Aloe vera's (Aloe vera) succulent, sword-shaped leaves add beauty and structure to yards in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12 or you can grow them as houseplants. They are among the simplest plants to propagate from cuttings and divisions, which are forms of cloning, or asexual reproduction. The resulting aloe vera plants will perfectly resemble the mother plant -- although they may take years to reach full size.
Like most succulents, aloe vera reproduces naturally through seeds and offsets. Seeds produce plants that may not look like the parent plant, and this is not a form of cloning a plant. With cloning, the new plant will be genetically identical to the mother. Offsets, or pups, appear around the base of mature aloe vera plants and are attached to the mother by fleshy underground stems, called stolons.
Dividing aloe vera pups is a surefire way to clone the mother plant, although cuttings also work well.
Cuttings or Division
Aloe vera pups and cuttings will both produce a clone, but dividing the pups has distinct advantages:
- Better shape: Aloe vera pups already have the rosette shape of the mature plant, which makes them more attractive as soon as you pot them up. Cuttings take longer to form new leaves.
- Mature more quickly: Most pups have a few roots attached to the base, which gives them a head-start in the pot. Cuttings take weeks or months to form mature roots, which also makes them more likely to fail.
Cloning Aloe Vera
Division and cutting propagation may seem like two completely different methods of cloning aloe vera plants, but they have a lot in common. For example, both methods work best in spring when the plants are actively growing, and both require the same treatments, equipment and procedures.
Soak the blade of a utility knife for five minutes in full strength household disinfectant, or in a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half tap water. Rinse the blade after soaking and wipe it dry.
Dig at the base of the aloe vera between a pup and the mother plant to reveal the fleshy stolon, or connecting root. Sever the stolon midway between the two plants with the sanitized blade and lift the pup from the ground.
Take cuttings from a healthy, plump aloe vera leaf with no signs of trauma or illness. Avoid very thick or wide leaves because they may not fit in standard pots. Measure back 2 to 4 inches from the tip and cut straight through it with the sanitized blade.
Place the pup or cutting in an airy, warm area out of direct light. Leave them to dry for a few days, or until the cut end is dry, puckered and whitish in color. Do not try to root an aloe vera cutting that hasn't formed this callus.
Fill the pot with a mixture of equal parts milled peat or coir, vermiculite and perlite. Saturate the mixture with water, and let the excess drain off before potting. Use a pot with multiple drainage holes around the base.
Scratch a shallow planting hole in the center of the mixture to hold the pup. Nestle the callused end into the hole, then press the mixture gently against the pup to anchor it.
Bury the bottom one-third of the aloe vera cutting in the moistened potting mixture. Press the mixture snugly against it so it stands upright. Make sure the severed end of the cutting is beneath the soil, not the pointed end.
Position the potted aloe vera pup or cutting in a bright, warm location out of direct sunlight. Do not water them.
Water after week or so if the growing mixture has dried out 1 inch beneath the surface. Saturate the mixture, letting the excess drain off completely. Do not let the pot sit in water.
Check for roots two weeks after planting, but don't be surprised if cuttings take four to six weeks to root. Tug on the base of the cutting or pup very lightly; if it resists the movement, it has rooted.
Transplant and Aftercare
Once rooted, aloe vera clones need to be transplanted into larger containers to continue their development. Use a draining container that is approximately 1-inch larger than the previous one. A potting mix of 2 parts sand and 1 part soil, and a pot with multiple drainage holes provides the right balance of drainage, nutrients and structure. Repotted aloes should be kept indoors close to a south-facing window or outdoors in a sheltered, bright location. They also need:
- Regular watering. Water deeply, but let the soil dry out in the top few inches between waterings.
- Routine feeding. Aloes are moderate feeders under strong light. Feed weekly during the summer with 1/4 teaspoon of 15-15-15 fertilizer mixed into 1 gallon of water. Stop fertilizing in early fall.