;-)). In cold weather succulent plants should be alowed a rest and be watered very litle (some of them should even be kept dry). I would probably take it out of the soil, remove all leaves that look mushy (I’ve never tryed the bleach solution but it sounds a good idea)and let it dry for a few days (that won’t kill him). Then repot it in moist poting soil (if you can find a misture for cactus that would be great)and keep the watering to a minimum (Lack of water is by far less deadly to cactus and succulents then too much water).
    I hope all goes well with your aloe

  7. #7 Meg
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 8:01 am

    I once overwatered my aloe plant to the point of brown mushiness, too, and accidentally fixed the problem by shoving the thing under the plant table in the semi-dark, completely forgetting about it, and coming across it three months later to find that it was nice and green and sturdy again. Now I water it, hmm, maybe every two or three weeks.

    It sounds like Heather’s fix is much more scientific, though.

  8. #8 Jenny
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Oh dear. (I keep wondering if I’m going to kill my aloe by not watering it much. Apparently not, according to previous commenters. Yay!)

    Um, you know what plant would be great for you in the winter? A papyrus. :)

  9. #9 Cary Rant
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Oh man, I am RIGHT there with ya, I think i have killed one of my office plants by overwatering. I am, as we speak, hoping he pulls through by just leaving him be for the next few weeks. :(

  10. #10 inadvertentgardener
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Carol, two weeks? Wow…I always figured I’d kill the plant at that rate.

    Kate, I’m going to try Heather’s advice for sure.

    Katie, OK, I have clearly no sense of how much water a plant needs. Sigh. At least I can carry a tune, so if the plant needs some singing, I can do it. I just don’t want anyone to actually see me…

    Gintoino, a report is coming tomorrow, but I have at least, at this point, removed the plant from the soil and gotten rid of the mushiness.

    Meg, you’re giving me hope — thank you!

    Jenny, papyruses don’t even need dirt, eh? Just water? You might be right.

    Cary, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.

  11. #11 Miss T
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Succulents like that don’t like to be watered very often–aloe grows in the desert. I’ve killed more succulents by watering them than by not watering. Some of mine actually go several months between waterings, and that’s how they like it!

  12. #12 Sugar Creek Farm
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 10:25 am

    I’m laughing because I wrote about blizzards and the Wilders and running strings to the barn, too! I can’t say as I’m ready for spring yet, but I’d take temperatures above zero for awhile. We’re headed to your neck of the woods Monday, so I’m hoping we have good weather and clear roads.

  13. #13 steven
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I try to keep the houseplants at a minimum for this very reason. I tend to love them to death.

  14. #14 inadvertentgardener
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Miss T, see, this is the problem. I’ve lived in jungly climates, I’ve lived in Northern European and Mediterranean climates, and I’ve lived on the Eastern Seaboard and now in the Plains (kind of…at least at the edge…), but never in the desert. I’m so unschooled in these things!

    Kelli, that’s so funny…great minds think alike! I have to come check out your post — I hope all your animals did OK through the bad weather. And I’ve got my fingers crossed for you for safe travels on Monday!

    Steven, somehow, they seem easier to keep alive outside. Mother Nature’s not much help in my house.

  15. #15 Trey
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    “I had a vision of a long relationship. I saw me and the aloe plant riding out the winter together, huddling around candles in my living room, telling each other stories on the long, cold nights.” Genie, thats a lot to ask in a new relationship. Me thinks you might have smothered it with to much love (Water). The aloe is an independent sort, as much of the succulent world is. As such they only require occasional love (water) to sustain the relationship.

    I also note that it appears to be planted in potting soil, and not cactus mix? Could this be true? Cactus mix is designed for good drainage, which succulents like. Potting soil in many cases holds to much water for many cactus and succulents.

    I see is two contributing factors, if not a third for the failing health of our dear friend, Aloe. The first is too much love (water), and the second, incorrect soil for the type of plant. The third possible contributing factor is, that we didn’t discuss the watering needs before hand! While the folks at Prariewoods certainly are not nursery people, they should at least supply a little handout discussing how to care for the plant.

    I know thats aloe(t) to go over. I hope the little guy pulls through.

    Your Personal-Nurseryman


  16. #16 inadvertentgardener
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Trey, you make EXCELLENT points. And yes, it was planted in potting soil. I am going to pick up some cactus mix and see if I can salvage this thing, and then I promise–PROMISE–not to overwater it again. If it survives…

  17. #17 wackyweeder
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I have neglected your blog for a couple of weeks, then I come back and am laughing out loud at your trials and tribulations with the Aloe. I too am a houseplant killer. I find I can grow spathyphyllum and pothos and thats about it. (Outdoors is another matter)I have killed multiple aloe plants. Its only chance is to dry out.
    I received a huge basket planted with croton, philodendron, dracena and spathyphyllum in october. multiple plants of each, this basket is as big as my coffee table. The only thing still alive is the spathyphyllum, there are 3 in the basket. sigh.

  18. #18 inadvertentgardener
    on Jan 30th, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Wackyweeder, but at least you have any idea what spathyphyllum and pothos are! Clearly I need to spend a little more time with Google Images…

  19. #19 prairierobin
    on Jan 31st, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Genie – I used to live in Arizona and now my rule of thumb is to only water cacti and succulents as often as it rains in the desert. That seems to work for me!

  20. #20 indosungod
    on Jan 31st, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I killed my aloe plant doing the exact same thing :(. Over watering. Maybe stop watering for a month and two and it should be fine.

  21. #21 inadvertentgardener
    on Jan 31st, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Robin, I wish I’d known that rule of thumb ahead of time…sigh…

    Indosungod, I’m trying that approach right now! Definite non-action.

  22. #22 Allergic to asking for help « The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Jan 31st, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    [...] Wacky paths to the garden « Aloe, I must be dying [...]

  23. #23 Resolving the aloe problem « The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Mar 3rd, 2008 at 4:04 am

    [...] Published March 3, 2008 Plants , Status check So here’s what I did to resolve my aloe problem: I attempted benign neglect as a resuscitation solution. This, my good readers, is the botanical [...]

  24. #24 Michelle
    on Aug 19th, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Dear inadvertentgardener:

    I wanted to THANK YOU for your suggestion on preserving the plant roots! I’m having the same problem as described w/ dying aloe plants, probably due to root rot, and at this point am willing to try anything to preserve it!

    I had a beautiful, large, blossiming, healthy aloe plant (with 10-20 thick leaves) for about 6years, which suddenly started dying over the past few months. At first I thought it was due to infected soil after I had repotted it into a larger pot. More recently, I’d been advised that I’ve been overwatering it, even though I don’t water it any more often now than I have over the past 6yrs of caring for it (approximately 3 times per week). I have recently changed the soil, but that didn’t fix the problem. I guess at this point, I may as well try your suggestion of removing the plant from the pot to clean & dry out the roots before repotting it again…I’ll let you know how it works out in a couple of weeks. ;)

  25. #25 inadvertentgardener
    on Aug 19th, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Michelle, good luck with it — I hope it works out for you! I’d love to hear back about how it went, and I’m crossing my fingers that you have different luck than I had…

  26. #26 Debbie
    on Sep 12th, 2013 at 10:00 am

    I hope this works…..since I am in the same boat. Transplanted one of mine from Florida several years ago. I think I may try singing to it as I put it in the bleach water. I am feeling kinda guilty for making it take a bath in that yucky stuff! Thanks for the advice and the laughs!

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