Aloe vera is likely the most popular houseplant on earth. Even folks who aren’t into houseplants own them, probably because they’re so easy to keep alive. They’re more like furniture than a plant. No matter how much neglect we dish out, countless aloes continue to grow in people’s homes, year after year.
It’s exactly this hardy reputation that also makes them a bit boring.
Let’s face it, the unchanging nature of aloe can’t compete with the excitement of an unfurling new Monstera deliciosa leaf. So today, I’d like to amp up aloe’s houseplant appeal.
What if we moved your aloe from the coffee table to the air?
As most know, aloe vera is a succulent touted for its healing aloe vera gel. In their native habitat, they grow in sandy soil with shallow roots. They have adapted to living in an arid climate by storing water in their fleshy leaves. Surprisingly, they’re one of the few houseplants that thrive with infrequent watering. (Probably the secret to their survival.) There’s actually quite a bit about aloe that’s surprising.
For instance, did you know you can grow aloe as an air plant?
Yup, nearly all epiphytes can be grown without soil. In the wild, you can find aloe clinging to the edge of a cliff or growing in the notch of a tree. With a few accommodations, you can have a happy aloe plant growing outside of a traditional pot. No cliff required.
Huh, that’s interesting, Tracey. Does aloe grow better this way?
Then why do it?
Because it’s fun and mimics how aloe can sometimes grow in nature. And because just maybe your aloe wants to be fussed over more than that stupid calathea you have for once. Maybe your self-respecting aloe gets tired of being the boring, responsible plant of the group and wants to feel the air through its roots. Huh? Did you think about that?
For those that don’t know, an epiphyte is a type of plant that traditionally grows in the flotsam and jetsam found at the base of trees and in the nooks and crannies of a cliff face or boulder. A Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus is another example of an epithyte. They don’t need their roots to grow underground in the soil to thrive.
Now that your interest is piqued let’s take a look at how easy it is to convert a potted aloe plant to an epiphyte.
Notes before we begin:
This is more of a fun way to grow aloe. I haven’t found any advantage to growing it this way over in a pot with soil. You won’t suddenly get massive aloe plants by growing them soilless or anything like that. It’s just different, and sometimes different can be fun.
We’re using a substrate to give the aloe’s roots something to grow around, as well as give the root bundle a little structure once it’s wrapped in the burlap. You can use small pebbles, a soilless growing media like coconut coir, or both. However, I find that having something other than just pebbles, I have to water the aloe less frequently. The coconut coir holds the moisture longer, allowing the roots to take up the water before evaporating. If you choose only to use rocks, you’ll have to water more often.
These look a bit like cephalopods when they’re hanging in the window. If you want to get really creative, you could paint the burlap in attractive colors. Make up two or three hanging aloe air plants for a gorgeous undersea window treatment.
Most of these are quite easy to come by; your local Walmart or craft store has everything you need.
- A square of burlap, it needs to be big enough to encompass the roots of the aloe, plus some substrate
- Cotton string, butcher’s string works great
- Soilless growing media such as coconut coir, optional, but means less frequent watering
- A small aloe plant
Remove your aloe plant from the pot and rinse the soil from the roots. Set the aloe plant aside for now.
Cut out a square of burlap. I cut mine to about 10”x10”. It’s okay if it’s on the bigger side, as we’ll trim it to fit later.
Place about 1/3 of a cup (a small handful) of pebbles in the center of the burlap. This gives the roots something to cling to and grow around. Next, add the soilless growing media if you’re using it.
Place the aloe plant in the center of the pebbles and media. Gently gather the edges of the burlap up around the base of the aloe. Using the cotton string, tie the burlap snuggly at the base. It needs to be tight enough to prevent the burlap from falling apart but not so snug as to strangle the aloe plant.
Trim away the excess burlap.
If you wish, you can leave the burlap exposed. It’s a nice natural look. Or you can wrap the outside with cotton string for a kokedama look. The added benefit of wrapping the outside of the burlap is the cotton string will wick moisture from the air and hold moisture after you water the plant, allowing the aloe more time to absorb it.
Leave a tail to hang your little aloe air plant, or snip it and set it up on its bottom.
To water your aloe air plant, you can set the burlap-wrapped end in a dish of water for a few minutes before rehanging it, or you can mist the burlap with a spray bottle. If you opt for the spray bottle, it’s best to spray the burlap daily. If you choose to soak the aloe in a dish, you only need to do so once every other week.
Hanging Your Aloe
Be sure you hang your aloe plant where it can receive at least 4-6 hours a day of bright sunlight. During the summer, check your aloe periodically to make sure it’s not receiving too much sun and getting sunburned.
This is a fun way of “potting up” aloe pups from a larger aloe plant. I am imagining four or five tiny hanging aloe plants in a window near the larger parent plant. For smaller aloes, you could even hot glue a magnet to the outside of the burlap and put your wee aloe air plant on the refrigerator.
Whatever you do, have fun with it, and send us pictures.
Ready for your next fun plant project? Why not build a terrarium?